November 24, 2009
As the decade of the 2000s draws to a close, we're looking back at the greatest NASCAR moments, events and stories of the last 10 years. We begin with the most successful drivers of the decade -- bearing in mind, we're ranking them on what they've done this decade, not before that. And yes, you already know who's No. 1.
1. Jimmie Johnson: Like you expected anything different. Four championships, 47 wins and 180 top-10 finishes over just nine years. He's staked out one of the most dominant stretches of success in NASCAR history ... and the scary thing is, he may be in the middle of it, not at the end.
2. Tony Stewart: Were it not for Johnson, Stewart would be the runaway driver of the decade. With two championships, 34 wins and 209 top-10s, Stewart was already money, but making the jump to team ownership and staying strong as ever? Unbelievable.
3. Jeff Gordon: The difference between Stewart and Gordon is razor-thin on this list, but Stewart gets the nod because of his two championships. In the 2000s, Gordon has only one. But he's also finished in the top 10 for nine of the decade's 10 years, along the way picking up 33 wins and 217 top-10 finishes over 358 races. That'll work.
4. Kurt Busch: He's pinballed between excellence and mediocrity, but when he's been good, he's been very, very good -- one Sprint Cup championship, four top-10 seasonal finishes, 20 wins, 136 top-10s. Imagine how good he'd be if he could make friends.
5. Kyle Busch: The highest-ranked non-Sprint Cup champion on this list, he has 62 wins across all three major series. He has said his goal is to get 200 wins over all three, and considering the fact he's 24, would you bet against it happening? Once he calms down and races consistently, he'll be one of the all-timers.
6. Bobby Labonte: He led off the decade with a championship, which is a nice way to start but unfortunately means there's only one way to go. Still, he has notched eight wins and 101 top-10s over the decade, and if he had been in better equipment over the last couple of years, that total would be much higher.
7. Matt Kenseth: The 2003 Sprint Cup champion, though it's not his fault he won the Cup while winning only a single race. In the decade, he has had 18 wins and 172 top-10s over 358 races.
8. Mark Martin: Had he not flirted with retirement toward the middle part of the decade, he'd be much higher on this list. But six top-10 seasonal finishes, including two second-places, combined with nine wins and 159 top-10s put him solidly in the conversation for the top drivers of the 2000s.
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Eighteen wins and 141 top-10s over 358 races, and for a time he was right there in the mix for a championship, ranking in the top 10 four times from 2001-06. He has fallen off the pace just a wee bit.
10. Carl Edwards: In 193 races, he has 16 wins, 61 top-5s and 99 top-10s. He had a severe dropoff this year, but he's one of the best in the sport and should be very close to the top on the list of the 2010s' best.
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