NASCAR completes its list of 75 greatest drivers


In 1998, as NASCAR celebrated its 50th anniversary, the organization selected the 50 greatest drivers of its first half-century.

Twenty-five years later, during the season-long celebration of NASCAR’s 75th anniversary, that list is being enlarged to 75.

Jimmie Johnson

He joins Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the only seven-time Cup champions in series history. But no driver did what he did in winning five consecutive championships from 2006-10. His other championships came in 2013 and ’16.

Johnson won the Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400 four times each. He took the checkered flag twice in the Daytona 500 and Southern 500.

He won 83 Cup races, including 11 times at Dover, nine at Martinsville and eight at Charlotte.

Matt Kenseth

Kenseth roared in from the Midwest to win 39 times in the Cup Series, scoring the national championship in 2003, the final season before the playoff system was implemented.

Kenseth’s most prominent runs were with Roush Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. He won the Daytona 500 twice, the Southern 500 and the All-Star Race.

Kenseth prepared for his success in the Cup Series with stardom in the Xfinity Series, where he won 29 times and contended for the championship in 1998 and 1999.

Joey Logano

Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano was labeled for stardom from his teenage racing years.

Logano has scored 32 Cup victories and won the title in 2018 and 2022. He has won at least one Cup race for 12 consecutive seasons.

Logano joined the Cup circuit full-time in 2009 and won in his 20th start. He moved from Joe Gibbs Racing to Team Penske, where he has scored his biggest successes.

Kevin Harvick

Now in his final season as a full-time driver, Harvick was thrust into the spotlight in 2001 after the death of Dale Earnhardt led team owner Richard Childress to elevate Harvick from the Xfinity Series to Cup racing.

Harvick responded, winning quickly and establishing himself as a weekly victory threat.

He has been a star in NASCAR’s major events, winning the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 (three times), the Coca-Cola 600 (twice) and the Southern 500 (twice).

Harvick totals 60 Cup victories, putting him 10th on the all-time list. He won the Cup championship in 2014.

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch has been a superstar in all three NASCAR national series.

He has won 62 Cup races and two championships (2015, 2019). He has won at least one race in 19 full-time Cup seasons.

He is the victory leader in the Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series.

Kurt Busch

A winner in all three NASCAR national series, Kurt Busch won the Cup championship in 2004, the first year of the playoff era.

Kurt joins his brother, Kyle, on the 75 greatest drivers list, making them just the second brother duo — after Terry and Bobby Labonte — to be so honored.

Kurt owns wins in the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. He has 34 Cup victories.

Sam Ard

Ard was a week-to-week standout on the old Late Model Sportsman circuit, winning with regularity. The tour became the Busch Series and later the Xfinity Series.

Ard ended his career with 22 Xfinity wins and won the championship in 1983 and 1984.

An injury forced Ard to the sidelines, although he stayed in the sport as a team owner.

Larry Phillips

Phillips was one of the most dominant short-track drivers in NASCAR history.

He won five national NASCAR Weekly Series championships from 1989 to 1996. His career victory total perhaps approaches 1,000. He won 220 of 289 NASCAR-sanctioned starts.

Phillips, who has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, was based in Springfield, Missouri and raced primarily in the Midwest. He won 13 track championships in three states.

Phillips died in 2004.

Brad Keselowski

The 2012 Cup champion has 35 career series wins. He won the 2010 Xfinity Series championship and has 39 wins in that series. He also has one Truck win.

Keselowski scored at least one Cup victory in 11 consecutive seasons. His streak ended in 2022, his first season as co-owner of RFK Racing.

“I never really thought when I started my career that I would ever have this kind of opportunity and get to work with so many great people,” Keselowski said. “Just really proud of (the selection) and happy that the industry thinks that much of me to go vote me into that group. It’s humbling.”

Martin Truex Jr.

Thirty-two times a winner in the Cup Series, Truex won the Cup title in 2017.

He added that championship to a pair of Xfinity Series titles in 2004 and 2005 while driving for team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Truex moved full-time to the Cup Series in 2006. He reached success after joining Furniture Row Racing, scoring 17 Cup Series wins and the championship with that team, winning eight races in the 2017 season. He moved on to Joe Gibbs Racing, the team with which he scored a win at Dover this season.

Bobby Labonte

He was announced on Friday as the latest driver to the list. The NASCAR Hall of Famer won the 2000 Cup championship.

