Top 10 NASCAR Drivers Never to Win a Sprint Cup Championship

Lee FraserCorrespondent INovember 25, 2011

Top 10 NASCAR Drivers Never to Win a Sprint Cup Championship

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    The list of drivers to never win a Cup Championship is a very long one.

    But who's the best of the best? I've compiled all of my racing knowledge and their numbers and took the 10 best.

    But still, there's always a few that don't make the list that deserve a mention

    So, here are your honorable mentions:

    Marvin Panch

    Panch was a driver that drove in what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series from 1951-1966. Over those 15 seasons, he compiled only 216 career starts. Which, divided by 36—which is today's schedule—is only six full seasons.

    Plus, Panch compiled more than half of his 17 wins with the Wood Brothers. Not taking anything away from Panch, but they were one of the best teams back in those days. People did a lot more with a lot less, which is what seperates Panch from our No. 10 driver on this list.

    Still, Panch was one of the best ever. In those 216 starts, he's got 17 wins. His career, driving wise, is a lot like Kyle Busch's. If Busch retired after the 2010 season, he would've had 222 starts and 19 wins. So, if Kyle retired after 2010, would I put him in here? I'm not sure. It's just not a long enough period of time to see what someone has.

    1957 was Panch's best season, and nearly ran full-time and he finished second in points. It's just difficult to get a good read on a driver. I would love to put Panch higher, but there's just so much grey area that I can't. Marvin Panch cannot go unnoticed though.

    Ernie Irvan

     Now, this one may shock some people, but look at what Ernie Irvan did in his career. His career spanned over 13 seasons in the Cup Series. He compiled only 313 starts due to injuries later in his career, and still pulled out 15 wins.

    Early on, Irvan was aggressive and aggravated a lot of veteran drivers. But once he settled down, he was one of the best out there. After leaving the No. 4 Morgan-McClure Motorsports car, Irvan joined Robert Yates Racing with nine races left in the 1993 season. In those nine races, Ernie won two of them. There was no doubt everyone thought that he and crew chief Larry McReynolds were going to be a big threat in 1994.

    In '94, Irvan won three of the first 20 races and was sitting 27 points behind Dale Earnhardt for the lead. Irvan was going to give Dale a run for his money. But a near fatal practice crash the following weekend in Michigan changed Irvan's career forever. He missed the rest of the 1994 season and only ran three races in 1995. Irvan ran the rest of his career without sight in one eye.

    In 1996, he came back to full-time competition and still won two races. He won one more race in 1997 before joining MB2 Motorsports in 1998. In 1999, Irvan was still with the MB2 Motorsports team, but in his own Busch Series car in 1999, at Michigan, he once again had a near-fatal accident and was airlifted from the track.

    Two weeks later, Irvan cried in a press conference announcing his retirement from racing. To this day, he still has a tough time going back to the track because he says that he will get the itch to race again. Irvan belongs on this list and is No. 11. If it weren't for injuries, he wouldn't even be here, because he'd be a champion, no doubt about it, and off paper, he's a champion anyway.

10. Fonty Flock

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    Fonty Flock was the middle of the three Flock racing brothers. His brother, Tim, was a two-time champion. Fonty raced nine seasons from 1949-1957, with 153 starts and 19 wins.

    He won at all different types of tracks and never had the best equipment. But his career was short, and he had a lot of wins. But still, he never had an era of  dominance. That separates him from the others on this list, and that's why he lies 10th.

    Fonty Flock's racing career started before NASCAR began in 1949, so he lost some valuable years because of the era he was born in. Unfortunate, but you can never credit the unknown.

    Flock is No. 10 on this list because he didn't run with the best equipment in the sport and still won 19 races. Also, he won 19 in only 153 starts, which is very dominant, and if NASCAR would've started earlier, who knows where Flock would be on this list?

9. Neil Bonnett

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    No. 9 is the great Neil Bonnett.

    Bonnett, along with the Allisons, was a member of the "Alabama Gang." It was a great group of drivers from the state of Alabama.

    Neil started kicking around the Cup series in 1974 and '75, making two starts in each of those two seasons.

    He started his own deal in 1976 and made 13 starts.

    His big break came in 1977, when car owner Nord Krauskopf, who won a championship with driver Bobby Isaac, gave Neil a chance. It was here that he teamed up with crew chief Harry Hyde. Halfway through the '77 season, Bonnett and Hyde together jumped ship to join the team of J.D. Stacy. He won at Richmond and Ontario before the season ended.

