5 Best NASCAR Drivers Who Were Never Crowned Champion

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The Five Greatest NASCAR Drivers to Never Win a Championship

Mathhew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is what every race car driver strives for. It's the reason why they put their lives on the line every time they get behind the wheel. They dream of holding it and hoisting above their heads and some consider a Sprint Cup career without a championship a failure. Many of NASCAR's greatest drivers have won championship(s) and to do so puts you in an elite group of racers. There is a contingent of drivers out there however who are more than worthy of being called champions, but do not have the hardware to show it.

There are a few reasons why some of the greatest racers in NASCAR history never won the championship themselves. For a few, it's because they never cared to run the full schedule. For others, it's because their lives were tragically cut short before they got the chance. In this list, I highlight the careers of what I believe are the five best drivers to never win the championship at NASCAR highest level. There were plenty of names to choose from and it was tough to narrow it down. Also, I left out racers who are still actively racing in the Sprint Cup Series so don't expect to see any current names. Before we got into the slideshow, I've listed below a few honorable mentions that were strongly considered, but didn't make the cut when it was all said and done.

Fonty Flock, Fred Lorenzon, Jim Paschal, Curtis Turner, Ricky Rudd, Ernie Irvan, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, Marvin Panch.

Nick DeGroot is a Contributing Writer For Rant Sports NASCAR. Connect With Him on Twitter @ndegroot89.

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5. Tim Richmond

Ted Van Pelt/Flickr Creative Commons

Tim Richmond was a man that liked to race hard and party even harder. He didn't fear death and he didn't care about what could potentially go wrong. He did what he wanted and fans loved him for it. In an era of blue-collar racers where everybody had a southern drawl and a cowboy hat, Richmond was quite different. He walked in there like he owned the place with his lion's mane of hair, big sunglasses, and a grin that made you think he knew something you didn't. While other drivers spent their off-time fishing or hunting, he would be in his private helicopter someplace or partying in Vegas ... surrounded by girls, of course. They called him "Hollywood" and rightly so.

On the track, he was an animal. His tenacity, aggression and ruthlessness was only matched by "The Intimidator;" aka Dale Earnhardt. He bullied his way through the field and into NASCAR lore. Richard Petty once said of Richmond, "everybody has a certain amount of luck, and I just hope I'm not near him when his luck runs out." His luck did indeed run out but it wasn't in the way Petty had alluded to. His no-worries, playboy life style resulted in Richmond contracting AIDS and he succumbed to the disease in 1989. In his short but quite spectacular career, he accumulated 13 victories. In 1986, he came close to winning the Cup but soon after, his career came to a screeching halt. There's no telling what he would have accomplished had fate been kinder to NASCAR's James Hunt.

    Starts: 185
    Wins: 13
    Poles: 14
    Top 5's: 42
    Top 10's: 78
    Best Points Finish: Third (1986)

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4. Davey Allison

racecrazy99/Flickr Creative Commons

Davey Allison was the son of 1983 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Bobby Allison and was not only as talented as his father, but many will say that his ability surpassed Allison's. He preserved through the career ending crash that left his father with brain trauma and the loss of his younger brother, Clifford Allison, after a wreck at Michigan in 1992. His determination following these tragic events propelled him to the status of a NASCAR legend.

He opened the 1992 season by winning the Daytona 500 and things were looking good early. As he crossed the line and won the All-Star Race in May, though, Kyle Petty got into him and he crashed heavily. He suffered a concussion and a bruised lung but to the amazement of the racing community, he raced the following weekend in NASCAR's longest race, the Coke 600, and finished fourth.

A few weeks later at Pocono, he was involved in another terrifying crash and flipped violently. This wreck left him with a rather severe concussion, a broken arm, wrist, and a fractured collar bone. Again, he raced the following week, but wore sunglasses to hide his bruised and bloodshot eyes. Two weeks later, his brother was killed at Michigan but instead of giving up, Davey once again raced on and finished 5th. There seemed to be absolutely nothing that would stop NASCAR's iron man from winning the championship. In the season finale, he was in a solid position to secure the title until he was caught up in someone else's wreck.