He scored 21 Cup wins include the 1995 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the 2000 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 2000 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Labonte also won the championship in 1991 in what was then known as the Busch Series.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The NASCAR Hall of Famer won 26 Cup races, including two Daytona 500s, two Xfinity titles and was selected as the NMPA Most Popular Driver a record 15 consecutive seasons.

Earnhardt also is a champion car owner in the Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports and a broadcaster with NBC Sports.

When he announced his plans to retire after the 2017 season, he was asked about what he was most proud of in his career.

“You know, coming out of the gate and winning two Xfinity Championships blew me away,” Earnhardt said on April 25, 2017. “I had run 159 Late Model races and only won four. I didn’t think I was going to get a job. I thought, actually in ’97 dad came up to me and Kelley and said, ‘Your Late Model funds have dried up.’

“And I ran about seven Late Model races that year and didn’t have anything else to do going on. I was struggling to figure out what my next step was. I called up James Finch and begged him to let me drive his car and he turned me down. I still give him crap about that today. But believe it or not, I know you guys, a lot of you weren’t around or some of you were, but there was a point around ’96, ’97 where it just about didn’t happen.

“So going in there and winning those two championships and winning those a little more than a dozen races in a couple years was incredible. I was just shocked at everything we did every week. And to be doing it with Tony (Eury) Junior, Tony (Eury) Senior, my family, Uncle Danny, to be doing it with my dad’s family team was just so fun.

“Then one of the other things was coming back from our injury in 2012 and winning the Daytona 500 with Rick.  We won ‑‑ we swept the Pocono races which was really cool. But winning the Daytona 500, I always kind of wanted to leave some kind of mark here.”

Jeff Burton

Jeff Burton totaled 21 victories in the NASCAR Cup Series. He won a career-high six races in 1999.

Burton’s best finish in the seasonal point standings was a third in 2000. He finished fifth in 1999, winning six races.

Burton won NASCAR’s marathon race, the Coca-Cola 600, in 1999 and 2001 and scored a Southern 500 victory in 1999.

He drove for Roush Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

Burton is nicknamed “the Mayor” for being a key advocate for safety improvements and a spokesman on any number of major issues in stock car racing.

Burton, now a racing analyst for NBC Sports, won 27 times in the Xfinity Series.

Ron Hornaday Jr.

Four-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion was named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2018.

Hornaday won Truck titles in 1996, 1998, 2007 and 2009. He drove for team owners Dale Earnhardt and Kevin Harvick in the championship years.

Hornaday won 51 Truck races, the series record until Kyle Busch won his 52nd race.

Hornaday won four times in the Xfinity Series and raced 46 times in the Cup Series without a win.

Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards roared into NASCAR circles from Missouri and ended his career with 28 Cup Series victories and several shots at the championship.

Edwards won for the first time at Atlanta in 2005 and scored his final victory in 2016 at Texas.

He was second in the points standings in 2008 and 2011. He and Tony Stewart finished tied for the title in 2011, with Stewart winning on a tiebreaker.

Edwards, the 2007 Xfinity Series champion, won 38 Xfinity races and six Craftsman Truck Series races.

He famously celebrated his race wins with a backflip.

Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott arrived in NASCAR carrying a family name built on success. His father, Bill, is remembered as one of the fastest drivers in the sport’s history.

Chase won the Xfinity Series championship in 2014. Six years later, he added the Cup Series title to join his father in that fraternity.

Through seven-plus Cup seasons, Elliott has 18 wins.

Ryan Newman

Ryan Newman rocketed to the front of the NASCAR Cup Series by showing power on qualifying day. He picked up the “Rocketman” nickname by winning 51 pole positions.

Newman scored 18 Cup Series wins. Highlights were checkered flags in the 2008 Daytona 500 and the 2013 Brickyard 400.

Newman scored eight of his wins in a remarkable 2003 season. His highest points finish was second in 2014.

Denny Hamlin

In a full-time Cup Series career that began in 2006, Denny Hamlin has won 48 times, including three Daytona 500 wins and three Southern 500 wins. He is one of only six drivers to have won the Daytona 500 at least three times.

Hamlin has won at least one Cup race in 16 of his 18 seasons.

Now 42, Hamlin continues pursuit of his first Cup championship. He was Cup runnerup in 2010 and has been in the running for the title in several other seasons.

Hamlin also has won 17 Xfinity and two Truck Series races.

