Who Were the Best NASCAR Drivers of the Decade?

10 years of racing have passed since the green flag waved over the 2000 Daytona 500. During that time, several changes have come to the sport we call NASCAR, in each of the three major series.

From the loss of a hero, to the green-white-checkered, double-file restarts, the lucky dog, and even a new car and points system, hundreds of drivers have had to overcome changes to the sport in order to best the competition.

Today, I would like to give a shout-out to those who did just that in each of the top 3 series in NASCAR.

These are the drivers who I believe performed the best in each series over the past 10 years.

The Best of the Trucks: Ron Hornaday

Was there any argument? In the last 10 years of truck racing, Hornaday is the only driver to win multiple championships. In 128 starts, Hornaday earned 20 wins(almost 1 win every 6 starts), 58 top 5s, and 86 top 10s. The better part of those stats came in just 5 years, from 2005-2009. Hornaday, beyond a shadow of a doubt, was the best truck driver of the 2000s.

The Best of the Busch/Nationwide: Martin Truex Jr.

This one was tricky. I wanted to select the best Nationwide-only driver, but by far the best drivers in the Nationwide Series were all Cup stars. So I decided to go with the Cup driver who had the best stats as a Nationwide regular, and that was Truex. Truex was the only driver to win multiple Nationwide championships in the 2000s as a Nationwide-only driver. In 84 starts as a Nationwide-only driver, Truex managed 12 wins(all of which came in 2004 and 2005), 34 top 5s, and 51 top 10s. To make it more impressive, nearly all of those stats came in just 2 seasons.

The Best of the Winston/Nextel/Sprint Cup: Tony Stewart

Before I can explain my reasoning for choosing Tony Stewart as the best Cup driver of the decade, I feel I must first explain why I did not choose the consensus #1 pick, Jimmie Johnson. Yes, he won 4 championships. Consecutively. I know, because I’ve been told that a thousand bazillion times.

My reasons for not picking Johnson are simple. 1) He won all of his championships under a system many believe to be flawed. 2) He had who many call “Cheating” Chad Knaus atop his pit box for 8 years. And 3) He won 2 1/2 of those championships and most of his races in a car that makes for a better parade than a race.

Now onto my reasons for picking Stewart. Tony Stewart was the only driver to win multiple championships in Cup this decade besides Johnson. Stewart did so with 2 different manufacturers(Pontiac and Chevrolet), and he was the only driver to win under both the old points system and the new Chase system. He was also the only driver to win a championship under the Winston name and the Nextel name.

Stewart accumulated 34 wins this decade, along with 132 top 5s, and a whopping 209 top 10s. He won 2 Brickyard 400s, 3 Pepsi 400s, 2 Budweiser Shootouts, and the 2009 All Star race. Stewart showed an uncanny ability to control his car in many different situations, he mentored many of today’s successful drivers, and his driving ability is unquestioned.

Tony Stewart was the best NASCAR driver of the 2000s.

Tags: Martin Truex Jr. Ron Hornaday Tony Stewart

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  • http://www.redstatebluecollar.blogspot.com Vicki

    It’s amazing to see you can twist and spin and torture the facts to keep from giving JJ his due. You must have wanted Tony to win because you set a condition that no one could meet but him! Championships under both systems! Problem solved. Your guy gets it. Making history? Not so much.

  • hopper

    Who says Stewart is my guy? I thought he was the best driver. He was the best driver over all 36 races, AND the best driver over the last 10. Jimmie could ONLY be the best driver over the last 10, all of which took place at tracks he loved. Like it or not, his championships will always be disputed by some. But not Stewart’s.

    Like I said in the article, Stewart has mentored many of today’s best drivers, and his driving ability is unquestioned. Johnson’s true ability may always be questioned because he could only win under what many believe to be a flawed system.

    That’s why Stewart gets my nod, here.

  • http://www.redstatebluecollar.blogspot.com Vicki

    Hopper – my point was that Tony was “your guy” in that you set up conditions under which only Tony could win. That’s not fair because Jimmie had no choice but to race under the system NASCAR put into place. You’re basically saying that no one will ever be able to win a legitimate championship again unless it goes back to the old points system. May as well quit having a championship.This year, Jimmie won more races than anyone else, led more laps than anyone else, would have won the championship even under the old system.He’s the only driver whose made the Chase every year, the only driver who has finished in the top five in points every year. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. There will be no asterisk by his name. Years from now, it will only say ? time champion and his legacy will be secure.

