Road courses are unique for NASCAR given the fact that there are only two per year at the Sprint Cup level. Whether it’s at Sonoma or Watkins Glen, there are a select few drivers who can truly dominate on the twisting, turning tracks.
Several active drivers like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart (pictured above) have a great track record at road courses. Maintaining success at the tracks can mean the difference between making the Chase or missing out on NASCAR’s postseason.
Years ago, drivers such as Mark Martin and Robby Gordon were constant fixtures in Victory Lane at the perplexing courses. Those drivers might not be competing any more, but they left a legacy of greatness at the uncommon tracks.
Races from the old Riverside track were not included in this ranking with the no NASCAR races at the track for over 25 years. With the second road course race just days away, here’s a look at the most prolific drivers in NASCAR history.
10. Kevin Harvick
At this point, does anyone expect Kevin Harvick not to be on a list of great NASCAR drivers? Yes, he’s even great at road courses.
Holding just one win on the difficult tracks over his career, Harvick also has 12 top-10 finishes in 28 attempts. With a seventh-place result at Watkins Glen last season, it’s clear that success won’t end with Stewart-Haas Racing.
Given his results recently to start the season, Harvick seems unstoppable. The defending champion referenced just how happy he is with his No. 4 cars recently.
“Man these things are incredible and they are just fun to drive,” Harvick said following the Phoenix win. “… I just feel like the bond with this team is even better. It’s scary how well we get along with each other. I don’t want to talk about it sometimes so I don’t jinx it.”
Taking his string of prosperity and overall results at road courses into account, he might be eyeing a second road course victory at either Sonoma or Watkins Glen this season.
9. Robby Gordon
His time in NASCAR might have already come to an end, but Robby Gordon was one of the most successful road course drivers ever.
In 28 road course races over his career, Gordon won two and finished inside the top five in 10 of those. Even with six DNFs during that span, Gordon never enjoyed as much success in NASCAR as he did at road courses. In fact, he had just one victory outside of the two checkered flags at Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
Outside of his NASCAR racing, Gordon has also enjoyed success at the CART, IndyCar and the X Games. He’s also participated in the Dakar Rally, a grueling endurance race across Europe and Africa.
Needless to say, if it has four wheels and can be driven at high speeds, Gordon has found his way behind the wheel. Thanks to his wins on road courses, he’ll be remembered by NASCAR fans for his skill at the Sprint Cup level.
8. Jimmie Johnson
The six-time champion had a poor result at Watkins Glen last year, but has been one of the most consistent active drivers at both road courses.
The Hendrick driver ended a streak of seven straight top-10 finishes at both tracks in New York last year. Prior to that string of great finishes, Johnson took home his only win at Sonoma in 2010. That victory helped JJ turn a corner—a right one, ironically—at road courses.
“It was a huge one to check, a box to check, for me,” Johnson said in 2013, via Auto Racing Daily. “I was so bad at it and couldn’t understand why, especially with my background. Once my brain grasped it and I got in the right spot mentally I was able to make it work. That was a big day for me.”
Other current drivers have recently seemed to figure out road courses like Carl Edwards, who won at Sonoma last year. But thanks to the stability that Johnson has shown over the last several years, he finds himself inside the top 10 on this list.
7. Carl Edwards
Remember that guy mentioned in the last paragraph? Yeah, well he’s quickly becoming the new face of road-course racing in Sprint Cup.
Carl Edwards didn’t start out as a strong driver on the curvy tracks, but was groomed into one over the last several years. That all led to his first win at Sonoma after two straight top-five finishes in 2013. Then he followed that up with a fifth-place result in Watkins Glen.
A championship-pedigree driver, Edwards has come close to winning it all in multiple seasons. In an era where winning means so much to making the Chase, Edwards’ recent rise at road courses might just guarantee him a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs each season.
His numbers have typically been better in Watkins Glen, but the victory at Sonoma proves he can compete at either track. With a long career still ahead of him now with Joe Gibbs Racing, Edwards has plenty of time to move up this list as he continues to improve.
6. Juan Pablo Montoya
His NASCAR career might have been a short one, but Juan Pablo Montoya made an impact on road courses. In fact, he forced the racing world to take notice during his first ever stock car road course race with a victory at Sonoma in 2007.
Montoya would later pair that victory with another one in Watkins Glen in 2010 to go along with his nine top-10 finishes. That came in just 14 events at a road course over seven years. Pretty astonishing stuff, to say the least.
Now back in IndyCar, Montoya won a race in 2014 and is continuing to find success. Even though his career fizzled out in NASCAR at the end, his mark at road courses early in his Sprint Cup days proved to be some of the best in the history of the sport.
