Long: Ranking the top 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in the last 20 years

19 Comments

If you saw ESPN.com’s list of the top 20 athletes in the last 20 years, something might have stood out to you – no racers.

To fill that void, here’s a list of the top 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in the last 20 years. The list is based on Cup performance only. Weight is given to championships along with wins in key races (Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500 and Brickyard 400), total wins, finishes in the top five in points during this period and other key statistical figures.

The focus is purely on what happened on the track. Of course, rating drivers that way can be challenging since a driver cannot make up for a bad car during a season. This list also was challenging since not every driver competed in every season since 1995.

Here’s my list. Feel feel to disagree or add your list in the comments section.

20 – Terry Labonte: The Iceman won a title during this period (1996) and won the 2003 Southern 500 at the age of 46. It was the final Cup win of his career.

19 – Rusty Wallace: The Hall of Famer won 16 races – including nine at Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond – during this period. He twice placed in the top five in points before retiring a decade ago. He had a streak of 10 consecutive seasons finishing in the top 10 in points.

18 – Kasey Kahne: He entered the Cup series spectacularly, scoring runner-up finishes in three of his first seven starts. He’s gone on to win 17 times, including three Coca-Cola 600 victories. He’s finished in the top five in nearly 21 percent of his 402 career starts.

17 – Ryan Newman: Has a Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 win during this period and finished second in the points last year. He also has 17 wins. He’s placed in the top 10 in 42.3 percent of his 482 career starts.

16 – Denny Hamlin: Owns 25 victories, including last week’s win at Martinsville. He’s placed in the top three in points three times and in the top five in points four times. He also owns a Southern 500 triumph, winning that race in 2010.

15 – Brad Keselowski: The 2012 series champion has 17 career wins and placed in the top 10 in 41.4 percent of his 203 career starts.

14 – Kyle Busch: Has yet to start a Cup race this season after being injured in an Xfinity race at Daytona. He has 29 Cup victories. He has placed in the top five in 32.3 percent of his career starts and has scored top-10 finishes in 48.8 percent of his 365 career Cup starts.

13 – Kurt Busch: The 2004 champion has 25 career wins and has finished in the top five in points three times.

12 – Jeff Burton: Won 21 races during this period and finished in the top five in points four times. Ended career with eight top-10 finishes in the points.

11 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Two-time Daytona 500 winner, who has collected 23 career victories and finished in the top five in points four times. He’s also placed in the top 10 in 41.7 percent of his career starts.

10 – Carl Edwards: Has 23 career wins and placed in the top five in points four times, losing the 2011 crown to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker. Edwards has finished in the top 10 in 49.3 percent of his career starts.

9 – Bobby Labonte: The 2000 champion won 21 races since 1995. Those wins included a Southern 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400.

8 – Matt Kenseth: The 2003 champion has won 31 races. That includes two Daytona 500s, a Southern 500 and a Coca-Cola 600. He’s finished in the top five in points six times and has finished in the top 10 in 49.6 percent of his career starts.

7 – Mark Martin: Scored 26 wins and finished in the top five in points nine times during this period. He also finished runner-up in the points three times during this time (and five times overall in his career). Scored a Coca-Cola 600 win and a Southern 500 victory in the last 20 years.

6 – Dale Earnhardt: The seven-time champion’s last title came in 1994, so he never won a crown during this period. He won 13 races – including his only Daytona 500 and a Brickyard 400 – and finished in the top 10 in 58.1 percent of his starts between 1995 and his death in 2001. He also placed in the top five in four of the six full seasons he raced during this period.

5 – Dale Jarrett: Hall of Famer who won 29 races during this time – including two Daytona 500s (he won three overall) and two Brickyard 400s. He finished in the top five in points six times and won the 1999 crown.

4 – Kevin Harvick: Has 30 wins, including wins in the sport’s biggest races. The 2014 champion won two Coca-Cola 600s and scored a victory each in the Daytona 500, Southern 500 and Brickyard 400. He’s finished in the top 10 in 46.3 percent of his career starts.

3 – Tony Stewart: The three-time champion has 48 career wins, including two Brickyard 400s. He’s also finished in the top five in points five times. Despite his struggles the last couple of seasons, he’s finished in the top five in 32.5 percent of his career starts and placed in the top 10 in 53 percent of his career starts.

2 – Jeff Gordon: No driver has won more races since 1995 than Gordon with 90. The four-time champion won the Southern 500 five times during this period, has four Brickyard 400s (five wins overall there), three Daytona 500s and two Coca-Cola 600s. He’s finished in the top five in points 10 times. Gordon has finished in the top five in 41.7 percent of his starts. He’s placed in the top 10 in 59.5 percent of his career starts.

1 – Jimmie Johnson: The six-time champion has 71 career wins during this time. He’s scored four Brickyard 400s, four Coca-Cola 600s, two Southern 500s and two Daytona 500s. He’s finished in the top five in points 11 times. Johnson has placed in the top five in 40.9 percent of his career starts. He’s finished in the top 10 in 61.8 percent of his career starts.

So, let the debate begin. What drivers do you consider the best of the last 20 years?

 

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

Leave a comment

The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
Getty Images
Leave a comment

A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Leave a comment

Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

Leave a comment

Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report