The 10 Most Likable Owners in NASCAR History

Joseph Shelton@@JosephShelton88Contributor IIIMarch 12, 2013

The 10 Most Likable Owners in NASCAR History

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    In NASCAR, the team owners cultivate a reputation much in the same way their respective drivers do. Their image often contributes to the effect they have on and off the track.

    Although the old adage states that “nice guys finish last” in racing, the proverb does not always hold true. In NASCAR’s 65-year history, some of NASCAR’s most likeable team owners have also been some of the most successful.

    This hasn’t always been the case, but those likeable car owners who haven’t tasted desired success still gained a large amount of fanfare.

    Here is a list of the 10 Most Likeable Team Owners in NASCAR History.

10. Sam Belnavis (BelCar Racing)

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    The second African American to ever own a NASCAR team (behind Wendell Scott), Belnavis partnered with Travis Carter in 2003 to field a two-car effort for Cup veteran Todd Bodine and Japanese rookie Hideo Fukuyama.

    While Bodine struggled in the No. 54 National Guard Ford, operations were suspended for Fukuyama’s No. 66 Ford. The team folded up in early 2004 when the National Guard left to sponsor Greg Biffle’s ride at Roush Fenway Racing, where Belnavis later became chief diversity officer.

    Belnavis maintained his personable nature despite his team’s struggles. He is currently the Chairman of the Board for Ten80 Student Racing Challenge: NASCAR STEM Initiative.

    Ten80 is a non-profit organization that aids students in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

    “All of those assignments, all of those opportunities for my career were firsts from an African American perspective,” Belnavis, who also helped build NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, told in a 2011 interview shortly after taking his position with Ten80. “I look at Ten80 as another first in my career.”

9. Phil Parsons (Phil Parsons Racing)

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    The younger brother of 1973 Winston Cup champion Benny Parsons, Phil Parsons never quite had the success his brother did. He did manage to win one Cup race, doing so at Talladega in 1988 but, along with a ninth-place points finish that year, his Cup career was unremarkable.

    His Nationwide career didn’t fare much better, as he claimed two wins in the course of a 17-year career that ended in 2001. He is currently the owner of Phil Parsons Racing, which was formed in 2009.

    Ever the perennial underdog, his legacy is reflected in his race team as they are seen working hard week in and week out. Originally a start-and-park organization, PPR now carries steady sponsorship and is now able to run the races like they desire.

    Parsons experienced the highest point of his career as a car owner when his No. 98 K-LOVE Ford Fusion was piloted to a ninth-place finish in the 2013 Daytona 500 by underdog driver Michael McDowell. For a team that hasn’t experienced much good in the Sprint Cup series, their first top-10 run was the ultimate feelgood story of Speedweeks 2013. 

8. Kenny Bernstein (King Racing)

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    Kenny Bernstein?

    No way, man!

    Seeing NHRA legend Kenny Bernstein's name on a list about NASCAR owners may seem just a trifle odd, but Bernstein did own a NASCAR team for short while from 1988 to 1995. It is also worth noting that he also owned a moderately successful IndyCar team during this time.

    Several drivers raced the No. 26 for Kenny Bernstein, but although Brett Bodine drove the car the longest, it was Ricky Rudd who garnered the most success for Bernstein, with a whopping two wins in the Cup series. Bodine won the last Cup race for King Racing in 1990 at North Wilkesboro.

    An energetic personality in American motorsports, there are few race fans over the age of 20 who don't associate the Bernstein name with a friendly smile and an overwhelming commitment to going fast. Bernstein is the only team owner to have won races in NASCAR, IndyCar and NHRA.

    Retiring from racing altogether in 2011, Bernstein was also noted for being the president of the Professional Racers Organization, a safety-oriented group of racers and mechanics. Following the death of NHRA driver Scott Kalitta, Bernstein developed a sensor that monitors the engines of Top Fuel dragsters and funny cars, shutting the fuel pump off whenever the engine backfires. 

    Not bad for a former traveling salesman.

7. James Finch (Phoenix Racing)

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    As long as James Finch's Phoenix Racing team has been in NASCAR, it is surprising to see that the organization has only one win in the Sprint Cup series.

    Finch first began his tenure as a NASCAR team owner in 1989 when his Nationwide team opened. His Cup operation would open a year later. Neither team has had major success, but Phoenix has had better luck in the Nationwide series with 13 victories.

    In the Cup series, Phoenix ran a limited schedule for several years, with its strongest showings at the restrictor plate races as evidenced by Brad Keselowski's 2009 Talladega upset. The team was rejuvenated with the addition Kurt Busch for the 2012 season, although the year turned out to be rather tumultuous.

    Finch is a favorite among the fans for being a hard-nosed, call-it-as-he-sees-it type of owner. He received praise among fans and competitors alike for his "Come-to-Jesus" meeting with Kurt Busch following his one-race suspension in 2012. Although details weren't specified in full, Finch let it be known that he wasn't going to put up with such nonsense on Busch's behalf.

    After taking one look at Finch, those words should hold some meaning.

6. Robert Yates (Robert Yates Racing)

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    The list of Robert Yates Racing drivers reads like a who's who of NASCAR legends: Ernie Irvan, Ricky Rudd, Elliott Sadler, Dale Jarrett and Davey Allison.Those are just some of the drivers involved in the Yates legacy.