5. Marcos Ambrose
Similar to Montoya, Marcos Ambrose didn’t enjoy a long career at the NASCAR level. However, his run at road courses was the best statistical streak of any driver on the style of track.
While with JTG Daugherty Racing, Ambrose was constantly knocking on the door of Victory Lane. The Australian driver never finished worse than sixth with the single-car team as a full-time driver over a two-year span. He even finished third at Watkins Glen when called up for his road racing specialty.
When he switched over to Richard Petty Motorsports, Ambrose won two straight races at Watkins Glen. After all, Petty himself held the second-most wins at Riverside with five along with Darrell Waltrip and Dan Gurney behind only Bobby Allison with six.
Given his history on road courses, Ambrose could likely return to race at either The Glen or Sonoma for a team looking to make some extra money with a solid finish. He may have moved on from RPM and NASCAR entirely, but his average finish of 8.71 still stands as the best of any driver.
4. Kyle Busch
The start of this season was a lost one for Kyle Busch due to his leg injury sustained in an Xfinity race in Daytona, but Busch will still has a chance to make the Chase partly thanks to getting his first win of the season at Sonoma.
He’s been on a roll since, and has a shot to lock himself into the postseason this Sunday.
All in all, Busch has a total of four victories on road courses, with two coming at both active road courses. Still a young driver at the age of 30, Busch has time like Edwards to enter the top three on this list. One way to get there would be another win on Sunday—something he needs to get back to the Chase.
3. Mark Martin
He hasn’t raced full-time since 2011, but Mark Martin once had a stranglehold over road courses. Back in the 1990s, Martin had just one race on a road course in which he finished outside of the top 10 over the 20 events.
That streak actually started in 1989 and ran through 2001 with his DNF in 1993 being the only poor finish over a 24-race stretch. During those 12 years, Martin also captured four wins. Three of those came at Watkins Glen and the final one was in Sonoma.
A potential NASCAR Hall of Famer that will have his name on the ballot for the first time this coming up year, Martin can rest easy knowing he was one of the best ever at road courses. Mike Hembree of USA Today offered his take on Martin’s career.
“Martin, who finished second in the Cup championship standings five times, is considered one of the best drivers in NASCAR history,” Hembree wrote. “and probably will be elected on his first time on the ballot.”
He might have constantly fell short of winning a title, but the No. 6 Ford was a mainstay in Victory Lane at road courses.
2. Tony Stewart
Since coming over to NASCAR in 1999, Tony Stewart has commanded respect on road courses. His last road course win came back in 2009 at Watkins Glen, but he’s still a driver worth watching every time NASCAR looks to turn right.
Stewart’s seven wins are the second most for any driver at the Sprint Cup level and have been scattered throughout both Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Like several other top drivers on this list, Stewart has enjoyed more success at The Glen with five checkered flags from the track.
The Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner hasn’t enjoyed the road courses recently with three straight finishes of 19th or worse. He’s also missed the last two races at Watkins Glen due to a leg injury and taking time off last year after he struck and killed Kevin Ward in a sprint car.
Standing alone at the top of the wins list at The Glen, Stewart’s return to the track will likely be met with huge fanfare this season. This season hasn’t started quite the way he hoped, but Stewart will have hope of making the Chase even if he doesn’t have a victory heading into New York.
1. Jeff Gordon
His last win at a road course might have came in 2006, but Jeff Gordon is still the most prolific driver at the style of track in NASCAR history.
No racer in the sport has ever won as many events on current road courses than Gordon’s nine. Just one other driver—Martin—has as many top fives with 20. Regardless of the era or age when Gordon was in his prime on the difficult tracks, he will go down as the best ever at the Sprint Cup level.
Statistically speaking, Gordon has typically been better at Sonoma than Watkins Glen, but had a streak of six straight victories from 1997 to 2000 at both courses. Driving in his final full-time season at the Sprint Cup level, Gordon still left the door open to competing in the future.
“I didn’t say I’m retiring,” Gordon said, per Michael Florek of The Dallas Morning News. “There’s a reason I didn’t say this is it, that I said that this is my last final, full season. I want to leave that open. If I’m healthy and feel like I can get in a good opportunity to have some fun as well as be competitive, it doesn’t matter what it is, I’d like to do it.”
Though logical thinking says he’d likely come back for the Brickyard 400 or Daytona 500, coming back to a road course might not be out of the question. After all, wouldn’t you want a driver in the car that has nine wins on a specific style of track? I know I would.
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