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.