NASCAR has authorized the use of 101 car numbers over the years for competition purposes – 1 through 00. Most of those car numbers have run races with drivers going through their whole careers pretty much staying under the radar. However, there are several car numbers that are immediately recognizable and identifiable, numbers that even many non-NASCAR fans can remember. RacingJunk is going to list out the most recognizable of these numbers and drivers. Sorry, folks – Cousin Carl and his backflips didn’t make this list.
Who Do You Picture When Car Number 2 Is Mentioned?
Most people who watched at least one NASCAR race during the 80s and/or early 90s will recognize the Number 2 in a heartbeat. If you haven’t been following NASCAR over the past almost 10 years, you’ll say, “Brad who?” Even mentioning “The Miller Lite car” will evoke memories of NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace.
Wallace made most of his Cup starts driving the Number 2 for Roger Penske over his career, with the car notching 95 wins in NASCAR’s premier-series with various drivers, including Kurt Busch and its current driver, Brad Keselowski. Rusty racked up 37 of the 55 wins he earned in the top series in the car. An interesting side note on car Number 2 is that it has the third-most starts in the Cup Series, as well as the Series’ fourth-most wins.
The Intimidator and Car Number 3
Go to any NASCAR race and you’ll see fans holding up their hands signifying the Number 3 in tribute to Dale Earnhardt, Sr., the driver who made car Number 3 world famous as “The Intimidator.” The car number had been used many times before he jumped in the seat, but Senior will always be connected with the car, although Richard Childress Racing recently put the number back into competition with his grandson Austin Dillon behind the wheel (with the blessings of Dale Jr., his sister Kelly, and Senior’s widow Teresa).
Senior had 676 starts driving in NASCAR’s big leagues, 529 of them behind the wheel of the Number 3 car. A total of 57 of Dale’s 76 wins and seven Cup championships came behind the wheel of the car over his almost two decades of association with the number. It was during this tenure that he acquired his two nicknames: “The Man in Black” and “The Intimidator.” Two other well-known drivers had also stints behind the wheel of the Number 3 – none other than the legendary Junior Johnson (more on him later) and Richard Childress.
The Viagra Number 6 and “The Old Man” of NASCAR
Mention car Number 6 in NASCAR circles and everyone in the room will automatically think “Mark Martin.” Martin’s career was like that of the proverbial cat with nine lives; he just kept coming back for more. Hall of Fame driver Martin won 40 races in NASCAR’s top series, with 35 of those behind the wheel of car Number 6. Hall of Famer David Pearson is another famous NASCAR driver who did stints behind the wheel of Number 6, notching up 27 of the car’s total of 83 top-series wins.
Do You Remember the “Polish Victory Lap?”
For any true fan of NASCAR, mention the “Polish Victory Lap” and you’ll automatically picture David Kulwicki and his independent run for the 1992 NASCAR Cup Championship in the Hooters Number 7.
Kulwicki isn’t responsible for the most wins in the history of the Number 7, or the most championships. What made him famous as the driver of the car was his winning the Cup championship in 1992 as an independent owner-driver. Kulwicki’s most famous action/antic behind the wheel of the car, one that helped propel him to stardom as the car’s driver, was his “Polish/Kulwicki Victory Lap” where, after his first win in NASCAR’s premier-series at Phoenix International Raceway, Alan turned the car around and drove clockwise (against the normal direction of NASCAR races) around the track in celebration of his win. Later that year, when he was announced as the Cup winner for that year, by the narrowest margin to date, he repeated the Polish Victory lap to the delight of fans. NASCAR standouts Bob Flock and Geoffrey Bodine also made successful appearances in the car.
Awesome Bill from Dawsonville (Georgia)
Bill Elliott rounds out this week’s list as the best driver in the Number 9 car. Out of his 44 career Cup Series wins, 38 of them came in the Ray Evernham car. Elliott made 446 starts in the car over his career, although there were a couple seasons that he occupied the seats in the Numbers 11 and 94 cars during a career that stretched from 1976 to 2003.
Car Number 11 Has the Most Wins in NASCAR History
Denny Hamlin has done a good job of putting the FedEx Number 11 into Victory Lane and the minds of newer NASCAR fans for the past decade or so. However, he’s not the reason the car number is so well-known in NASCAR circles. That honor goes to the fact that it has more top-tier series wins than any other car number in the history of NASCAR. You really can’t pin the number’s fame on any one single driver, either.
