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Why is Dale Earnhardt Sr. considered the greatest driver in NASCAR history?


The night that he died I'll never forget what the NASCAR commissioner said: "NASCAR has lost its greatest driver ever." Since his death, many others have echoed that statement. However, its hard for me to consider him the greatest ever when you compare his resume to Richard Petty's. Dale Sr. might be the most popular driver ever but he's probably not the greatest.

Wins: Dale - 76; Petty - 200
Cup Championships: Dale - 7; Petty - 7
Daytona 500's: Dale - 1; Petty - 7
Top Tens: Dale - 428; Petty - 712
Poles: Dale - 22; Petty - 123

because he drove when nascar was a pure racing experience. men were men. big business, political correctness would have never been allowed. fast cars, rough men and yes i don,t smoke but having marlboro and winston on the cars gave them character.

The "greatest' at anything is a subjective matter. Your qualifications might not be mine. In sports the "greatest' usually depends on who you're a fan of or who you don't like. Earnhardt was ONE of the greatest. But I tend to think Petty was the greatest IMHO.

Right. King Richard is the best. Dale is certainly up there, but if he were still here, he would openly admit he doesn't compare to Richard Petty and his accomplishments.

It's all about the money. When Earnhart came along, NASCAR was starting to go mainstream. 1. He won. 2. He made money for himself. 3. He made money for the organization. 4. He energized the fans. 5. He gained publicity for both himself and the organization. 6/ He brought in new sponsors. (money) 7. He knew how to play the game.

Petty was driving when the sport was more "pure" and a win actually meant a driver was better, had a better car, and drove the best race..

Richard Petty also holds another record, getting caught
CHEATING more often.
Part of Petty's 200 came on small tracks all over the country
before NASCAR was consoildated, and although he was a
great driver, it was EARNHARDT that made NASCAR the
biggest, fastest growing sport.

Besides, NO ONE else ever came from 17th with two laps
left and won at Talladega, just #3!!!

I never heard him being referred as the greatest. He wasn't and never will be. Petty is the greatest, and not even Gordon will beat that.

I AGREE. TO HIS FANS HE MAY BE THE GREATEST DRIVER IN NASCAR HISTORY BUT THERE ARE OTHERS WHO ARE MORE QUALIFIED FOR THE TITLE.

i consider richard petty the greatest driver ever but earnheart was a great driver and is a close 2nd along with gordon in my book
he brought alot of fans to nascar as you can probably tell with the earnheart nation still very loyal

Richard Petty is NASCARS king and always will be.

I cannot add an answer any better than the ones already posted. good job guys.

^5 to ncjay08 on that one. Dale may not be THE greatest ever, but he is certainly way up there. If Richard Petty is the King, then Dale is the crown prince.

This is a tough and one their is no clear cut answer to, short of letting the two duke it out, which can never happen. They belonged to different eras, and I think Petty would have a tougher time pulling off 200 in this era.
I give the nod to "3" because, in a way, he was the Michael Jordan of NASCAR. No matter what you gave him to work with, and no matter how lousy his day was going- he was still in a position to win at the end.
From a personality point of view, he was not my favorite. I always loved how Darrell Waltrip got inside his head. But you know what, even the drivers who hated hime knew he was a force to be reckoned with.

Because he can come from outside the top ten to win a race in 3 laps like at Talladega. Plus, like he says in the new movie Dale, "I can win a race on Sunday, and feed the cows on Monday." He was one of us, so we all believed he was the greatest.

It's not just about wins, championships, or top finishes. It's about you the driver.

Dale Sr was a great driver. He won his championships when you had to earn them... no chase points then. No lucky dog either... you had to EARN your laps back.

Of course you could say the same thing about Petty too when he drove.

The difference is that Dale connected with the little man. The hard worker in the mill, field, shop, wherever. He liked to do what normal people do and showed it.

I don't know if he was the best, but he's one of em'

Your fact list is misleading. Although the numbers are correct you failed to list number of starts for each driver. If you do that and then break that down to a percentage for each category I think you will have answered your own question. Yes Petty has 200 wins but in the early days they may race as many as 48 races in a single season. Even David Pearson has a better winning percentage than Petty.

I think they mean he was the best crash driver in history. He was worse than #20 used to be. He never passed the opportunity to take out an opponent. It was win at any cost and not really about the race.

The number of champonships, the tenacious yet professional way he drove and how he almost single-handedly made the die-cast industry a monster with the marketing of his car paint schemes. He was the single figure who was the bridge to what became the global popularity of the sport.