  • http://[email protected] Fred Randall, jr

    I agree Tony Stewart is the best “driver” of the decade.
    It’s tough to go against Jimmy, but I believe he would
    also agree Tony is the best wheel man out there. I heard
    Bill Elliott make the same comment some time ago.

  • http://www.redstatebluecollar.blogspot.com Vicki

    Well, maybe Tony is the “best wheelman” but that is a subjective judgment. It’s opinion. The only thing we really have to go by is statistics. Who has won the most races this decade? Jimmie. Use other types of criteria and Jimmie is first in a majority of them. I could say Michael Waltrip is the best wheelman. I have a right to my opinion but it isn’t borne out by the facts.

  • GD

    You’re not very smart.

    You claim that the Chase system is flawed, yet you use it to support why Stewart should be the best driver of the decade. Keep in mind that Stewart, and all the other drivers, raced with the same rules and conditions, yet Jimmie beat Stewart for the championship each year he won.

    You mentioned Knaus. Well, he doesn’t cheat any more than any other crew chief. They scrutinize his cars. Even when he’s found to be within the rules, they still flag him.

    Lastly, if you really like the old system, then you have to think of Gordon as the best of the decade. He would have won three championships under the old system this decade. He’d have a total of 6 championships.

    • hopper

      “You’re not very smart.”

      I wish I had a dollar for every time someone who disagrees with me told me that. I’d be rich. Haha


  • Scott

    I’ve got to give the award to Jimmie Johnson. He won in 2006 with the old car. He won in 2007 with the old and new car. He won in 2008 and 2009 with the new car. Tony is great but not as much as Jimmie.

    • hopper

      That’s a good case. No namecalling, no attacks, just straight to the point. Thank you very much Scott. Your feedback is appreciated!

  • Buster

    There’s no doubt in my mind that the driver of the decade has been Jimmie Johnson. I’ll do my best to support that with some facts and not just with opinion.

    Obviously, as we all know, his 4 straight championships (I believe we have to take into consideration the fact that 4 in a row sets a never before reached mark.) Also, lets consider some statistical facts in here. Jimmie didn’t race at all in 2000 and only 3 races in 2001, so he missed 2 years of the decade, yet amassed 47 wins in just 8 years (That number bests Tony Stewart by 22 and Jeff Gordon by 23 in the same time frame. It also bests them both by 10+ even including the 2 year advantage for Stewart and Gordon.) I find that a very significant stat and one that weighs heavily in my decision to pick Johnson. Also, lets now pick apart top 5′s and 10′s. Johnson has 117 tops 5′s in his 8 years, Stewart 105, Gordon 118. Johnson has 180 top 10′s, Stewart 164, Gordon 171. Johnson has led 9681 laps, Stewart 7,746, Gordon 7,710.

    These numbers compare what Jimmie has done against the only 2 other drivers who I believe could even be considered for driver of the decade. I’ll also point out that I compare the numbers in the 8 years that Johnson has spent full time in the Cup series, so obviously some consideration has to be given to the fact that both Stewart and Gordon won championships respectively in 2001 and 2002.

    When you look at the facts (ie the stats) than I believe Jimmie stands above everyone else in the Cup series. He has doubled his 2 closest competitors in wins in his 8 years, doubled 1 in championships and quadrupled the other, scored more tops 10′s than both, more tops 5′s than 1 and just 1 behind the other, led a considerable amount more laps than both and set a record for consecutive championships.

    Those numbers compare to the legends of Nascar and even surpass some of those legends on some levels. Those kinds of stats are not just luck or the result of a different system. Those stats under any Cup drivers name who’s ever raced in this series would make him a living legend and there’s no reason that Jimmie Johnson should be viewed any differently. What he has accomplished so far is historical and all of those accomplishments have happened in this decade. That, in my mind mind at least, easily makes him the unquestioned best of the decade.

  • lazerbot

    hopper must be related to dennis hopper and smoking dope.

  • Matt G

    I understand your logic for choosing Truex, but Truex didn’t race in the Nationwide series the whole decade. Kevin Harvick did, and he also won two championships. If you’re going to pick a “driver of the decade” shouldn’t they have at least raced in that series for the whole decade?


  • hopper

    Hey Matt, thanks for commenting! As far as my Nationwide driver of the decade, I really wanted to go with who had the best stats as a Nationwide-only driver. Harvick was outstanding in the Nationwide Series, but he was usually a double-duty driver. Truex’s stats came as a Nationwide-only driver, so I went with him.

    Thank you again!

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