Top 10 List: Winning Percentages
by Tom Jensen September 02, 2020
Through the decades, NASCAR has had lots of great drivers; here’s which Hall of Famers won most often.
One of the great things about sports is that they are the source of endless debate, especially when it comes time to argue about the greatest performers in their respective fields.
Was the best quarterback in NFL history Tom Brady or Otto Graham?
Who was the better NBA player, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James?
Was Dean Smith the best college basketball coach ever, or was it Mike Krzyzewski?
In NASCAR, similar debates occur. There are three seven-time champions in the sport – Hall of Famers Richard Petty (2010) and Dale Earnhardt (2010) and the still-active Jimmie Johnson. Does one of them rise to the level of Greatest of All-Time (GOAT)?
The answer is a definite, “maybe.”
Arguments can be made for all three seven-time NASCAR champions, but in reality, those arguments can never truly result in definitive outcomes. No one knows how many championships Johnson would have won if he started racing in 1952, or how Earnhardt would have fared if his rookie season was 1969 or 1999, instead of 1979. Would Petty be as dominant in the 2010s as he was in the 1960s or ‘70s?
Impossible to say with any certainty. All one can do is quantify based on actual numbers the drivers posted during their respective careers.
For example, most serious NASCAR fans know Petty is the all-time leader in NASCAR premier series race victories with 200. And certainly, it’s easy enough to rank drivers simply by number of wins.
But a better indicator might be to rank them by winning percentage – how frequently a given driver won in the races he entered. Following are the 10 NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers with the highest career winning percentages in at least 100 premier series starts.
10. Lee Petty
427 starts, 54 victories, 12.64 winning percentage
The patriarch of the Petty racing family, Lee Petty (2011) was NASCAR’s first three-time premier series champion, as well as the winner of the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959. He was one of the sport’s best in the decade of the 1950s.
9. Ned Jarrett
352 starts, 50 victories, 14.20 winning percentage
Just 33 years old when he retired in 1966, “Gentleman Ned” Jarrett (2011) won two premier series championships, taking the crowns in both 1961 and 1965. In ’65, Jarrett set an unbreakable record by winning the Southern 500 a whopping 14 laps ahead of the second-place finisher.
8. Cale Yarborough
560 starts, 83 victories, 14.82 winning percentage
One of the toughest drivers in NASCAR history, South Carolina native Cale Yarborough (2012) did something no other driver had ever done before, winning three consecutive premier series championships from 1976-78, when he drove for fellow Hall of Famer Junior Johnson (2010).
7. Junior Johnson
313 starts, 50 victories, 15.97 winning percentage
Although he won six championships as a car owner, Junior Johnson (2010) was a great wheelman as well, having cut his teeth running moonshine as a teenager in Wilkes County, North Carolina. In 1965, his final full season as a driver, Johnson won 13 of 36 starts.
6. Fireball Roberts
206 starts, 33 victories, 16.02 winning percentage
Often referred to as NASCAR’s first true superstar, Fireball Roberts (2014) never ran the full NASCAR schedule and only twice in 15 seasons ran as many as half the races. The Daytona Beach native earned his nickname as a hard-throwing baseball pitcher.
5. Fred Lorenzen
158 starts, 26 victories, 16.46 winning percentage
A member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015, Fred Lorenzen had the fewest career starts of any driver on this list. In fact, over a 12-year period, Lorenzen only made at least 20 starts in a single season once. But he achieved great success driving for the Holman-Moody Racing Ford factory team.
4. Richard Petty
1,184 starts, 200 victories, 16.89 winning percentage
No one has ever approached the records Richard Petty (2010) set for both career victories (200) and victories in a single season (27). And it’s highly unlikely anyone ever will. Still, on a percentage basis, Petty was not the sport’s single biggest winner, which is somewhat surprising.
3. David Pearson
574 starts, 105 victories, 18.29 winning percentage
No. 2 on NASCAR’s all-time victory list, David Pearson (2011) won a championship driving a Dodge for Cotton Owens (2013) in 1966, and then captured back-to-back titles in 1968-69, when he was behind the wheel of Holman-Moody Racing Fords.
2. Tim Flock
187 starts, 39 victories, 20.85 winning percentage
The second driver to win multiple NASCAR premier series championships, Tim Flock (2014) took his first title in 1952, behind the wheel of a Hudson Hornet. Three years later, Flock captured a second crown, this time piloting one of Carl Kiekhaefer’s powerhouse Chryslers. Had Flock made one fewer career start, he’d be ranked No. 1 on this list. That’s how close he came.
1. Herb Thomas
229 starts, 48 victories, 20.96 winning percentage
One of NASCAR’s earliest stars, Herb Thomas was the first NASCAR driver to win two premier series championships, taking the titles in 1951 and ’53, both behind the wheel of the iconic “Fabulous Hudson Hornet.” Thomas was the inspiration for the Doc Hudson character in the classic film, “Cars.”