Junior Johnson: The Best NASCAR Driver Never to Win a Championship

There are many analysts who feel that winning championships is what defines a driver’s career. After all, the ultimate goal of every driver that has ever strapped into a racecar is to win the prestigious Nextel Cup (what used to be Grand National and Winston Cup) championship. Some of the best drivers in NASCAR history such as Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, and Jeff Gordon have hoisted the championship trophy.

Every sport has them. A player or players who is regarded as one of the most superb at what they do, but a Championship, Super Bowl, or World Series eludes them. In the NFL you have Dan Marino. In the NBA you have Patrick Ewing. In the Major Leagues you have Barry Bonds. And in NASCAR you have Mark Martin. Because so many sports icons lack the definitive championship trophy, the issue in question lingers, Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½do you have to actually win a championship to be considered a legend?’

In NASCAR, highly regarded drivers who lack championship eminence is as old as the sport itself. While many of today’s NASCAR fans consider Mark Martin the best driver never to win the title, some of the greatest drivers in historyÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½that helpedÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½paved the way for Richard Petty and David Pearson will never be listed as a NASCAR champion.

Through research and historical statistics, I have found that the best driver never to win the championship is Junior Johnson. Though Johnson won six titles as a car owner in the 1970’s and 1980’s, he was unable to close the deal behind the wheel. In a career that started in 1953 and ended in 1965, Johnson won 50 races and 15 poles and had a winning percentage of 15.92%. He became a Daytona 500 winner in 1960. When Johnson decided to hang up his helmet he opted to stay in the sport as an owner. Both Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip won three championships each while driving for Johnson.

Another driver worth mentioning is Edward Glenn Roberts, better known as Fireball Roberts. His career began in 1950 and ended in 1963. He firmly established himself as a consistent winner as he recorded 32 career wins including the 1962 Daytona 500, but like Johnson, he never brought home the championship. He had a career winning percentage of 15.38%. Unfortunately, Fireball Roberts was tragically killed in an accident in 1964.

Mark Martin is considered the modern day equivalent of Junior Johnson or Fireball Roberts. For years, Martin has come oh so close to winning the championship,Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½but to no avail.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ He has finished second in the standings four times in his career. Martin has produced 35 wins throughout his career that officially began while Darrell Waltrip was dominating, lingered through the Dale Earnhardt era, and has continued on through Jeff Gordon’s years of ascendancy.

You can ask almost anyone involved in NASCAR and they’ll swiftly inform you that Junior Johnson, Fireball Roberts, and Mark Martin are all considered NASCAR legends despite never winning a championship. While in most cases, championships are what legends are made of; there are some instances where legends have come up just a tad short.

Top 25 drivers never to win a NASCAR championship (from first career start – last career start)

1.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ Junior Johnson (1953 – 1965)
2.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Fireball’ Roberts (1950 – 1963)
3.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ Mark Martin (1981 – present)
4.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ Curtis Turner (1949 – 1965)
5.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ Fred Lorenzen (1956 – 1972)
6.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ Davey Allison (1986 – 1993)
7.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ Jimmie Johnson (2001 – present)
8.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ Buddy Baker (1955 – 1992)
9.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½ Dale Earnhardt Jr (1999 – present)
10. Ricky Rudd (1975 – 2005)
11. Fonty Flock (1949 – 1957)
12. Jim Paschal (1949 – 1972)
13. Marvin Panch (1951 – 1973)
14. Speedy Thompson (1950 – 1960)
15. Tim Richmond (1980 – 1987)
16. Ernie Irvan (1987 – 1999)
17. Jack Smith (1949 – 1962)
18. Harry Gant (1973 – 1993)
19. Dick Rathmann (1951 – 1955)
20. Ryan Newman (2000 – present)
21. Jeff Burton (1993 – present)
22. Dick Hutcherson (1965 – 1967)
23. Neil Bonnett (1974 – 1993)
24. Lee Roy Yarbrough (1964 – 1972)
25. Geoffrey Bodine (1979 – 2004)

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