    Prior to buying his race team from Harry Rainier in 1988, Robert was a noted engine builder in the garage. It was with Yates horsepower that Bobby Allison and DiGard Racing won the 1983 Winston Cup championship. He won again with Darrell Waltrip just two years later.

    As a car owner Yates holds three Daytona 500s, two Brickyard 400s, and the 1999 Winston Cup championship. When he retired in 2007 Robert Yates Racing was changed to Yates Racing with Robert's son Doug taking control. The relationship lasted until after the 2009 season when the team was absorbed into Richard Petty Motorsports.

    Yates is also known as owning one of the most formidable Ford teams in NASCAR history. His drivers were high caliber, most notably Davey Allison. Although never a champion in NASCAR, Allison maintains a cult following to this day.

    Many view Yates as a springboard for Allison. This may be true, but it is also true that without Allison, there would be no Yates in NASCAR.

5. Jack Roush (Roush-Fenway Racing)

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    The Cat in The Hat is easily one of the most congenial personalities in NASCAR. Rarely spotted without a smile on his face, the diminutive Roush has plenty of reason to smile.

    He is the owner of one of the most successful franchises in NASCAR history. He holds two Daytona 500 wins as a car owner. His cars won the 2003 and 2004 Cup titles as well as four Nationwide titles and the 2000 Camping World Truck Series championship.

    Despite all his successes, Roush managed to keep a straight head on his shoulders, having skirted death not once but twice. In 2002, he was severely injured in a plane crash when his Aircam landed upside down in a lake. He was in another plane crash in 2010 which resulted in the loss of his left eye among other injuries.

    However, after both crashe,s he wasted no time in recovering. He returned to the race track not long after each crash in what were stunning shows of Roush’s determination.

    Away from the track, Roush owns Roush Performance, which provides high performance parts for various Ford models.

4. Leonard and Glen Wood (Wood Brothers Racing)

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    Leonard and Glen Wood easily qualify for this list because although they are brothers, thus individual figures with individual successes; one cannot be included without the other. Their cohesiveness as a unit propelled them to legend status in NASCAR.

    Today they continue to be one of the sport's most well-known and beloved teams. Once a powerhouse operation that provided cars for such drivers as David Pearson, A.J. Foyt, Tiny Lund and Junior Johnson, today they are reduced to limited schedules with technological support from Roush-Fenway Racing.

    They have won only two races in the past twelve years, but they received national recognition in February 2011 when their No. 21 Ford was driven to a Daytona 500 victory by Trevor Bayne. The victory was well-received by all.

    Wood Brothers Racing remains committed to Leonard and Glen's love of tradition. They still run Ford horsepower, they still run the No. 21, and they are still a single car team, having chosen to scale back their efforts each season in order to focus on being competitive.

    Their love of the sport notwithstanding, Leonard and Glen's history with the sport is one reason why so many fans have a soft spot for their team.

3. Joe Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing)

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    One owner well acquainted with success is Joe Gibbs. Affectionately referred to as "Coach," Gibbs has found success across the board in NASCAR, MotoCross, NHRA, and even the NFL.

    With credentials like this, people would expect Gibbs to have a large ego. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Well known for keeping a cool head in the face of adversity, Gibbs credits his faith in God as a driving force in his life.

    Away from the track Gibbs travels across the country as an inspirational speaker. For his humanitarian efforts, he was declared by NASCAR Illustrated their 2010 Person of the Year.

    Suffice to say, "Coach" Gibbs has experienced a level of success with the people around him. It is the only success that could surmount his success in the sports world. 

2. Richard Petty (Richard Petty Motorsports/Petty Enterprises)

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    The Petty name has been associated with warm smiles and success on and off the track since NASCAR's inception.

    Despite being NASCAR's Royal Family, a large part of the sport's growth is due to Richard's relationship with the fans. Never one to turn down an autograph, Petty would stay long after a race to sign whatever the fans asked him to sign. He would visit with them and, through this, his relationship grew.

    The Petty blue No. 43 he piloted was dominant week in and week out. Although a large part of it was due to the horsepower under the hood and the driver's ability, it could also be speculated that Petty was also driven to perform for the fans he loved so much.

    He is the current owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, which fields the No. 43 for Aric Almirola and the No. 9 for Marcos Ambrose. Aside from that he is heavily involved in his son Kyle's Victory Junction Gang camp, which was created for children with debilitating illnesses. The camp is a testament to the Petty warmth that Richard cultivated throughout the years.

    King Richard has seen it all, done it all and won it all. But his legacy with the people may be his crowning accomplishment.

1. Dale Earnhardt (Dale Earnhardt Incorporated)

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    Earnhardt's well-documented humanitarian efforts are the stuff of legend. Although the man known as the "Intimidator" had a tendency to make his competition nervous on the track, he was known as a warm and compassionate individual off it.

    On more than one occasion, he would go out of his way to sit and visit with sick children and think nothing of the media response. He would often surprise unsuspecting fans with an embrace and a disarming smile. His sharp wit and keen sense of humor left many in stitches. 

    One of the most appealing facts about Earnhardt was that he was a superstar who never forgot his roots. The majority of NASCAR's blue-collar fanbase related to him because he too had had to work hard to make ends meet and work menial jobs. His meteoric rise to the top resonated with the fans who felt that he represented them.

    Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was a legend made by the people for the people.


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