The 2012 Sprint Cup Series has nine races left in the Chase for the Championship, with Bred Keselowski leading the way, hoping to win his first championship, chased from behind by five time champion Jimmie Johnson and three time (and the 2011 champion) champion Tony Stewart, both hoping to equal the 7 wins record of Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.
Tony Stewart – 3 Wins
A three time champion, Stewart is the only driver to win the NASCAR championship under three different sponsorship titles – Winston in 2002, Nextel in 2005, and Sprint in 2011. He won his first two championships racing for Joe Gibbs racing, later forming his own Stewart-Haas Racing team, owning the car he won the title with in 2011. He’s also the only driver in history to win a championship in both IndyCar and NASCAR.
Darrell Wlatrip – 3 Wins
Wlatrip won the title 3 times (1981, 1984, 1985) but also finished as a runner up three more times in the 1980’s, while winning the Coca-Cola 600 (Charlotte) a record six times and posted a modern series record of 22 top five finishes in 1983. He’s also won seven straight times at the Bristol Motor Speedway.
Cale Yarborough – 3 Wins
William Caleb “Cale” Yarborough won 83 races throughout his career, peaking during the late 1970’s, winning three consecutive cup titles from 1976 to 1978. He has won the Daytona 500 four times, including back to back in 1983 and 1984, setting a a record of becoming the first driver (in 1984) to qualify for the Daytona 500 with a top speed of over 200 miles per hour.
David Pearson – 3 Wins
Considered by many to be the most gifted driver in the history of the sport, winning the Cup title three times (1966, 1968, 1969), the only three times he ran the full schedule in NASCAR’s Cup Series. In 1974, despite participating in only 19 of the 30 races, Pearson finished third in the final standings.
Lee Petty – 3 Wins
The father of Richard Petty, who’ll be showing up a bit later on this list. Petty senior was a part of NASCAR’s first race in 1949 and was the winner of the inaugural Daytona 500. He won his three titles in 1954, 1958 and 1959, already into his 40’s.
Jeff Gordon – 4 Wins
Into his 21st season as a Sprint Cup driver, Gordon drives the no. 24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont Chevrolet Impala for Hendrick Motorsports, partially owning that car, while being the co-owner of Jimmie Johnson’s no. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet. He won his four titles in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001. He has the most wins in the modern era (1972 and onwards) of the sport and is also the first driver to gain over $100 million in winnings.
Jimmie Johnson – 5 Wins
Currently at number 2 on the race of the cup standings in 2012, Jimmie Johnson took over half a decade of NASCAR by winning five consecutive Sprint Cup titles, driving for Hendrick Motorsports his entire career. A star from the start, Johnson finished fifth in the rankings on his first full season, since then going on to finish second or first seven of nine times, which seems like it’s going to be the case again this season. He won the title from 2006 to 2010.
Dale Earnhardt – 7 Wins
A son of a race car driver and a father to one (the most popular in the sport), Dale Earnhardt won 7 Cup series championships (1980, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994) winning a total of 76 races throughout his 26 year career, which ended in 2001 after Earnhardt died of basilar skull fracture in a last-lap crash at Daytona International Speedwayon February 18. His son was racing with him, finishing second in that race and immediately running to the site of the crash after completing it.
Richard Petty – 7 Wins
A winner of 200 races throughout his career, most of them well before the modern era (1972), Petty won the Daytona 500 a record 7 times and during his championship 1967 season, he won 27 races, including 10 in a row. His championships came in 1964, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1979. His grandson, Adam Petty, was killed in an accident at New Hampshire International Speedway on May 12, 2000.