NASCAR is returning for its 72nd year in the world of motorsports, and we’re kicking it off with a list of our favorite NASCAR champions.
I remember watching NASCAR with my dad as a kid and always rooting for that rainbow-colored Dupont car to win the race. I didn’t quite have the attention span for hundreds of laps back then, but the last 20 were usually the most interesting anyways. That’s when the drivers really push their cars to the limits, they slam into each other in an act of desperation trying to move towards the front, and you get to witness some of the most dramatic finishes of the sport that outshine the entirety of the race itself.
With the NASCAR returning for its 72nd year as a motorsport, we figured we’d take a look back at some of the greatest drivers to ever race on the oval track. We’ve compiled a couple legendary NASCAR champions ranging from recent history to the beginnings of NASCAR. So, let’s start this NASCAR season off right and look back at some of the superstars that raised this motorsport to popular series it is today. Here’s some of our favorite NASCAR champions.
Jimmie just went into retirement last year after 20 years of Cup Series racing and winning 7 NASCAR championships. That number of championship wins has him in a three-way tie with some notable NASCAR legends for the most championships wins by any NASCAR driver ever. Astonishingly, 5 of those were consecutive making it an even more impressive feat. His championship record is a huge honor in the sport and made his Lowe’s sponsored #48 Chevrolet car one of the most recognized NASCAR designs of today. Now that he’s retired, maybe one of the younger guys can get the chance to join him at his championship record.
Tony Stewart is a 3-time NASCAR champion who also has a history of wins in Indy car racing, dirt track Midget cars, and the World of Outlaws Sprint cars. His original NASCAR design started as a Pontiac model with that iconic orange Home Depot sponsorship, but it would later morph around Chevrolet and Toyota looking models. Eventually, Stewart left the orange design in 2009 as he became the owner of his own car. He’s been out of the driver side of NASCAR since 2016, but his love of the sport has expanded into owning racetracks and having his own racing teams. There have been some heated moments and controversies over his career, but it’s hard to dispute not mentioning him as one of the greats.
Jeff Gordon is a personal favorite from my childhood if you hadn’t guessed from the intro. Whether it was the Dupont rainbow or a flame design, you could always identify Chevrolet #24 going around the NASCAR track (except in 2016 when he was #88). Gordon has gone from the rookie with mullet and a Midget car racing background to a 4-time NASCAR champion with a devout fanbase. Since leaving the driver’s seat in 2016, Jeff Gordon has been inducted into multiple track and motorsport hall of fames and became a commentator for FOX Sports coverage of NASCAR events.
Darrell Waltrip has been a staple in the NASCAR announcer’s booth since 2001, but sadly decided to retire from the FOX Sports booth in 2019. Before becoming an announcer though, Waltrip was a long-time racing vet with 3 NASCAR championships under his belt. He came from a time where the stock car on the track took on the direct body lines and front end of production models like his Mercury Cyclone, Buick Grand National, and Chevrolet Monte Carlo. However, there were some extensive aerodynamics and a lot more performance parts added to the NASCAR variants.
Unlike some of the multi-time NASCAR championships on the list, Bobby Allison was only a one-time NASCAR champion, but was one of the most popular drivers in his time. He started out in NASCAR with a homemade 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle stock car that helped him beat the odds against better funded teams and put up 3 wins in his first year. From there, he was be signed to a team and eventually won a NASCAR championship title in 1983 in a Buick Grand National. His NASCAR history is full of triumphs and heartbreaking moments, but one of his most memorable moments his NASCAR history was a fight with our next driver.
Cale Yarborough was only concerned with the race when he made it to the track. He was a super competitive guy back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He won 3 consecutive NASCAR championships using a Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna and later an Oldsmobile Cutlass. The only other person to win 3 championships consecutively is Jimmie at the beginning of this list. He’s otherwise known for being at the center of the fight on last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500. He and Donnie Allison crashed in the final lap and a scuffle broke out when Bobby Allison came to his brother’s aide. The fight was broadcast on national television and further popularized the drama and the action of NASCAR as a motorsport.
David “The Silver Fox” Pearson entered NASCAR in 1960 with his own 1959 Chevrolet Impala. He was awarded the Rookie of the Year Award and started a career that rivaled many of the great names in NASCAR history. Pearson went on to win 3 NASCAR championships with the help of a Dodge Charger and a Ford Torino Talladega. He was consistently placing at the front of the pack in the early part of his career and was one of the superstars that put NASCAR on the map.
The Man in Black, Ironhead, The Intimidator, all fitting nicknames that point to the legendary Dale Earnhardt. He is one of the most widely recognized names in NASCAR and sits in a three-way tie for the most NASCAR championship wins. Earnhardt Sr. was a determined racer that carried an intimidation factor about him on and off the track. His NASCAR career started with single race in a Dodge Charger back in 1975 and would end in 2001 with a long legacy of wins, championships, and lasting rivalries that was sadly cut too short.
Richard Petty, commonly known as The King, is the record holder of the most NASCAR Cup Series wins at 200, most consecutive NASCAR wins at 10, most NASCAR wins in a season at 27, most Daytona 500 wins at 7, and is tied for the most NASCAR championships at 7 with Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson. The King is the greatest of the greats when it comes to motorsports and will always be in the conversation of NASCAR. He won races in Plymouth Belvederes, Plymouth Roadrunners, Dodge Chargers, and Oldsmobile 442s, but the most iconic was the car that changed the rules. The Plymouth Superbird goes hand in hand with Petty (even being that Cars movie persona of “The King”) since it was the controversial model he drove in 1970 that brought about “aero-car” rules of 1971.
We couldn’t have The King without his father Lee Petty. Lee drove was one of the original racers there at the first season ever of NASCAR driving his #42 Plymouth Deluxe stock car. He won 3 NASCAR championships in his career and had the honor to race alongside his very own sons. Lee Petty was an original NASCAR idol and without him we wouldn’t have witnessed The King’s rise to fame. We may not have even had NASCAR were it not for him and the many other drivers that raced around those makeshift dirt tracks of that 1949 inaugural season.