    After bouncing around between Stacy's team and a couple of others in 1979, in 1980, he hooked up with the Wood Brothers team.

    After running for the Woods and their partial schedule for three seasons, he joined Junior Johnson's team in 1984. Neil Bonnett and Darrell Waltrip were teammates and were a dynamic duo in the mid-1980s.

    He won five races for Johnson's team with top-10 points finishes in the first three seasons.

    After that, in 1987, he teamed up with the Rah-Moc Enterprises team and went winless for the first time since his second year with Johnson's team. This where he suffered his first of first very bad crashes. He broke his hip with three races left to go in the season at Charlotte. Bonnett missed the rest of 1987.

    In '88, Bonnett returned and won two races for an underfunded Rah-Moc team.

    In 1989, Neil went back to the team where he had the most success, the Wood Brothers. Neil and the under funded Wood Brothers team performed well. It was later on in this season that Neil suffered his second really bad crash.

    He broke his sturnum in the Peak Performance 500 at Dover. He missed the next three weeks before returning for the final three races of the 1989 season.

    In 1990, Bonnett returned to the Wood Brothers team. In the fifth race of the season, at Darlington, he was in the third of his accidents. His car hit the water barrells at the entrance of pit road. He was left with amnesia and diziness and retired from racing.

    But the racing itch was driving Bonnett crazy, and he managed to land a ride for two races in 1993 after being cleared to race.

    However, that year, he suffered wreck No. 4. He was driving for Richard Childress at Talladega, and his car flipped and went into the catch fence and came back out onto the race track. He was uninjured in the crash.

    In 1994, car owner James Finch signed Neil to drive his No. 51 CountryTime Lemonade car, for the Daytona 500 and four other races. Neil suffered an accident in a practice session for the 500 in Finch's car. He was pronounced dead at Halifax Medical Center in 1994.

    Bonnett was one of the best drivers of his time. He had a lot of crashes because he drove the car so hard, and it let him to victory a number of times. The championship was out of reach for Bonnett because of the injuries and the Wood Brothers running a partial schedule. Neil Bonnett belongs on this list because he was a great driver that could never catch a break.

8. Ricky Rudd

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    NASCAR's Iron Man, Ricky Rudd, is eighth on this list.

    He is second on NASCAR's all-time starts list with 906. His 32-year career in NASCAR that went from 1975-2005, and the 2007 season, was full of success with 21 wins.

    Rudd had a win every year for 16 straight seasons from 1983-1998. During those times, he ran for some premier teams.

    From 1982-1983, he drove for Richard Childress Racing before losing his ride to some guy named Dale Earnhardt. In 1984, Rudd joined the famed Bud Moore team and drove for them through the 1987 season.

    In 1988, Ricky and drag racer Kenny Bernstein joined forces for two years, and in 1990, he drove the No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports through the 1995 season.

    But here's what's really impressive about Rudd. In 1996, a tough era for an owner/driver, he took his sponsor, Tide, with him and started up his own race team with the No. 10 Tide Ford. He continued that through 1999, which was the first year he did not record a win for the first time since 1982.

    Still, Rudd was successful in his own deal until the final two seasons. That takes a whole different kind of talent, especially in the late-90's.

    In 2000, he joined forces with Robert Yates Racing. He managed 12 top-five finishes, but not a win. But in 2001, that changed. He visited victory circle again in 2001, twice in fact, and once again for the final time in 2002.

    In 2003, Rudd left and joined the famed Wood Brothers Racing team. Although he was winless in his three seasons there, he gave the Woods' car a respectable run.

    In 2006, he took the year off, only substituting for Tony Stewart that year.

    He once again joined the Yates team in 2007, having moderate success and officially retiring at the end of the season.

    Ricky Rudd belongs on this list because of his longgevity and talent. He had a top-10 points finish in 19 of his 33 seasons. That's saying something. That's a long road of success for Rudd.

    However, like the previous two drivers, he never totally dominated an era, and therefore, he's low on this list, although I think he will be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame one day.

7. Davey Allison

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    Second generation driver Davey Allison is next.

    Now, don't get me wrong, being seventh on this list is not putting this guy down by any means.

    Davey was probably, talent-wise, the best driver I've ever seen.

