NASCAR: Power Ranking the 25 Most All-American Drivers of All Time
NASCAR kicks off every season with what is known as the "Great American Race," more formally known as the Daytona 500. It is the most famous stock car race in the world.
However, something about stock car racing, specifically, has a particular hold on the American psyche. NASCAR is not particularly popular throughout the world beyond the shores of North America.
The drivers of these cars are predominantly Americans, and many of them display characteristics during their careers and lives with which we can identify. That is part of the reason we like them.
Americans love a winner, prize ingenuity, and sympathize with both the rebel and the individual; all of the drivers listed here have at least one of those characteristics. However, it is a difficult concept to define, and some do not fall into a specific description.
They just seem American.
25. Scott Speed
His name and his chosen profession are a perfect amalgamation. He sounds as if he could be some kind of racing super hero.
There is no better name than Scott Speed in the whole of racing today.
24. Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin's story runs parallel to a growing trend in the United States. Parents, more and more, are making great sacrifices, both financial and with time, to help their children succeed in sports.
Racing is an expensive sport to participate in; without the incredible financial sacrifice of his parents, it is doubtful that Denny Hamlin would have ever been able to challenge for the Sprint Cup in 2010.
23. Bill Elliott
"Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" was a NASCAR champion and voted most popular driver 16 times before he humbly insisted not to be eligible for the award anymore.
October 8th is officially Bill Elliott Day in the state of Georgia. He has the record for going faster at Daytona and Talladega International Speedways than any human alive: more than 210 mph.
He also delivered one of the most dominating single performances in the history of NASCAR: He came back from a race at Talladega down by two laps. To put that in perspective, that track is 2.5 miles long.
He lapped EVERYONE twice. That is akin to a baseball team recovering from a score of 18 to zero.
22. Ryan Newman
Ryan Newman curently drives the No. 39 United States Army/Tornados/Haas Automation Chevrolet Impala for Stewart Haas racing. It is doubtful the Army would continue to sponsor an individual who did not display at least some patriotic passion.
Ryan Newman is also the only driver on the Sprint Cup series today with a college degree. He has a B.S. in vehicle structure engineering.
21. Kyle Petty
With his trademark long hair and big smile, Kyle Petty has continued to be a part of the racing industry as a television analyst and race commentator.
Though never a NASCAR champion, he did have eight career wins. He came from a tradition of winning: His family's business is winning races. Successful families have a place in the American heart.
20. Robby Gordon
Robby Gordon is NASCAR's sole do-it-yourself owner/driver. He is his own boss.
That is part of the American Dream: the freedom to do your business on your own terms and not have to answer to anyone but yourself.
This is an even more impressive feat considering the tough economic climate right now and the fact that Robby Gordon has not won a race since 2003. How does he do it?
19. Rick Hendrick
Rick Hendrick is not known as a driver, although he did drive in the Winston Cup Series two times. He never fared any better than 15th place, but his involvement in racing was far from over after his last race.
He went on to create the virtual racing empire known as Hendrick Motorsports.
Today, it is the most successful team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. His drivers have a combined 10 championships, split between NASCAR heavyweights Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, and Terry Labonte.
This string of unmitigated success has a great chance to continue in 2011, as Rick Hendrick has three of his drivers in the Chase, including his two champions and Dale Earnhardt Jr. An 11th championship may be on the horizon.
18. Boris Said
This driver is not a regular on the Sprint Cup Series circuit. Usually, he only participates in the two road course races at Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International plus a few extras.
Even so, he has a legion of loyal fans known as "Said Heads" who wear wigs in the style of his curly locks. This is fairly unique in NASCAR. To gain a following with limited participation and exposure is an accomplishment to which few drivers can lay claim.
17. Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards is a true man of the people. A win by him is an automatic precursor to him performing a flip off of his car and joining fans in the stands to celebrate the win with him.
He is also a licensed pilot. He has been on the cover of magazines showing his chiseled physique. One day he may be a champion. He will always be an All-American driver.
16. Jennifer Jo Cobb
Jennifer Jo Cobb is a true anomaly in NASCAR. She is a part-owner of her team and drives in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. She is an entrepreneur that has created clothes specifically designed for female race fans.
She is also affiliated with the U.S. Army Morale Welfare and Recreation Command. Jennifer participates in a program called Driven 2 Honor. Its core goal is to honor women in the U.S. Military; Cobb hosted two female service members and their guests at the first five Nationwide races of the 2011 season.
A true patriotic trailblazer, and she drives fast cars!
15. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart does not look like a race car driver. He looks like a guy who would rather be driving through a Burger King or McDonald's and picking up a 30-pack of Miller Lite on his way to watch a race.
Yet, he is a two-time Sprint Cup Champion. He is a tough customer and does not suffer fools who get in his way lightly.
Tony Stewart is the proverbial "everyman" who almost any American can identify with on at least one level.
14. Alan Kulwicki
Like Ryan Newman, "The Polish Prince" was a trained engineer and used his training to innovate methods of improving race car performance. Unlike Newman, Kulwicki raced for himself. He insisted on it, even though contract offers abounded for him to come and race for other teams.
A second, less technical innovation of his was what is now called the "Polish Victory Lap." Instead of the traditional burn out after a win, Kulwicki would drive his car one lap in the opposite direction the race had been run. In other words, he celebrated victories by making four right turns.
Alan Kulwicki was truly married to racing: he remained a bachelor until he passed away in 1993.
13. Trevor Bayne
He may never win another race again and it would not matter. Trevor Bayne's victory at the 2011 Daytona 500 was the Cinderella story of NASCAR in the 21st Century.
He is the youngest winner of this race and he won on his first try. Legally, he could not have a sip of champagne to celebrate the victory.
