For most of its 75-year history, especially since the early 1970s, the focal point of the NASCAR Cup Series has been the seasonal championship.
The title win was noteworthy before the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. joined NASCAR as its primary sponsor, but the piles of money provided by the Winston cigarette brand increased the importance of the championship exponentially. The title of “Winston Cup Champion” has become a much coveted honor.
Over the years, many talented drivers have chased the championship, won dozens of races, come close to winning the title trophy and built Hall of Fame careers, all while failing to reach that ultimate goal.
Here are 10 of the best “non-heroes”.
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1. Denny Hamlin Hamlin has been looking like a championship driver since his first full-time season (2006), when he finished third in the standings. Along the way, he won the Daytona 500 three times, won 48 Cup races, and built a Hall of Fame induction resume. But in the race for the championship, he finished second, third three times, fourth twice, and fifth twice.
2. Mark Martin Martin was Denny Hamlin before Denny Hamlin. He chased the championship across the sport’s 23 full-time seasons, failing on several agonizing occasions. He was second five times and was among the top five eight more years. Forty Cup victories and a reputation as a racer have given him a definite entry into the Hall of Fame.
3. Junior Johnson Johnson was the opposite of the “points” racer. He was driving cars as if there was no tomorrow. The result was usually a win, a wreck, or an explosive drive. Despite winning 50 races as a driver and later six championships as a team owner, there would be no driving title for Johnson.
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4. Davey Allison – Truly the son of his father (Bobby won the championship in 1983), Davey checked every box that might be listed under “champion” in the early years of his career. He barely lost the title in 1992 but looked set to compete for several championships on the road. He died in a helicopter crash in 1993.
5. Fred Lorenzen – “Brave” Freddy, smart, fast and handsome, was a runaway star in the 1960s cup races. He won 26 times between 1961 and 1967 and never ran a full schedule (although he finished third in points in 1963).
6. Fireball Roberts – The first superstar athlete in the sport to never have participated in a full Cup season. He won 33 races, including at least one every year between 1956 and 1964, when he died of injuries sustained at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He finished in the top 10 six times.
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7. Ricky Rudd Rudd has captained several teams, including his own, winning 23 times. Fierce competitor (ask Kevin Harvick About that), Rudd has won at least once every season for 16 straight years. He scored his best points with a second place in 1991.
8. Carl Edwards Edwards has been consistently solid throughout his 28-win career that earned him a shot at the title in 2011, when he tied Tony Stewart but lost the championship on a tiebreaker. It is likely that he would be racing in more championship races in the coming years But she decided to retire early.
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Junior, who won the cup 26 times, repeated many of his father’s successes On the largest sports arenas But he failed to join him in scoring tournaments.
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10. Tim Richmond Richmond’s career was short but stellar, winning 13 times in seven seasons. In 1986, he won seven races and finished third in points. Fast, gritty and controversial, he died of AIDS in 1989, two years after his last race.
Honorable Mention: Jeff Burton, Jim Paschal, Curtis Turner, Geoffrey Bowden, Buddy Baker, Greg BiffleNeil Bonnett, Harry Gantt.