Dale Earnhardt Jr. Is Latest Addition to NASCAR’s ‘75 Greatest’ Drivers List

·4 min read
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Makes NASCAR ‘75 Greatest’ ListJared C. Tilton - Getty Images

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.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates his 2014 Daytona 500 win.NASCAR Illustrated - Getty Images

Today's Addition: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

In one of the voting panel’s easiest calls, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has joined his late father, Dale Earnhardt, among NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers. The retired (mostly) star was named Thursday among the latest 25 Cup Series drivers selected to join the original 50 Greatest Drivers named in 1998, during NASCAR’s 50th anniversary season.

Earnhardt Jr.—he quickly became known simply as “Junior” once he began racing—won 26 Cup races between 1999 and 2017, when he retired after suffering several concussions. Among those 26 victories were four at Daytona (two in the 50, two in the 400) and six 500-milers at Talladega. He also won three times each at Richmond and Phoenix, twice each at Michigan and Pocono, and once each at Fort Worth, Bristol, Martinsville, Dover, Atlanta, and Chicago.

Unlike his father—a seven-time champion—Junior never won the Cup. He had seven top-10 points seasons during a career that stretched parts of 19 seasons, including a best points finish of third behind Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson in 2003. His career scorecard: 15 poles, 26 victories, 149 top-5 finishes, and 260 top-10 finishes in 631 starts for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports.

His NASCAR Hall of Fame (Class of 2021) resume also includes 24 Xfinity Series victories and the 1998 and 1999 championships for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. More than half those 24 Xfinity victories came in his championship seasons, when he won 13 times. He makes an occasional Xfinity start, thus his status as (mostly) retired.

There is no denying the third-generation driver’s popularity, even today. He won the Most Popular Driver Award 15 times from 2003-17, a number bested only by Bill Elliott’s 16. It’s an undeniable foregone conclusion that Junior would have maintained his position as MPD if he had not retired in 2017. Once Junior stepped down, Chase Elliott inherited the mantle of MPD, an honor that likely will remain his for as long as he races.

All told, the “greatest 75” list now features seven fathers and sons: Bobby and Davey Allison, Ralph and Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Buck and Buddy Baker, Lee and Richard Petty, Ned and Dale Jarrett, and Bill and Chase Elliott

NASCAR'S 50 Greatest Drivers

Selected in 1998

Bobby Allison
Davey Allison
Buck Baker
Buddy Baker
Geoff Bodine
Neil Bonnett
Red Byron
Jerry Cook
Dale Earnhardt
Ralph Earnhardt
Bill Elliott
Richie Evans
Red Farmer
Tim Flock
A.J. Foyt
Harry Gant
Jeff Gordon
Ray Hendrick
Jack Ingram
Ernie Irvan
Bobby Isaac
Dale Jarrett
Ned Jarrett
Junior Johnson
Alan Kulwicki
Terry Labonte
Fred Lorenzen
Tiny Lund
Mark Martin
Hershel McGriff
Cotton Owens
Marvin Panch
Benny Parsons
David Pearson
Lee Petty
Richard Petty
Tim Richmond
Fireball Roberts
Ricky Rudd
Marshall Teague
Herb Thomas
Curtis Turner
Rusty Wallace
Darrell Waltrip
Joe Weatherly
Bob Welborn
Rex White
Glen Wood
Cale Yarborough
LeeRoy Yarbrough

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, Coming April 28