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NASCAR's Greatest Road Racing Aces

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The 13 greatest road course racers in NASCAR history

13. Robby Gordon

Robby Gordon has a long-standing road racing pedigree – both off and on the paved road. Four IMSA class wins in the 24 Hours of Daytona and three in the 12 Hours of Sebring, along with a host of IMSA GT and Trans-Am races. He swept the Cup Series road races in 2003, snookering teammate Kevin Harvick coming to the yellow flag at Sonoma. He’s had his share of hiccups too, costing himself a win at Sonoma in 2001 dicing with the lapped car of Kevin Harvick (hmm …), and perhaps most notably at Watkins Glen, again in 2001, when the TV camera battery pack caught on fire, filling the cabin full of smoke, forcing him to bail out with the race well in hand. You also have to respect a guy who’s willing to get parked for a Cup race just to make a point in a Nationwide event when he performed victory burnouts after being black flagged.

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12. Ernie Irvan

Though nicknamed “Swervin’ Irvan” in the early 1990s, Ernie Irvan was a pretty accomplished road racer during his Cup Series career. He won the 1992 race at Sonoma (then Sears Point) from the back of the pack after being flagged for jumping the start. He reassumed the lead with eight laps to go in one of the most impressive charges put on by a driver in either road racing or on an oval in NASCAR during that period. In 1994, Irvan put on a clinic at Sonoma, leading 68 of 74 laps en route to his third win of the year. He would race 10 more events that season before being injured in a practice crash at Michigan that left him with a 10 percent chance of survival. His final race prior to the accident was a runner-up finish at Watkins Glen.

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11. David Pearson

The Silver Fox was a road racing ace? I thought he just won at Darlington? ERRGH! Sorry Hans, wrong guess! David Pearson scored four of his 105 wins at Riverside and Bridgehampton, including sweeping the 1976 season with a third consecutive road win in 1977. During Dan Gurney’s days of running roughshod over the competition at Riverside, it was Pearson who would be the only other driver on the lead lap … or at the very least, within shouting distance.

10. Marcos Ambrose

He may only have two road wins so far — which by all means should be three after his car failed to re-fire going uphill at Sonoma in 2010 while saving fuel under caution — but in an era where the cars are as close as they’ve ever been, Marcos Ambrose proves how much of a difference a driver can make at these tracks. Ambrose drives into a corner deeper, bounces the car off the curb more violently, and can make the rest of the field look like rank amateurs in comparison. And for good reason: prior to coming stateside he was basically the Jimmie Johnson of the Australian V8 Supercar Series; actual stock cars, racing at Cup Series speeds. He also has three straight wins at Watkins Glen in the Nationwide Series from 2009-11.

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9. Tim Richmond

We all know of the legend of Tim Richmond, his wild and crazy lifestyle that didn’t mesh well for the era of NASCAR (but would no doubt be celebrated today). While Richmond here only a few years, one area where he made his mark was in road course racing. Richmond scored four wins in 14 starts at Riverside, and another at Watkins Glen from the pole when the series returned to upstate New York in 1986. His final win in 1987 was at Riverside after sitting out the majority of the season suffering from pneumonia brought about by the AIDS virus. Richmond would lose his battle with the disease just two years following his final win.

8. Mark Martin

Crediting his success by learning to drive by sliding around the gravel back roads of Arkansas (at the age of three, standing in his father’s lap) Mark Martin’s Fords were the cars to beat in the mid- to late-1990s on road courses. He won three straight races at Watkins Glen from the pole from 1993-95, and finally closed the deal at Sonoma in 1997. During this time he also was party to the straight class wins in the 24 Hours of Daytona with Roush Racing, including partnering with actor/racer Paul Newman for the 1995 victory. Martin was denied victory in the 1991 Sonoma race after contact with Tommy Kendall with two laps to go, and in 1989 after exiting the pits when all of the wheels fell off his car.

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7. Rusty Wallace

If there was a place where Rusty Wallace could show those cats what kind of a hot rod he really had, it was at the old Riverside Raceway and the original Sonoma carousel course. Wallace was the road race icon in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, bouncing off of curbs, tossing cars into turns, making a mockery of much of the competition. Wallace has two wins at each road course of the last 40 years: Watkins Glen, Sonoma and Riverside.

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6. Ricky Rudd

Had “Dancing with the Stars” been on television in the early 1990s, Ricky Rudd would’ve been the man to beat, hands down. ESPN always made sure to put a camera in his car pointed at his feet, as his heel-and-toe pedal soft shoe was the best in the business. He kind of got rooked out of the 1991 win at Sonoma after being black flagged for getting into Davey Allison coming to take the white flag, but then again, so did three other guys that day. Rudd remains tied at sixth all-time in wins on road courses, winning two a piece at Riverside, Watkins Glen and Sonoma.

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5. Bobby Allison

When you think of Bobby Allison, what normally comes to mind is the scene at Talladega of him nearly parking it in the front row of the grandstands or dueling with son Davey in the 1988 Daytona 500. What is often overlooked was his power-sliding prowess when the track went left and right. Allison won in all kinds of cars  Buicks, AMCs, Fords, Chevrolets, Dodges — but he was also a force to be reckoned with on all tracks — 84 wins don’t just happen by accident. Six of those happened while turning right and left, which ties Allison for third all-time on road courses.

4. Richard Petty

The belt buckle reads “7-Time Winston Cup Champion, 7-Time Daytona 500 Champion” but it could also read “6-Time Road Course Winner.” The King ruled over all tracks in his heyday, but had an affinity for Riverside, where he won five times between 1969-77, with four poles to boot. Even as his career wound down, he was consistent and solid on the road, as his final top-10 finish occurred at Watkins Glen in 1991.

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3. Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart, with seven road course wins, trails just one active driver (more on him later). While he has a pair of wins at Sonoma (2001, 2005), it’s at Watkins Glen where he’s really shined. From 2002 to 2009, Smoke had five wins and two second-place finishes. It was a win in ’02 that he credited to salvaging his team’s season and possibly his career at the time in the JGR Home Depot No. 20.

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2. Dan Gurney

Dan Gurney didn’t run a ton of NASCAR races — he entered 16 total — but won five, all at the Motor Trend 500 at Riverside. In 1964, he lapped the field, while the other wins would normally see only one or two cars left on the lead lap with him. These were big money races for the day and would attract the top drivers from nearly every discipline. The series regulars were there as well, while Gurney would just show up for his one or two races a year for the Wood Brothers and put a hurting on everyone. It would be another win, though, a few years later in the 24 Hours of LeMans, that made him an American icon, as he and A.J. Foyt won the event over Ferrari — an all-American car with an all-American drive combo. That win also began the ritual of spraying champagne following a win. Plus, his middle name is Sexton, so obviously he gets extra bonus points for that.

1. Jeff Gordon

While the “Drive for Five” has stalled in recent years (OK, since 2001), Jeff Gordon could make it a perfect 10 on road courses with one additional win. He scored three straight victories in Sonoma from 1998-2000, with two more in 2004 and ’06. Want some more gaudy stats? In 21 Sonoma starts he’s finished out of the top 10 just four times (one of those was an 11th in his rookie year). At Watkins Glen, he won four of five races from 1997-2001, including three in a row. Safe to say, Gordon is the best there was in NASCAR on the road courses.

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