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.
Beginning April 9, the sanctioning body will add 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.
— Krissie Newman (@NewmanKrissie) February 19, 2020
Today's Addition: Ryan Newman
The most poignant moment of Ryan Newman’s life might be the photo of him leaving the hospital in Daytona Beach with a daughter holding each hand. It was several days after “Rocket Man” crashed in spectacular fashion on the last lap of the 2020 Daytona 500. The photo—taken from behind, one daughter on either side—remains an emotional classic.
The Indiana native has been named one of NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers as part of the organization’s 75th anniversary celebration. He’s the latest among the “new” 25 Greatest who will join the original 50 Greatest Drivers names in 1998. All 75 or their representatives will be honored during Goodyear 400 weekend at Darlington Raceway on May 14.
A winner in almost every series, the Purdue graduate got the “Rocket Man” nickname based on 64 poles across NASCAR’s top three series. He’s ninth all-time in Cup poles, his 51 trailing only Richard Petty, David Pearson, Jeff Gordon, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Mark Martin and Bill Elliott. He also won in the Xfinity, Craftsman Truck, Whelen Modified, and ARCA Menard's series.
Newman made 36 Cup starts annually for 18 consecutive seasons, snapping that streak when he missed three races after the Daytona 500 crash. His best Cup season was in 2003, when he earned 11 poles and won eight races. He was second, just five points behind Kevin Harvick in 2014’s final points, and was top-10 in points seven times. All told, he made 725 Cup starts, won 51 poles, 18 races, had 117 top-5 finishes, 268 top-10 finishes, and beat Jimmie Johnson for Rookie of the Year in 2002.
Driving exclusively for Roger Penske, Stewart-Haas, Richard Childress, and Jack Roush, he won at 12 different tracks. Among his notable victories: the 2002 All-Star Race at Charlotte, the 2008 Daytona 500, the 2013 Brickyard 400 and 16 other races on short tracks, intermediates, and superspeedways.
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, Coming April 20