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Fan Favorite Drivers Who Never Won a Title

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By Jerry Bonkowski

They were some of the greatest and most popular drivers in NASCAR, but they all had one thing missing – They never won a Cup Series championship:

Mark Martin: The pride and joy of Batesville, Arkansas, is arguably the best driver in NASCAR history to never win a Cup Series championship. He earned 40 wins in 882 career starts and from 1989 through 2009 (he began Cup Series racing in 1981 and officially retired after the 2013 season), finished in the top 5 in 13 seasons, and four others in the top 10. Martin came ever so close to winning a championship, finishing runner-up an uncanny five times (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2009), but he never was able earn the title of NASCAR Cup Series champion. 

Carl Edwards: When people talk about Edwards, he would fall under the “What Might Have Been?” category. He just missed winning the 2011 Cup Series championship on a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart. And from 2005 through 2016, Edwards recorded six season finishes in the top 5 and two other top-10 showings. He shocked the sport when he suddenly announced prior to the 2017 season that he was stepping away (although he never used the word “retire”). While there was hope he’d eventually return, even part-time, we’re now going on seven years and we’re still waiting for “Cousin Carl” to return to racing.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The son of legendary Dale Earnhardt, the man nicknamed “Junior” and “Little E” was voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for 12 years by fans and peers. He won 26 races in 631 starts, but inconsistency and mistakes cost him dearly, preventing him from ever winning even one Cup Series championship, although he did win Xfinity Series titles in 1998 and 1999. His highest Cup Series finish was third in 2003. He also finished fifth three different times, but he just didn’t have what it took to win one, let alone seven Cup Series championships as his late father did.

Junior Johnson: Robert Glenn Johnson Jr., known simply as “Junior,” was one of the top drivers and owners in NASCAR history. That’s why he was among the first five inductees of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. As an owner, his teams won 132 races and six championships. But as a driver, while he earned 50 wins, the most of any driver who never won a championship, Junior never earned the coveted Cup Series crown. But there’s a reason why: He never ran a full season in his 14 years behind the wheel, with his best overall season finishes being sixth (achieved twice).

Ricky Rudd: If he wasn’t a race car driver, Ricky Rudd would have made a great mailman because neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night would keep this NASCAR racer from his appointed rounds, including a record of 788 consecutive starts (from 1981 through 2005), since broken by Jeff Gordon. Rudd made 906 starts in his Cup Series career, earning 23 wins (including at least one win in 16 straight seasons, from 1983-1996). While Rudd had season finishes five times in the top 5 and 14 times in the top 10 during 33 seasons, he never earned a Cup Series championship.

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Picture of Josh Mull

Josh Mull

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