Sterling Marlin

Sterling Marlin was a star on NASCAR’s biggest tracks.

A graduate of Tennessee short-track racing, Marlin won the Daytona 500 in 1994 and 1995 while driving for Morgan-McClure Racing.  The 1994 victory was his first in the Cup Series.

Marlin totaled three wins at Daytona International Speedway, two at Darlington Raceway and two at Talladega Superspeedway. He also won at Charlotte, Las Vegas and Michigan.

Marlin’s career stretched across 33 seasons — from 1976 to 2009. His top points finish was third in 1995. He led the points for most of the 2002 season but missed the last part of the year after being injured in a crash.

Greg Biffle

Greg Biffle, who raced for most of his career for team owner Jack Roush, enjoyed success in all three NASCAR national series.

He won the Craftsman Truck Series championship in 2000 and followed up by taking the Xfinity Series title in 2002.

Biffle established a goal of winning the championship in all three top series. He came close to winning the Cup title in 2005, winning six races and finishing runnerup to Tony Stewart.

Biffle won 19 Cup races, 20 Xfinity races and 17 in the Truck series.

Kyle Larson

The 2021 Cup Series championship solidified his spot at the top level of NASCAR.

A superstar of dirt-track racing, Larson jumped into NASCAR full-time in 2013 in the Xfinity Series after he had raced four times in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2012. He won 13 Xfinity races and two in the Truck Series.

He raced full-time in Cup for the first time in 2014. He scored five Cup wins over the 2016-17 seasons driving for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Larson underlined his talent when he joined Hendrick Motorsports, winning 10 races on the way to the Cup championship in 2021. He won three races in 2022.

Randy LaJoie

LaJoie won two Xfinity Series championships (1996-97) and is one of only five drivers to have won consecutive titles in that series.

LaJoie drove Chevrolets owned by Bill Baumgardner during the championship runs. He won five races in 1996 and matched that total the following season. He won 15 Xfinity races overall.

LaJoie also drove in the Cup Series, totaling 44 starts without a win.

LaJoie, a Connecticut driver, scored 10 victories in the NASCAR North Series and won that tour’s title in 1985.

LaJoie’s son, Corey, competes in the Cup Series and was chosen to inform his father about the 75 Greatest selection. “That’s pretty damn badass,” Randy LaJoie said of the honor.

Mike Stefanik

Stefanik won seven championships in the NASCAR Modified Series and scored two titles in the former Busch North Series. He was Rookie of the Year in the Craftsman Truck Series in 1999.

Stefanik won Modified races across the Northeast from his home base in Rhode Island. He won the Modified championship in 1989, ’91, ’97, ’98, 2001, ’02 and ’06. The record-holder for wins and poles on the Modified tour, he was named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the 2021 class.

Stefanik died from injuries suffered in a private plane crash in September 2019.

Kasey Kahne

Kahne moved from hot laps on dirt tracks to stardom in the Cup Series. Over a 15-year career, he won 18 times, was honored as Cup Rookie of the Year in 2004 and won NASCAR’s marathon race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, three times. He also won a fall race at CMS, making the track easily his best.

Kahne broke into the Cup winner’s circle in May 2005 at Richmond Raceway. His best season was his third, as he won six races in 2006.

Kahne’s best points finish was fourth, in 2012. He drove for Ray Evernham, Richard Petty and Rick Hendrick, among others.

Kahne also won eight Xfinity Series races and five in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Tony Stewart

Stewart began his career in the IndyCar Series but soon detoured to NASCAR, and he made that choice look golden as he won three Cup Series championships.

Stewart’s first two titles (2002, 2005) came for team owner Joe Gibbs. Stewart moved on to a team he co-owned — Stewart-Haas Racing — and won the championship there in 2011.

By career’s end, Stewart had won 49 Cup races, good enough for 15th on the all-time list.

Stewart built the foundation for his NASCAR success with championships and victories in Midget, Sprint and USAC Silver Crown racing. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2020.






RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson on his NASCAR team and his approach to Le Mans

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns from injury

“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson is building a team and pointing to Le Mans

Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to track

MORE: Dr. Diandra: 600 tests man more than machine

And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”







Dr. Diandra: Charlotte’s 600 miles test man more than machine


This weekend’s 600-mile outing at Charlotte Motor Speedway is NASCAR’s longest race. It’s the ultimate stock car challenge: not just making a car fast but making it fast for a long time.

