For NASCAR’s 75th anniversary, the sanctioning body revealed a list of the 75 Greatest NASCAR Drivers in history.
NASCAR did something similar 25 years ago with a list of the 50 Greatest Drivers. NASCAR kept the same 50 and added 25 more drivers. Many of those 25 were either active drivers, or those who retired and raced at some point in the past 25 years.
Looking at the list of 25 drivers added to the list, we had no clue who most of these people were back in 1998. Sure, we knew about Chase Elliott because he’s Bill’s son, but Chase was also three years old at the time. No one knew he would grow up to be a NASCAR Cup Series champion.
When NASCAR unveiled the 50 Greatest Drivers list in 1998, eight drivers who were added to the list of 75 in 2023 raced in one of the big three national series in 1998. That begs the question—which of those currently racing in the NASCAR Cup Series will see their name added to the list of 100 in 2048?
Christopher Bell benefited by immediately racing for a top team in his rookie year, but in just a short period of time, he proved he belonged at Joe Gibbs Racing. In 2022, Bell led JGR in wins and was the only JGR driver to compete for a championship at Phoenix. The other three are on this list; Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Martin Truex Jr.
Many thought Ryan Blaney would have a more successful career at this point, but he’s already had a solid career so far. Blaney has struggled since the implementation of the Next Gen car, but he’s always fast on superspeedways and will have a chance to win one or more Daytona 500s in his career.
Once he finally got a ride with a top team, Alex Bowman wasted little time racking up the wins. Not really a championship contender…yet… Bowman is consistent and is improving each year. It also doesn’t hurt to be with an organization where all four cars are competitive. Bowman will knock on the door for championships in the years to come.
William Byron is an example of someone who pivoted from iRacing into a great NASCAR career. Byron is racking up wins over the past four years, and he’s bound to win a lot. In the future, there might be others on the 100 Greatest who got their start in iRacing, but Byron would be the trendsetter who did it first.
Say what you want about Ross Chastain’s driving style, but the guy can drive. Not only can Chastain drive, but whenever he gets overly aggressive, he doesn’t normally get caught up in those crashes. Chastain understands that aggressiveness is typically rewarded in NASCAR more often than not, and that will lead to success.
This is strictly based on potential, but Ty Gibbs has some of the best raw talent for someone his age in NASCAR history. Gibbs can rub many people the wrong way with some of his on-track actions, and he still has things to learn in Cup. But once Gibbs harnesses that talent, the wins will come, and he’ll often be in victory lane.
The good thing about Noah Gragson is he’s young and knows how to be relevant in the sport. Gragson might do some things that earn him some boos, but he does it in a way where it’s genuine. That attracts fans, and it’s not bad enough that sponsors are turned away. That gets you longevity in this sport, which might someday get the attention of a top team where Gragson can shine.
I keep forgetting that Erik Jones is just 27. I always think he’s in his early 30s, but he still has time to turn things around in his career. Once with Joe Gibbs Racing and now racing for Legacy Motor Club, things may not be as bright for Jones than they used to be. That said, there’s a natural talent somewhere there, and if Jones can unlock that, he could be a champion someday.
Tyler Reddick is a road course ace who can drive a Cup Series car. Every time NASCAR races at a road course, Reddick is one of the favorites. And with six road course races on the schedule, Reddick can win a bunch. But Reddick can race on the ovals as well. He’s one of the most underrated drivers in the Cup Series and will only get better over the years.
There are others who aren’t on that trajectory but could get there under the right circumstances. Austin Cindric, Austin Dillon, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will have a good shot if they get a second Daytona 500 win. With his two runner-up Daytona 500 finishes, Bubba Wallace is probably the next level below. But with a ‘500 win, along with consistent wins over the next decade, he could also be added to the list.