Very good question,here's my take on why Helton said that and why in my mind it's true.While comparing different eras is hard if not impossible to do.What isn't hard to compare is the impact any one driver has had on the sport.Dale Sr. has had the single biggest impact on Nascar of any driver bar none,he was simply our sports greatest personality and advanced the sport like no other.When you talk about the greatest you are not always talking about the most talented,but instead the person who defines the sport.So to me there is no comparison,Dale sr. in life was the greatest and in death he continues on.

Because who better than NASCAR would know? They know that Petty's first Championship was won under a dubious points system where winnings were figured into a complicated formula to dertermine points payouts. It was possible to score more points than drivers ahead of him in the finish order of a race.

Only 5 of Petty's Cups came under a fair points system but they also occured in a period when cheating was still rampant as evidenced by the fact that between 1970 and 1979, only 3 men won the Cup with Parsons taking only one.

Petty won 5 for Petty Enterprises and Cale won 3 in a row for Junior Johnson. Neither organization was known to be pure or free from seeking unfair competitive advantage.

There is a lot of difference in how you "prepare" a car to race in a garage and what you are able to do with a car on the track.

Rubbin' is racin' while habitually tricking out a car is not.



Hemihead_38 seems to think that when NASCAR was running 2, 3 or 4 races a week, they were all 500 milers.

OMG, how dumb is that?

1964: Petty's first Championship season consisted of 62 races and only about 5 were 500 miles or longer. There were 4 races of 400 miles. Most races were on short tracks, dirt and paved with race lengths between 100 and 150 miles. Six races were 250 miles and one of the Darlington races was 300 miles.

1967: Petty's second Championship.

Shorter by 13 races but still only 9 races of 500 miles or more with none being consecutive.

Once again Hemihead has proven he does not know much and I would love to meet the driver that could pull Earnhardt out of a car and beat his a**, old or young!



Addendum

Odd how Petty fans like to ignore facts and interject emotional platitudes when faced with them.

Fact: Many of Petty's 200 wins were a direct result of 2 distinct factors in NASCAR's early days. Cheating and fields of 25 cars or less where it was unusual to have more than half the field running at the end. In 1967 over half of his wins were due to the second factor.

Fact: The way NASCAR scored races in the early days, where each car was assigned a scorer whose sole job was to write down the time displayed on a master clock when their assigned car crossed a time line, lent itself to easy manipulation by NASCAR.

Fact: In the modern era, under a fair points system based on performance and consistency, Earnhardt won 7 Cups while Petty won 5. From 1970 through 1980 Petty won 89 races. Pearson won 48 in the same time frame.

Over the course of the next decade, during a more competitive period, Earnhardt won 47 races while Petty won 10.

After each man's 40th birthday Petty won 20 races and 1 championship while Earnhardt won 28 races, 2 Cups and missed a 3rd by 34 points at 43-years of age to a 23-year old hot shot and a 4th by 265 points as a 49-year old man to a very deserving 36-year old veteran.

After their 40th birthdays Petty's average finish through full seasons in the final rankings was 12.625 while Earnhardt's was 4.3!

After their 40th birthdays Petty had 99 lead lap finishes in 470 races (21%) while Earnhardt had 199 LLF's in 314 races (63%). Did Petty just peak early or was his early dominance due to other factors?

As a race fan of over 47 years, I'd rather watch a driver who "refuses to lose" on the track over a driver who refuses to race fair in the garage. I dislike dishonesty and garage subterfuge and prefer the honesty of the bumper by a driver with gumption. Put it out there so the fans can make up their mind and not hide it under the hood, deny it exists and take credit where little is due.

In most of Earnhardt's 76 wins he did not have to resort to the bumper as no one could outrace him and most of them knew it. If you could outrun him, no need to worry about his bumper because if he couldn't catch you he couldn't bump you. He could usually catch them. If he caught them they had a personal choice to make: race him or block him. Blocking was never advisable.

In years where each man finshed 2nd in points, the lack of a mere 299 points, after Earnhardt's 40th birthday, and 311 points overall coupled with a tragic untimely death, kept Earnhardt from 10 Cups and having Petty bow to the the new King. I find it difficult to believe that a man with the reputation for putting anybody in the wall at will couldn't have overcome those deficits if he raced up to his reputation.