His tumultuous season was over and his title hopes dashed. In 1993, Davey was ready for retribution but tragically, he never got the chance. He left New Hampshire fifth in points but would never race again. While attempting to land his helicopter in the infield at Talladega, he lost control and crashed. He died the following morning from head injuries sustained in the impact. What a life story. That's all I can say.

    Starts: 191
    Wins: 19
    Poles: 14
    Top 5's: 66
    Top 10's: 92
    Best Points Finish: Third (1991 and 1992)

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3. Mark Martin

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

There's no one in NASCAR that has tried longer to win the championship and come as close on so many separate occasions than Mark Martin. For 30 years, Martin tried and failed to win the title. It's not because he wasn't good enough, he just couldn't break through that glass ceiling. Mark finished second in the standings five times between 1990 and 2009. Despite no championships, Mark still put together an impressive career that is more than worthy of a Hall of Fame nod. His 40 victories surpasses the numbers posted by at least a dozen former champions. He retired at the end of 2013, but if he does suddenly come out of retirement, it wouldn't be anything new for this ageless wonder who's done it before. At 54 years old, he is still very fit and capable of winning on any given week.

    Starts: 882
    Wins: 40
    Poles: 56
    Top 5's: 271
    Top 10's: 453
    Best Points Finish: Second (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2009)

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2. Fireball Roberts

Torinodave72/Flickr Creative Commons

Edward Glenn "Fireball" Roberts was one of NASCAR's first superstars. In a sport, that was at the time, made up of rough neck ex-moonshiners, Fireball was all class. He was a high school baseball pitcher (that's where the nickname came from), very articulate when he spoke and attended college. This well-groomed, easy-going character had a secret thirst though. A thirst for going fast. He loved to race and he did it better than most. In just 200 starts, he collected 33 wins which included a victory in the 1962 Daytona 500. The reason why this incredibly talented racer never won the championship is simple. He never tried to. He raced when he wanted to and wasn't about to go broke, running all around the country for something that wouldn't be worth it, money wise.

You want to know how good he really was? In 1950, he ran less than half the races on the schedule and still ended the season the championship runner-up. After finishing second in the 1964 Rebel 300 at Darlington, Fireball went to Charlotte with aspirations of career win No. 34. Early in the race, though, he crashed and the car was instantly engulfed in flames. He miraculously survived the horrific accident, but died due to complications a few weeks later. There's tragic irony in the fact that Fireball lost his life ... in a fireball. Had he lived, do I think he would have won the title? No, that wasn't his style to go for titles, but be assured that he would have won a lot more races; you can bet money on that one.

    Starts: 206
    Wins: 33
    Poles: 32
    Top 5's: 93
    Top 10's: 122
    Best Points Finish: Second (1950)

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1. Junior Johnson

Wide Angle Nomad/Flickr Creative Commons

Junior Johnson is a man that could do anything in racing. He could be a car owner, crew chief, driver, jack man, it didn't matter. He excelled in every aspect of the sport. As a driver, he holds the record for most career wins for someone who never won the title. His 50 victories in just 300 starts are numbers most drivers can only dream of and it's very puzzling that he was never crowned champion. Like Fireball, though, he never ran the full schedule. He led nearly 25 percent of the laps he ran and to let you know the significance of that statistic, he ran over 50,000 laps in his NASCAR career.

Before NASCAR, Junior was a famous bootlegger who always managed to outrun the cops in hot pursuits. He is also credited with discovering the draft at Daytona. Junior was involved in the wreck that killed his friend, Fireball Roberts, in 1964 and that incident led him to quit driving less than two years later. He did not leave quietly, though. In 1965, he won over a third of the races he entered (13 of 36) as a driver/owner. After his career as a racer ended, Junior built his race team into an empire that would have a stranglehold on NASCAR during the 70s and 80s.

    Starts: 313
    Wins: 50
    Poles: 46
    Top 5's: 121
    Top 10's: 148
    Best Points Finish: Sixth (1955 and 1961)