Car Number 11 is a unique car also in that there are five drivers, including Denny, who have made the number what it is today. Although Denny is the current driver, he’s not the most famous in the car, not by far. The most famous driver in Number 11 is a punching match between four other NASCAR legends, all of whom are Hall of Famers. Cale Yarborough scored 55 of the car’s 213 historical wins and won three rings over an eight year period. Junior Johnson started the number’s rise to fame because he’s Junior Johnson. Ned Jarrett took over and garnered 49 wins behind its wheel on the way to two titles, after which Darrel Waltrip (Boogity Boogity Boogity!) took control and won three titles and 43 races in it. Another reason the number is famous is the Number 11’s record of Top Ten finishes in an astonishing 50 percent of the races it has competed in, as well as being the all-time leader in laps led and Top Fives.
Time to Get Rowdy for the Number 18
Kyle Busch is going to go down in NASCAR history as one of the most successful drivers of all time. Love him or hate him, The Schrub will go down in history as one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers ever, even if he never wins another title, which I doubt. When he first jumped behind the wheel of the car, the number had only seen the inside of Victory Lane twice, once driven by Marvin Burke way back on Oct. 14, 1951 driving at the now defunct .62- mile dirt track inside (the then) Oakland Stadium and once by NASCAR great Dale Jarrett (more on him later also) when he won the 1993 Daytona 500. Bobby Labonte took the car to Victory Lane 21 times, all of his Cup Series wins coming in the car, including his 2000 run for the championship. The other 52 victories for the car number have come at the hands of Kyle Busch.
Home Depot Orange
Tony Stewart is on a list of drivers and their most recognizable car numbers for two cars: the Home Depot Number 20 and his own Stewart-Haas Racing Number 14. However, Tony’s name is most remembered in the 20 car thanks to his multiple years driving it for Joe Gibbs Racing, and to how he and Dale Jr. used to play with the rest of the field at Daytona and Talladega.
The Number 20 has appeared in 1,179 Cup Series races and won 52 of them, with 33 of those wins coming at Tony’s hands along the way to his winning two Cup championships. Prior to Tony stepping into the driver’s seat of Number 20, the only other time the car had a win was on NASCAR’s biggest stage at the 1961 Daytona 500 driving a one-year-old Pontiac that Smokey Yunick built.
Let’s Talk Wood Brothers
The Wood Brothers are NASCAR’s most famous and longest-lived siblings, with their NASCAR careers dating back to the early years of NASCAR’s formation. Mention car Number 21 to even some of the youngest/newest fans out there and they’ll say Glen and Leonard Wood. The 21 is one of NASCAR’s most storied car numbers ever, as well as being among the numbers with the longest history in NASCAR. The car’s first win came at the hands of Harold Kite in the 1950 Daytona Beach Road Course race.
Picking a driver to call the car’s most famous is tough. Family patriarch Glen was the first to drive it in its first race at the old Morris Speedway near Martinsville. His night ended early due to a wreck he was secondarily involved in. Over the years other NASCAR greats like David Pearson, Neil Bonnett and Marvin Panch have driven the car successfully. However, Pearson takes top honors with the number having garnered 43 of his 105 careers wins over a slightly more than seven-year stretch. This doesn’t sound too incredible until you realize that the car only ran a partial schedule through most of the 70s.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Ray Evernham tells the story that the Rainbow Warrior Jeff Gordon’s rise to NASCAR fame would have been behind the wheel of the Number 46, but there were licensing issues with the number after the filming of the movie “Days of Thunder.” Thus, Gordon was given the Number 24 instead. Gordo is the only NASCAR Cup-Series driver to win with the number, garnering a total of 93 wins, a total that places him third on the all-time win list. The closest the number had been to Victory Lane prior to Gordon’s assuming the number was at a race in Dover in 1975, with Cecil Gordon (no relation) behind the wheel finishing in second place behind David Pearson, seven laps down.
