NASCAR Sprint Cup: Power Ranking the Best Non-American Drivers of All Time
Although NASCAR has focused on adding more marquee international drivers to the Sprint Cup Series in recent years, the results have been average at best. Attempting to find foreign names on the NASCAR all-time wins list is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Richard Petty is the career wins leader with 200. There are 12 drivers with at least 50 career wins, including fan favorites Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon. Before you reach the first non-American on the wins list you pass mundane names such as Joe Nemechek, Jeremy Mayfield, Robby Gordon and Ken Schrader.
Juan Pablo Montoya is first on the foreign-born wins list with two. That matches him with American drivers such as James Hylton, Danny Letner, Marvin Porter and Emanuel Zervakis. Even the most casual NASCAR fans and even some diehards struggle to remember them.
Attracting more international drivers to NASCAR is key to keeping the sport financially afloat. As seen with Yao Ming in the NBA, Ichiro Suzuki in MLB and countless European hockey players, turning an American-based sport into a global brand will not only increase viewership, but revenue as well.
With that in mind, here is a list of the top-five non-American drivers of all time. A list that, for the sake of NASCAR's long-term health, needs to improve in the future.
5. Patrick Carpentier
Born: Ville Lasalle, Quebec, Canada
Patrick Carpentier has the prototypical story of a foreign-born NASCAR driver. He was originally used only for the road courses, making his debut at Watkins Glen in 2007, where he led seven laps.
His career as a whole was disappointing, not only in results, but in length as well.
In 2008, Carpentier joined Gillett Evernham Motorsports on a full-time basis. At the New Hampshire Motor Speedway race, he became the first non-American driver to claim the pole position in a Sprint Cup race since Lloyd Shaw in 1953. He finished two laps down in 31st place.
A 14th place finish in the 2008 Coke Zero 400 was his best career result in NASCAR's highest series. Near the end of the 2008 season, Carpentier was replaced by A.J. Allmendinger and became a free agent.
He has since bounced around teams, usually as a road course specialist, without much success.
4. Ron Fellows
Born: Windsor, Ontario, Canada
Ron Fellows is an accomplished driver with many wins in different series around the globe.
Serving as mostly a road course driver at the Sprint Cup level, Fellows has five top-10 finishes. He has had great success in the Nationwide series with four victories.
Other notable achievements on Fellows' résumé include being the co-winner of the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2001. He is a three-time co-winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GTS class, a two-time American Le Mans Series GTS class winner and a two-time winner at the 12 Hours of Sebring, also in the GTS class.
He rejoined the Nationwide series with JR Motorsports this season on a limited basis, finishing second in his only start. It seems when given the chance, Fellows has been able to hold his own in a stock car. At age 51, however, he will likely never be more than a road course specialist in the Sprint Cup.
3. Marcos Ambrose
Born: Launceston, Tasmania, Australia
Marcos Ambrose is enjoying the best season of his Sprint Cup career in 2011, but has yet to pick up a victory in his four-year NASCAR career.
The 31-year-old Australian is currently 22nd in points. He has an average starting position of 17.8 and an average finishing position of 18.7, both career-highs.
Although he has had success at several tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule, his best tracks—like his fellow international racers—are the road courses.
At Watkins Glen International, Ambrose has an average finish of 2.7 in three career races. Infineon Raceway has been similarly pleasant, with three top-10's in four races.
There are two keys to Ambrose becoming a Chase for the Sprint Cup contender.
The first is avoiding DNF's. Last season, Ambrose had eight of those point-killing finishes. If you don't finish 22 percent of the races, you aren't going to be a contender.
The second piece of the puzzle is consistency. Ambrose has shown flashes of brilliance during his time in NASCAR, but frequently follows those flashes with bouts of invisibility.
For example, during late May this year there was a three-race span where Ambrose finished inside the top six each race. He followed it up by placing 26th, 34th and 23rd though, and therefore killing any positive momentum he had.
2. Earl Ross
Born: Fortune, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Earl Ross participated in less than 30 races over four seasons in the 1970's, but he earns this spot on the list by being only one of two foreign-born drivers to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race; he won the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville Speedway in 1974.
Ross had a successful, albeit short, career. He had 10 top-10 finishes and won Rookie of the Year in 1974. Despite that success, Ross wasn't given many rides after his impressive rookie season and eventually retired from NASCAR after the 1976 Daytona 500.
His career earnings totaled $90,194. He had an average starting position of 14.9 and an average finishing position of 15.3, both respectable figures. It is unclear why Ross wasn't given more opportunities at NASCAR's highest level.
1. Juan Pablo Montoya
Born: Bogota, Distrito Capital, Colombia
This season marks Juan Pablo Montoya's fifth as a full-time driver in the Sprint Cup Series. Montoya has two wins, the most all-time for an international driver, and seven poles to his name.
Montoya is undoubtedly the most successful foreign-born NASCAR driver in history.
Montoya has tallied 47 top 10's and 20 top fives in 163 career starts. Perhaps the most telling stats for Montoya though are his average starting and finishing positions, which are 19.2 and 21.6 respectively. Until this season (17.0 start, 16.9 finish), Montoya never had a season where he finished better than he started on average.
This could be attributed to Montoya's style, which doesn't always follow the unwritten rules of the sport and made him a couple enemies along the way. The lack of respect for his style could mean other drivers make Montoya work harder to gain positions on the track.
That said, Montoya is on the brink of a Chase berth this season. With Watkins Glen (a place where Montoya picked up one of his two wins) still on the schedule, he could conceivably get the victory there and jump into the top 12. It would be the second time in the last three years he reached NASCAR's playoffs.
NASCAR needs to attract more Montoya's if they truly want to become a global sport.