Robert ReinerGetty Images
In 1998, during its 50th anniversary season, NASCAR unveiled what it considered to be its 50 greatest drivers. The list included most of the stars from the organization’s early years, many of whom would eventually find their way into the NASCAR Hall of Fame when it opened in 2010.
Starting April 9, the sanctioning body will add 25 names to its “all-time” list as part of its 75th anniversary celebration. Five riders are scheduled to be named per week – most likely one per weekday – over the five weeks ending with the May 14 Goodyear 400 at Darlington (SC) Raceway.
The newest group of the sport’s greatest drivers is selected by a committee of former drivers, team owners, industry personnel, NASCAR executives and current and former members of the media. All 75 – the original Class 50 named 25 years ago and the 25 new ones – will be recognized at the Goodyear 400 pre-race ceremonies.
As NASCAR celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998, company president Bill France called this group “the men who define our sport’s competition.” He added: “Their accomplishments are the benchmark by which much of our history is identified. Honoring them in this way, at the start of NASCAR’s 50th anniversary celebration, is a way to show our true appreciation for them and the invaluable contribution they have made over the past 50 years. These are the drivers who have made and are making NASCAR fans stand up and cheer. It’s the drivers who are the history of NASCAR.
The original “50 Greatest Drivers” came from the Modified Series, Xfinity and Cup. The Craftsman Truck series was too young to have had “greatest drivers”, but that should change with this new group.
Added Today: Jeff Burton
In 2013, Jeff Burton made his 1,000th NASCAR start in all three series. When asked that day in Phoenix which of the previous 999s he would remember the most, the affable Burton stopped short.
“I’ve done a terrible job of taking the time to enjoy (my career),” he said. “My personality is that I’m always on to the next thing. Winning my first Nationwide and Cup races were big races. Racing Kyle Busch in Las Vegas in a Nationwide car, a last-lap battle where I got on the outside and he spun out of turn four. It was fun… two guys running hard. If I had finished second or spun, it would still have been fun. These experiences are really cool. Winning (twice) at Darlington in adverse conditions, rain delays. Winning (three) Winston ‘No Bull’ races (so) three fans also won a million dollars. It was cool to be at Victory Lane with these fans making this money.
Burton then raced part of the season before retiring as a driver in 2014.
On Wednesday, Burton added another career win to his list of accomplishments when he was named to NASCAR’s “75 Greatest Drivers” list.
Burton’s career included no championships, but he won the Cup Series 21 times and the Xfinity Series 27 times. His best championship result was third in the Cup Series in 2000. He notched six of his Cup wins in 1999 for team owner Jack Roush and followed that season up with four wins in 2000.
Burton is one of 15 drivers to have won the Coca-Cola 600 more than once (1999, 2001). He also scored a big Southern 500 win at Darlington 1999 to end Jeff Gordon’s four-straight Southern 500 triumph streak.
NASCAR’s Top 50 Drivers
Selected in 1998
Lee Roy Yarbrough
The next 25
Selected in 2023
(To be released one per weekday by NASCAR, in no particular order.)
51 years old Tony Stewart
52 years old, Kasey Kahne
53 years old, Mike Stefanik
54, Randy Lajoie
55 years old, Kyle Larson
56, Greg Biffle
57 years old, Sterling Marlin
58 years old, Ryan Newman
59 Chase Elliot
60 years old, Ron Hornaday
61 years old, Jeff Burton
62, coming April 27