    Dale Earnhardt had said that if Allison had lived, he might not have seven championships, heck, maybe not even six.

    I totally agree with Dale 100 percent.

    Allison was a great story for NASCAR. His father, Bobby, a legend in his own right, had his career cut short by a near fatal accident at Pocono in 1988. Davey was in that race and came home fifth. That's just how Davey was.

    His career started in the Sprint Cup (then Winston Cup) Series in 1985. Hoss Ellington gave him a ride for three races. In those three races, he blew two engines, but did finish 10th in the race that he didn't.

    In 1986, he got a chance to drive five more Cup races. Four were for the legendary Sadler Brothers, where he recorded two top-20 finishes, including an 12th place finish at Richmond.

    But the fifth race in 1986 is where he proved he belonged. Subbing for an injured Neil Bonnett, Davey jumped into the No. 12 Budweiser car for one race. He started and finished seveth at Talladega. There was a new Allison to deal with.

    In his new deal in 1987, he put an unsponsored Ford on the outside of the front row in Daytona 500 qualifying and won two races that year.

    In '87, he landed sponsorship from Texaco/Havoline.

    In 1989, the Harry Rainer team that he ran for was purchased by former crew chief Robert Yates.

    Recording two wins every year from '87-1990, Yates was looking for something to put his new driver over the top.

    In 1991, crew chief Larry McReynolds joined the mix. It was a mixture that led to success. Instead of winning twice, they won five times.

    And in 1992, five more times, including the Daytona 500. He finished third in points, losing the championship to Alan Kulwicki in the last race of the season.

    "Don't worry, Davey, you'll get your championship," were the words uddered by Bob Jenkins as he walked away from his interview.

    In 1993, the team started off poorly, but picked it up later in the season. He had one win in 1993 before a helicopter crash in the infield of the Talladega Superspeedway took his life.

    Davey is on this list because this team was headed in the right direction. He dominated the sport, although for a short two years, that's still longer than the previous three.

    If Allison had lived, there's no question in anyone's mind he wouldn't be on this list, and would've been one of the all-time greats that this sport has ever seen. It would be Yates Fenway Racing if Davey Allison lived. That's why he belongs on this list.

6. Curtis Turner

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    Curtis Turner always seems to fly under the radar. Honestly, when I made my original list, I left him off, but digging deeper, I realized I couldn't leave him off.

    In a 17-year Cup career, Turner won 17 races in 183 starts. That's a 9.3 win percentage, which is really good if you compare it to other drivers.

    But he didn't always have the best equipment, either. He didn't join the Holman-Moody team until the end fo his career and joined the Wood Brothers' team until even later than that.

    But he's low for a reason, too; the earlier part of NASCAR was not as competitive as the later years. Turner's also never really dominated a certain era. He only had four years where he had more than one win in a season.

    But Turner is a pioneer of the sport, and running like he did in the equipment he did puts him sixth on this list over the rest.  

5. Fred Lorenzen

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    Fred Lorenzen comes in at No. 5. And if you're reading this, and don't know who in the world Fred Lorenzen is, well, I suggest you do more reading.

    Lorenzen was a great driver who dominated the sport from 1961-1967.

    He drove for the Hendrick Motorsports of that era, the Holman-Moody team for those eight seasons. Over the course of Lorenzen's career, he won 26 races and made the No. 28 more famous than Davey Allison.

    He's on this list because he never ran a full schedule. Plain and simple. See, prior to 1972, the NASCAR schedule had 50-plus races on it, running short track events in the middle of the week that were 100/150 mile races. In 1972, NASCAR said any race that's 250 miles or less would be dropped from the schedule.

    In 158 starts, he had 84 top-10 finishes, and 75 top five, which includes his 26 wins. That's more than half of the races he ever ran that were top-10 finishes.

    His resume also includes winning the Daytona 500 in 1965.

    Fred Lorenzen is on this list because he deserves to be. Unlike the previous five drivers, he dominated the sport for a lengthy period of time and was the class of the field in the races that he ran. If the schedule in those days was like it is today, Lorenzen wouldn't be on this list.

4. Fireball Roberts

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    Fireball Roberts is a lot like Fred Lorenzen because he didn't run the full schedule, either, but he did dominate still.

    Roberts had a powerhouse of a career. His era of domination was from 1956-1964. A crash at Charlotte's World 600 in 1964 resulted in Roberts' death 23 days later.

