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5 Greatest Nascar Drivers Of the Modern / Cup Era

Updated on November 8, 2011

Over the past 38 years of the "Cup Era" or "Modern Era", there have been many dominant drivers. Since 1972, there have been 82 winners and 17 different champions. 19 drivers have won 20 or more wins, and 8 drivers have won multiple championships. There have been 10 seasons in which a driver won 10 or more races.

Although I have a few favorites from watching NASCAR myself for the past 20 years, this is my list of the 5 greatest drivers of the Cup era. These drivers have proven their dominance, either through dominance as a champion or dominance as a winner.  Two of them were known as rough and rowdy on the track and two were/are known as calm, cool, and collected.  The other has definitely been a mix of the two styles.

Let me share with you my top 5 and please share with me in the comments section who is in your top 5.

With many fans, I will have to justify why as low as 5th for Johnson.  Johnson has earned his place in NASCAR history with his 5 consecutive championships.  This string blows away the previous record of 3 consecutive by Yarborough.  The probability is that with Johnson at such a young age, he will add to his overall total of championships.  He even says his goal is to reach 7 which would tie Petty and Earnhardt.

Johnson currently has 53 wins which places him 8th on the modern era win list.  His dominance from 2006-2010 was amazing, at times making other drivers feel it was impossible to beat him.  Johnson is a dominant driver who's calm/cool demeaner allows him to surge when others stress.

 4. Jeff Gordon

Gordon has long been seen as the greatest driver in NASCAR since Earnhardt, with possible exception to Jimmie Johnson.  Gordon has 4 championships, all of which were before the Chase format.  Gordon won 3 out of 4 championships from 1995-1998 and has rarely not been a contender for the championship since 1995.

During the late 1990's, Gordon was dominant to the point of astonishment.  From 1995-1999 he won 47 races out of a possible 161 races: that is an average of a win every 3.4 races.  That stretch also includes 3 years with over 10 wins.  Amazing! 

Gordon has finished in the top 5 in points an amazing 10 times and since he began, has never finished lower than 14th.  Due to his ability to line up win after win and dominate on any track he visits, Gordon is a definite top 5 for the modern era.

3. Cale Yarborough

Cale Yarborough is arguably the toughest racer ever to driver in NASCAR.  His biggest achievement was to win 3 consecutive championships from 1976 to 1978.  During that span, Yarborough won 28 races out of 90, an amazing win every 3.2 races.

Although many fans today aren't familiar with Yarborough's story, just watching some of the film from his prime is exciting.  Most drivers in his day would gladly get out of his way.  Besides having an overall win total of 83, 69 of which were in the modern era, the main reason Yarborough is top 3 is his ability to bump, grind, and wreck, if necessary, to get to the front.

This man's racing statistics are dumbfounding.  Richard Petty, the "king", won an amazing 200 races.  The only reason he is not first is that this list is for the "modern era".  Petty won 60 races in the "modern era" and won 3 championships.  Of course, he won 140 races and 4 championships prior to the "modern era." 

Petty raced in NASCAR's premier series from 1958 to 1992, 34 years.  Although he was not often competitive for most of his last 5 seasons, Petty led laps in every season except his rookie year, when he was rookie of the year.

Petty was calm, cool and collected behind the wheel, just as he is off the track.  However, other drivers knew when he was in second, he was focused on one thing; getting into first.  For his wins, dominance, championships, and longevity, he is one of the greatest.

1. Dale Earnhardt

"Ironhead"; "Man in Black"; "Intimidator"; "Senior"; these are all names for one man... "The Champ"  Dale Earnhardt was the epidomy of dominant in the 1980's and 1990's.  He finished in the top 5 in points 14 times, including a 2nd place finish the November before he died.

Earnhardt had 76 wins in the "modern era" and racked up 7 championships.  From 1986-1994 he won the championship 6 out of 8 years.  Earnhardt will also be remembered as the only driver to win rookie of the year and win the championship the next year, as he did in 1979-1980.  In fact, in his rookie season, he finished 7th in points and only raced in 27 of the 31 races.  Incidentaly, he finished that year 14 points ahead of Richard Childress, his car owner for his last 6 championships. 

For his "cheshire cat" grin with those sunglasses on, for his total dominance of the sport in the late 1980's and 1990's, and for his ability to stun with his driving ability, Dale Earnhardt will be remembered forever by many NASCAR fans as the greatest driver ever.


Well, there you have it.  That is my top 5 for the "modern era".  So let the disagreement begin... Let's hear it; who would you place in the top 5?


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