Little children dream of doing this. Trevor Bayne made it a reality. This type of story is usually reserved for Hollywood movies rather than real-life accomplishments.
12. Cale Yarborough
Cale Yarborough demonstrated sustained superior performance throughout his career. He was able to win three NASCAR championships in a row. At the time, he was the only driver in history to accomplish this feat.
He is currently sixth on the wins list with 83 and will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012.
Aside from racing, he also made two appearnaces on the show The Dukes of Hazzard, playing none other than himself.
11. Bobby Allison
Bobby Allison has just one more win than Cale Yarborough and is tied for fourth with fellow Hall of Fame inductee Darrell Waltrip.
Although he was only able to capture one championship during his career, he left an indeliable mark on American stock car racing that continues today.
The concept of restrictor plates was invented because of Bobby Allison.
Though he walked away from a horrendous crash at Alabama International Motor Speedway (now known as Talladega) in 1987, this would change the sport forever. The year after, NASCAR implemented a restriction on the the amount of air that could run through the carburetor, essentially lowering the speed of all cars.
Bobby Allison was too fast for a sport that only counts speed as it sole asset.
10. Jimmie Johnson
There is not much that can be said about Jimmie Johnson's accomplishments in NASCAR that has not been already written.
The picture says it all. It represents five consecutive years of winning and the biggest dynasty in NASCAR history. This picture may need to be updated to add a sixth trophy at season's end this year.
9. Glenn "Fireball" Roberts
Glenn "Fireball" Roberts has nothing and everything to do with this picture.
That is actually Paul Menard's car on fire at Richmond International Speedway. However, Paul Menard is, as are all drivers, mandated to wear a flame retardant firesuit because of the "Fireball."
He amassed a highly respectable 33 victories in his career before his death in 1964. Though he did not die on the track, his car burst into flames after a big wreck, rendering most of his badly body burned. He died a month later.
I may be being a bit subjective here, but is not the name Glenn "Fireball" Roberts a truly American name? There is no other place on Earth from which he could hail.
8. Marty Robbins
This is not Marty Robbins in the car, but he did drive Dodge Chargers that probably resembled this.
He was truly a jack-of-all-trades. He fought in World War II in the Pacific theater. After the war, he became a country music star and won three Grammy awards. His most famous song is "El Paso." If you have never heard his original version, it is possible that you have heard the Grateful Dead cover this song.
He also loved to race. Marty Robbins participated in 35 races during his life and actually scored a top 10 finish at the 1973 Daytona 500.
His life story is as American as it gets. If he had been a champion driver, he may have indeed topped this list.
7. Darrell Waltrip
Known most of time simply by his initals, DW was only recently passed by Jeff Gordon for third on the most wins list with 84.
He won three Winston Cup championships during his career and was elected into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011.
Despite all of his winning, DW was a truly polarizing figure during his career. It is possible that he was more hated than loved. That did not stop him.
DW has one record that is so insurmountable that it will probably never be broken: his 12 career Cup wins at Bristol Motor Speedway is an awesome testament to his dominance of the sport during the prime of his career.
6. Jeff Gordon
The Rainbow Warrior is, in many ways, similar to Darrel Waltrip, except that he has one more career win and one more Cup championship. He may have more before his career ends.
I did not follow racing in the late '90s and early '00s, but I did know who Jeff Gordon was. I remember people throwing beer cans at his car while he piled up victory after victory.
In the great American tradition of giving back to society after such unmitigated success, Jeff Gordon now drives a car dedicated to ending hunger in Africa. If you send a text donation to his Drive to End Hunger charity, he will match your donation.
He is one of a handful of active drivers who are doubtless first ballot Hall of Famers whenever they choose to retire.
5. Wendell Scott
It is disputed whether or not Wendell Scott was the first African-American driver to break the color barrier in NASCAR. At the very least he was one of the first.
He is undoubtedly the only African American to win what would be considered today a Sprint Cup race.
This win came in 1963 after he had already been racing for a decade. The struggle that he must have faced in the social climate of the South during that time is truly staggering.
However, grit and determination are part of the American spirit, and Wendell Scott's achievement in the face of such opposition is a ringing endorsement of this fact.
4. Junior Johnson
Junior Johnson is strongly connected to the origins of stock car racing. He did not begin working on cars to have them win sanctioned races. Quite the opposite: he used his talents to make the cars fully equipped to outrun police cars so that he could deliver illegal moonshine liquor.
This is, more or less, the reason that stock car racing in general, and specifically NASCAR, exist today.
Once he went legitmate, his legal career was just as successful as his outlaw. He won 50 races as a driver and then became an owner.
Cale Yarborough and Darrel Waltrip were two of his employees, winning six championships among them from 1976 through 1985. Overall, he gained 132 wins as an owner.
Unsurprisingly, he is an original member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
3. Dale Earnhardt
Who else could hold the number three position?
There is only one other American number three who even comes close to the legend and popularity of Dale Earnhardt. That is Babe Ruth.
What else is there to say?
2. Richard Petty
Another icon who really needs no introduction, "The King" is the winningest driver in NASCAR history and will never be touched. He is the Cy Young of stock car racing with 200 wins.
As an aside, Richard Petty once had the opportunity to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken with Former President Ronald Reagan at the Daytona International Speedway on July 4th. If that is not as American as it gets, I have no idea what is.
1. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Pictured here is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 2001, winning the very first race after the September 11th attacks at the Dover International Speedway. It is fitting that the most All-American driver would accomplish such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
He has been the sport's most popular driver for the last eight years and that admiration does not seem to be waning in any measure.
Without being a champion, he is still the face of the sport. Some of that is attributable to his father, but many of the entries on this list have sons who have not captured half the love and embrace of American racing fans as Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
The image of him relaxing in a pair of Wrangler jeans, sipping on a Budweiser is iconically, and simply, American.