    Fireball was ready to retire after this race and wanted one last shot at this title.

    But he didn't need it. His numbers are good enought without it.

    He drove for the Holman-Moody team at the end of his career and was actually teammates with Lorenzen.

    In 206 starts in his career, Roberts won 33 races and at least one a year in his final nine seasons.

    He had 122 top 10s in his career, and he dominated the sport for nine seasons.

    If he had lived and wanted to continue racing, being only 35 years old, Fireball Roberts could be in the argument with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the greatest of all-time.

    That's why he's on this list, and he could almost be higher.

3. Harry Gant

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    "Handsome" Harry Gant is third on this list.

    Some people may not agree with this, but if you knew the time and knew what Gant was running in, it's not so far fetched.

    Harry started running in Cup in 1973 at the age of 33.

    But it was in 1979 where Gant got his break and started running full-time.

    In 1981, Harry joined up with car owner Hal Needham and actor Burt Reynolds, and in 1982, Gant, Needham and Reynolds won their first race together.

    From then on, Gant was a threat. From 1981-1985, he didn't finish worse than seventh in the standings.

    But in 1986, the team and Gant started to struggle. In '86, he didn't win at all, and in '87 and '88 Gant, didn't record a single top-five finish.

    In 1989, Richard and Leo Jackson bought Needham's team. At the age of 49, Harry Gant found victory lane again, then made it in once more in 1990.

    In 1991, Harry Gant earned the nickname "Mr. September." He won four straight Cup races and four straight Busch Series races. All in all, eight straight NASCAR events. He won a total of five cup races in 1991.

    In 1992, the Gant/Jackson trio won twice more.

    The 1994 season ended up being Harry Gant's last, and he retired at the age of 54. He remains the oldest driver to ever win a Cup race at 52 years old.

    Gant's belongs here because he didn't get his start in NASCAR until very late in his life, leaving out many potential prime years in his career. Also, the teams Gant had ran for were nowhere near the strong teams that they were competing against.

    Harry Gant is one of NASCAR's all-time best drivers, even with never getting a big chance, and still tallying 18 career wins.

2. Junior Johnson

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    The always entrertaining Junior Johnson is next.

    Junior belongs this high on the list for two main reasons.

    One is the fact that he discovered drafting. Where would this sport be without that?

    And two, he's got the most wins of any driver who doesn't have a championship, with 50.

    In 313 career starts, he's got those 50 wins and 148 top-10 finishes. But he retired at the age of 35.

    If Junior had not retired, he'd be first on this list. The reason he's not is because this era of NASCAR (Junior's career spanned from 1953-1966) was not as competitive as the era that the next driver drives in.

    But still, from 1958-1965, Junior Johnson won one race in every year and 13 in one year. He was extremely dominant, but like many drivers, did not run the full schedule. If Junior had retired even three years later than he did, but with only seven dominating years as a driver, it's tough for me to put him above the next driver on this list.

1. Mark Martin

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    Mark Martin is the best driver in NASCAR history not to win a Sprint Cup Championship.

    Say what you want, Mark may be finished and may be kicking himself at the end of this MWR deal, but he is still the best on this list.

    In his 830 career starts, he's got 438 top 10 finishes. That's 53 percent of Martin's all-time races he's finished in the top 10.

    In his 22 full seasons (Including 1982 and excluding 2007-08), he finished out of the top 10 in points six times and lower than 15th only twice (2003, 2011). Since 1988, he's never had a year with less than 10 top-10 finishes, including the two partial schedule years.

    Mark came into the Sprint Cup Series in 1981 and ran 1982 as a full schedule. He dabbled around in his own deal and in several other rides til 1987. Some small car owner by the name of Jack Roush swooped in and gave Mark a full-time ride in 1988.

    In '88, with sponsor from a small brewing company known as Stroh's Light, he finished a respectable 15th in the points.

    In 1989, Martin won his first race and finished third in points. From that point forward, he has been a threat.

    In 1990, '94, '98, 2002 and '09, Martin finished as the runner-up in the point standings.

    He was the pioneer to a team now known as Roush Fenway Racing. When he started, they weren't the best equipment, but his skill made them the best.

    In this era, a more competitive era, Martin's numbers and driving ability are greater than the previous nine drivers no matter what 2012, 2013 or beyond bring him.

    That's why Mark, in my eyes, is the best driver never to win a championship.


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