In 1998, during its 50th anniversary season, NASCAR unveiled what it considered its 50 greatest drivers. The list included most of the stars from the organization’s earliest years, many of whom eventually would find their way into the NASCAR Hall of Fame when it opened in 2010.
The sanctioning body is in the process of adding 25 names to its “all-time” list as part of its 75th anniversary celebration. It is expected to name five drivers per week—most likely one per weekday—in the five weeks ending with the May 14th Goodyear 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
The newest group among the sport’s greatest drivers is being selected by a committee comprised of former drivers, team owners, industry personnel, NASCAR executives, and current and former media members. All 75—the original 50 class named 25 years ago and the new 25—will be recognized during Goodyear 400 pre-race ceremonies.
As NASCAR celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998, company president Bill France called that group “the men who define the competition of our sport.” He added, “Their accomplishments are the benchmark that much of our history is identified by. Honoring them in this way, at the beginning of the NASCAR 50th anniversary celebration, is one way of showing our true appreciation for them and the invaluable contribution they have given over the past 50 years. These are the drivers who made and make NASCAR fans stand on their feet and cheer. These are the drivers who are NASCAR history.”
The original “50 Greatest Drivers” were from the Modified, Xfinity Series, and Cup Series. The Craftsman Truck Series was too young to have had any “greatest drivers,” but that’s expected to change with this new group.
Today's Addition: Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte, whose NASCAR Hall of Fame career featured Xfinity Series and Cup Series championships, is the latest star named to the sanctioning body’s list of its “75 Greatest Drivers.” Labonte joins his brother, Terry, in the Hall of Fame (Class of 2020) and on the list of the sport’s 75 greatest drivers as Terry was one of the original list of 50..
A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, the younger Labonte won 21 Cup races, four of them in his championship season of 2000. The previous year, he had won a career-high five in finishing second in points to fellow Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett, another on the greatest 75 list. At the height of his career, Labonte enjoyed six seasons with multiple victories: 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2003.
Among his highlights: winning the 1995 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, the 2000 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, and the 2000 Southern 500 at Darlington, all for Joe Gibbs Racing. He won six times at Atlanta, three times each at Michigan and Pocono, twice at Charlotte, and once each at Talladega, Dover, Rockingham, Indianapolis, Darlington, and Martinsville. The last of his 21 victories came in the 2003 season-finale at Homestead, where he led only the last lap.
In addition to JGR – where he got all 21 victories – Labonte drove extensively for owners Bill Davis, Richard Petty, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Kevin Buckler, James Finch, and a handful of smaller-budget owners toward the end of his career. His scorecard: 26 poles, 21 victories, 115 top-5 finishes, 203 top-10 finishes, and seven top-10 seasons in 729 starts covering parts of 25 years.
It's been done five times since, but Labonte was the first driver to win Xfinity (1991) and Cup championships (2000). The other five to do so: Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Chase Elliott. He is among the 41 NASCAR drivers with victories in Cup (21), Xfinity (10), and the Craftsman Truck Series (1).
Both Labonte brothers will be among the “75 Greatest Drivers” honored during the May 13-14 Goodyear 400 weekend at Darlington Raceway. NASCAR named its “50 Greatest Drivers” during the 1995 celebration of its 50th anniversary, and the new listing of 25 more “greatest drivers” is in recognition of NASCAR’s 75th anniversary season.
NASCAR'S 50 Greatest Drivers
Selected in 1998
The Next 25
Selected in 2023
(To be released one per weekday by NASCAR, in no particular order.)
51, Tony Stewart
52, Kasey Kahne
53, Mike Stefanik
54, Randy Lajoie
55, Kyle Larson
56, Greg Biffle
57, Sterling Marlin
58, Ryan Newman
59, Chase Elliott
60, Ron Hornaday
61, Jeff Burton
62, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
63, Bobby Labonte