Davey Allison and the Number 28 hit this list for a sad reason. Allison has the second-highest number of wins in the number, with 19 versus Fred Lorenzen’s (another NASCAR great) 25. Both are Hall of famers and both won the Daytona 500 suing the Number 28. During his short time in the sport, Davey was NASCAR’s “Golden Boy” and seen as the next legendary driver. Davey Allison might have become the next Richard Petty if he hadn’t been killed in a small plane crash during the 1993 season. His promise and the sadness of his death have kept his name and car number in NASCAR minds ever since.
Are We Happy Yet?
Many NASCAR fans were extremely upset when Richard Childress Racing put a young, unknown Kevin Harvick behind the wheel of the GM Goodwrench Number 29 three races after Dale Earnhardt, Sr.’s fatal crash at Daytona in 2001. That anger was abated somewhat when Harvick won that race at Atlanta, but feelings in the garage and among fans were still mixed. Car Number 29 has seen the inside of Victory Lane 40 times, with Harvick’s 29 wins topping that list by a good margin. Number 29 was last used during Harvick’s last season with RCR in 2013, with Happy winning the second-to-last race of the season at Phoenix. Harvick also has the most starts in the car at 466 out of a total of 924.
The Famously Unknown Number 34
Car Number 34 hits this list not because of an amazing number of wins or appearances in NASCAR’s top series. With a whopping total of four wins with four different drivers, the car has the lowest number of top-tier wins of any car number with more than 100 starts. Car Number 34 hits this list because it was the first car number to be piloted by an African-American and the first car number to see the inside of Victory Lane with an African-American. Sadly, it’s also the only NASCAR car number to have a win taken away from it because NASCAR was afraid of what would happen if a black man won a race.
Wendell Scott had 495 top-tier starts, 469 of which were behind the wheel of car Number 34, with a career spanning the years 1961 through 1973. His only career win in the series came at Jacksonville in December of 1963, and he also has the most Top Five and Top Ten finishes in the car’s tenure in the series.
All Hail the King!
The King. Two words to describe NASCAR’s winningest driver of all time. Richard Petty started his NASCAR career working on his dad’s Number 42 crew in the late 50s and early 60s until he was given the chance to compete in the Number 43. King Richard’s reign started and ended as the driver of the fabled red and blue Number 43. Richard Petty made the most starts of any driver in the sport, almost all of them behind the wheel of the 43 car.
The 43 car is credited with an amazing 200 victories in NASCAR’s top series, all but seven of those coming with The King at the wheel. All seven of his Cup titles were won driving the car. The 43 is one of the most iconic and recognizable numbers in all of motorsports history thanks to Petty’s history with it. Richard also has more than half of the car’s 2,079 series starts.
Five Cup Titles in a Row
NASCAR fans thought Junior Johnson’s achievement of three Cup titles in a row was a record that would never be beaten or equaled. However, that thought was dashed when Junior Johnson crossed the stage to give Jimmie his third Cup Championship ring in 2008. The ring was given when he won his third title in a row. Then Jimmie won his fourth title the following year. 2008 saw Jimmie stun NASCAR Nation by once again winning the Cup title, an amazing fifth title in a row.
Even more amazing is the fact that those five championships were won under three different scoring systems. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus were able to adapt to each of those changes and lead the field once the checkers had waved at Miami-Homestead Speedway. Jimmie has 632 Cup starts to date in the car, the most of any driver. He also has 83 wins, tying him for sixth place for all-time wins with the legendary Cale Yarborough.
We Want to Drive the Truck!
That’s all that needs to be said for you to know that the last iconic NASCAR car number is the fabled UPS Number 88, driven by the legendary Dale Jarrett. Number 88 is the fifth-most used number in NASCAR history, meaning a good-sized crowd of drivers spent time wheeling it around the track over the years. However, the Number 88 will always go down in NASCAR history as Dale Jarrett’s car. We want to drive the truck!
Jarrett has 28 wins behind the 88’s wheel, giving him 2 more than Darrell Waltrip’s 26. There was also Jarrett’s 2000 Cup title, and his two Daytona 500 wins, one in 1996 and one in 2000. Dale’s first ride in the 88 came at the 1996 Daytona 500, driving for then car owner Robert Yates. By his retirement in 2006, Jarrett had chalked up 280 starts behind the 88’s wheel.
Well, there it is, NASCAR fans. That’s our list of the 15 +one most recognizable car numbers in all of NASCAR history, plus the drivers who put those numbers in the history books. How’d we do? Did we miss anyone? Let us know in the comments.