NASCAR announced the results of its “25 Greatest NASCAR Busch Series Drivers” poll last week, with Mark Martin earning the number-one ranking. Voting was conducted over the last few weeks on both NASCAR.COM and NASCARMedia.com, and Martin -- the all-time leader in Busch Series wins – with 47 -- received the most votes in both polls.
In the media voting, two-time series champion Sam Ard finished second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jack Ingram, and Dale Earnhardt. The NASCAR.com fan poll ranked Earnhardt Jr. second, followed by Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and Martin Truex, Jr. Over 152,000 fans voted in the NASCAR.com poll, while more than 160 media members voted in the NASCARMedia.com poll.
Polls of this type are prime targets for criticism and second-guessing, and I’m not about to miss my chance to jump on the bandwagon by pointing out a few glaring inequities. For instance, while it’s difficult to argue that the Earnhardts – both Senior and Junior – deserve a place in the all-time Busch Series top five, was it really necessary to vote a third member of the Earnhardt stable – Martin Truex, Jr. – into the top five? His numbers are solid, with two series championships to his credit, but his #5 fan ranking puts him far ahead of fellow two-time titlists Jack Ingram and Larry Pearson, both of whom recorded more wins than the 13 Truex has collected in his six-year, full- and part-time Busch Series career. In my opinion, the media was closer to the mark when they placed Truex in the #17 position, all-time.
The media got it right with Sam Ard, as well, voting him second only to Martin on the all-time list. The fans, meanwhile, rated him only 17th best; proving once again that their collective memory extends only as far as yesterday’s lunch. For the record, Ard was a two-time Busch Series champion (1983 and 1984), won 22 times in just 92 starts, and is the all-time leader in races won in a season, with 10.
Jack Ingram also took a hosing from the fans. Two series championships and 31 wins left the legendary “Ironman” 21st on the fans’ list, two spots behind Michael Waltrip, whose 11 career wins and no championships pale by any logical comparison. Ingram got a free-ride from the fans compared to fellow two-time champion Larry Pearson, however. NASCAR fans left Pearson off their top-25 list entirely, ignoring his 1986 and 1987 Busch Series titles, and 15 career wins. Both of those statistics are equal to or better than those of Truex, who the fans ranked at #5.
Other drivers on the “No Love List” include 1990 champion Chuck Bown (unranked by the fans despite 11 wins in only four full seasons) and Kevin Harvick, who my colleagues in the media voted only seventh-best all-time, despite two championships, 26 wins in eight seasons, and a 2006 campaign that puts all others to shame.
In the “overrated” department, our pal Kenny Wallace unfortunately leads the way. Fans voted “Herm The Worm” 12th overall; ahead of Ard, Ingram and the legendary Tommy Houston. I love ya Herm, but nine wins in 381 starts over 17 years is not enough to make you one of the Busch Series’ all-time greats.
Darrell Waltrip made the Top-25 with both the fans and the media, despite never running more than 13 races in a season. He did win 13 times in 95 starts, but in my opinion, his Nextel Cup exploits earned him more credit than his Busch Series record deserves. Same for Dale Jarrett – ranked 15th by the fans and 25th by the media – despite just 11 wins in 398 starts over 19 years.
NASCAR’s overall goal with the Top-25 Ranking was two-fold; to honor some of the series’ greats, and to inspire some spirited conversation. Looks like they succeeded on both counts.