Petty missed out in years where he finished 2nd by a combined total of 9,498 points for a possible 13 Cups and in the modern era (fair points system), he missed 10 Cups by 938 points falling short in 1969 by 357 to Pearson, in 1976 by 195 to Yarborough and in 1977 again by 386 points.

Following Petty's last Championship in 1978 at the age of 41, the closest he ever got to a Cup was 1980 when he finished 4th, 406 points behind the Champ, Earnhardt.


If it were possible to place each driver on the track at the same age (pick one) in identical cars, my money would be on Earnhardt.

For those that fail to acknowledge facts and insist on placing nobility at the feet of a pretender need not dispute facts with opinions. There's nothing wrong with opinions so long as they are factually based. So, if you want to convince me Petty was better, come up with something more concrete than dubious win and championship totals and stop making excuses for Petty's cheating to win because he has admitted it, although after the fact, as have most of his youthful contemporaries.

I couldn't add much to hemihead's comments. That's your best answer right there.

Earnhardt Sr.'s elevation to the sainthood, and to "the most popular driver ever," occurred after his death. When he was wrecking everything on the track he was loved by some, hated by many others.

I would suggest to all of you reading these answers to go back and re-read Crunches answer. The man is write on the money he has done his home work check it out.

1. Petty hasn't died yet so we haven't lost him.
2. He could race at any track much like stewart can now days
3. he didn't care who you were he was going to win the race much like stewart currently
4. he used to punch people when they pissed him off after a race much like stewart used to do
5 he made great entertainment at a time when the older drivers where boring to watch kinda like how dale jarret is boring to whatch now.

he came into nascar and changed the type of driver everyone expected to see. he sold tickets. people fell in love with him. he caused controversy with certain drivers and sold even more tickets.

Well since most of you people never saw Petty in his prime , you would say Sr. but when Petty was younger he would have driven circles around Sr. In fact, Daytona 1979 he did. A far as a longer season, yes they raced more but is it harder to race 1 500 mile race a week or 2 or 3 500 mile races? Especially without Power Steering? Funny how early in Sr.'s career he didn't run into anyone, know why? Because early in his career the MEN he raced against would have pulled him out of the car and beat the snot out of him. He started his running into people later when there were younger drivers he could scare and NA$CAR let him get away with it. In Petty's day, you got Black flagged for the day and most likely suspended. Petty was a gentleman that could win by outdriving you.Not running into you.
To Big Bend - You must think Daytona, Darlington, Talledega, Riverside were " Small Tracks" . Get a Grip.
To the self proclaimed genius below - How old are you? About 22? You apparently never drove a Manual Steering car with a V-8 or you would know how hard they are on your arms and to do that for 3 races a week is insane. Petty and the others had blisters on their hands constantly. No modern era driver would ever be able to drive like that. And believe me any of the drivers would have pummeled old Sr. for his little game of running into the backend of their car. Buddy Baker would have crushed Sr. like a bug. It's a shame you Sr. fans still can't admit that Petty was THE best driver EVER. Sr.'s last Championship was in 94. He was finished. Gordon will even surpass Sr. . Pearson won more races than Sr. . Funny how you Sr. fans ride people for cheating but Sr. didn't have to cheat, NA$CAR let him purposely endanger the lives of other drivers. If you can't out drive them, run into them.

After reading all the answers above mine, can you honestly still say that Dale Earnhardt was probably not the greatest? What is your definition of "greatest"? I think he made the greatest contribution to this sport over several decades and on many, many levels. Far above any other individual he was and still is the Greatest.

Go Jr.>>>>

i don't think everyone says that but we who r Petty fans know who the King of Nascar is and always will b.

You really can't compare those figures to back your claim. Petty's wins came when there were many more races in a year. In 67 there were 48 he won 27 that year alone.
I try not to compare to much when you have such a difference in time because I will drive my self nuts.
to late

back when nascar started you could only race a car that was a stock car. chrysler had the best engines with the most H.P. that was SOLD to the public richard petty just happen to drive for them after nascar changed the body and engine rules richard did't win as much,, today all bodies look the same and weigh the same there is more SKILL today than before

7 cup championships..76 wins..and he never gave up..don't worry Richard Petty will be remembered as the all time greatest driver when he dies..that's when the drivers get their recognition

dale sr was the best driver there ever was.he had moves that no one can copy.he could come to the front with no problem at all.yes petty was good to but petty had a different style of driving then dale sr.it was a big lose we dale sr died.who knows what he would of done if he still was alive now.

what

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