Although 600 miles is nowhere near the 3,300-plus miles in the 24 Hours of LeMans, the pace is similar. Most of NASCAR’s 600-mile races run between four and five hours.

The 1960 World 600 set the record for this race, requiring five hours, 34 minutes, and six seconds to complete — and it had only eight cautions. The second longest race, the very next year, ran 12 minutes shorter than the previous year’s outing.

The longest race in the modern era (1972 to present) happened in 2005. That race took five hours, 13 minutes, and 52 seconds to complete and set a record for cautions with 22.

Last year’s event was the second-longest modern-era race. With four fewer cautions than 2005, the 2022 race took just 44 seconds less to complete.

The field for the 1960 race included 60 cars. Only 18 of those cars (30%) crossed the finish line.

NASCAR disqualified six drivers for making illegal entrances to pit road. The reasons for the remaining 36 DNFs reads like an inventory of car parts, from “A-frame” to “valve.”

The number of cars failing to finish the race decreased significantly over the years. In the 1960s and early 1970s, it was not uncommon for 50-70% of the field to drop out of the race before its end. As the graph below shows, the DNF rate is now in the range of 10-30%.

A bar chart shows how DNFs have decreased over time and turned the the 600-mile Charlotte race inot more a test of man than machine

Last year — the first year of the Next Gen car — had an abnormally high 46% DNF rate. That doesn’t signify a problem with car reliability.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

Increased car reliability makes people more important

Racecar evolution has changed the nature of NASCAR’s longest race. The car have become so reliable that Charlotte’s 600-mile race is now more a test of drivers than their cars.

“All of the components in the car are pretty standard,” Chase Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “So you just want to make sure you have it all in good condition and dot all your I’s and cross your T’s.”

That wasn’t how it used to be. Kevin Harvick remembers that drivers used to be warned to take care of their equipment early so it would last until the end.

“The engine guys freak out because you have to go an extra 100 miles, but the parts and stuff on the car are a lot more durable than they used to be,” Harvick said. “Back in the day, it was ‘take care of the motor.’ ”

Drivers worry much less about their car’s engine today. The graph below shows how DNFs due to engine failure have decreased since NASCAR started running 600-mile races.

A bar chart shows that engine failures have gone from 50-70% to 10-30%, turning the 600-mile Charlotte race inot more a test of man than machine

In 1966, more than half the field lost an engine during the race. Only six cars have retired due to engine failure in the last five years.

While cars are more reliable, their drivers are still human. Crash-related DNFs (crashes, failure to beat the DVP clock and inability to meet maximum speed) show no clear trend over time.

A bar chart shows how the number of DNFs due to crashes doesn't show any overall trend with time

Typically, between five to 10% of the cars starting a race will fail to finish due to an accident rather than a mechanical failure. Last year’s race was an exception, setting a record for the largest fraction of the field taken out by crashes since the 600-miler began.

It’s only one data point as far as 600-mile races are concerned. It is, however, indicative of a trend observed since the Next Gen car debuted. The car is so sturdy that contact is no longer the deterrent it used to be.

Man versus machine

NASCAR’s only 600-mile outing has become an endurance race for humans. Drivers draw upon research in hydration, nutrition and fitness, hoping to create an advantage by preparation and conditioning.

“As a driver,” Daniel Suárez said, “your goal is to be as fresh at the end of the race as you are at the beginning. It isn’t about making it to the end of the race. It’s about being at your best at the end and taking advantage of other drivers who are tired.”

Harrison Burton, who ran his first 600-mile race last year, was surprised by how taxing that extra stage was.

“I figured it’s only 100 more miles than 500 and we do that fairly frequently and didn’t think it would be that different,” Burton said, “but for whatever reason when that fourth stage starts it’s definitely daunting.

Burton also noted that last year’s Coca-Cola 600 was the first time he got hungry during a race.

“It’s actually a really important race to have something to snack on in the car during the race,” Ross Chastain said. “I typically have some sort of protein bar that I can eat during a stage break just to try and keep my stamina up.”

The driver isn’t the only one whose mental acumen gets tested during the Coca-Cola 600. Crew chiefs and pit crews must work at peak form for a longer time.

“There’s more pit stops, there’s more restarts, there’s more strategy calls and there’s more laps,” Gustafson said. “There’s more everything.”

That means more opportunities to make mistakes or lose focus — or to take advantage of other drivers who do.