Best Teams Ever bracket: NASCAR edition, Round 3

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Welcome to the Best Team Ever bracket series, where the greatest of all time have their most dominant seasons stacked up against each other until we ultimately crown a champion in each sport. The tournament will be decided by fan vote, so be sure to submit yours below! Check out the first round of voting here and the second round of voting here. Final Four polls will close at noon ET on Saturday.

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The NASCAR bracket includes drivers only from NASCAR’s modern era, which is from 1972 onward, so not every season of Richard Petty’s was eligible for consideration in this tournament.

Welcome to the Final Four. And you should not be surprised that the four drivers remaining are four of the most iconic drivers in NASCAR history. We’ve got an all-Fox analyst matchup in one semifinal and the other semifinal features a matchup of seven-time Cup Series champions. Jeff Gordon looks like a heavy favorite over Darrell Waltrip. Will he make the final and face Dale Earnhardt or Richard Petty?

Best Teams Ever bracket: Nascar edition, Final Four. (Yahoo Sports illustration)
Best Teams Ever bracket: Nascar edition, Final Four. (Yahoo Sports illustration)

1998 Jeff Gordon vs. 1981 Darrell Waltrip

No. 1: Jeff Gordon

  • 13 wins in 33 races

  • 26 top 5s

  • 28 top 10s

Wanna know how good Gordon’s 1998 was? Rival car owner Jack Roush even went so far as to accuse Gordon’s crew chief Ray Evernham of soaking the tires for Gordon’s car in chemicals.

Seriously. After Gordon won at New Hampshire following a two-tire pit stop, Roush said he had gotten a letter saying that Gordon’s team was using an undetectable illegal substance on the tires. Softer tires equal more grip, and Roush wanted it known that Gordon could be fast because of chemicals on his tires.

NASCAR and Goodyear tested the tires after that win at New Hampshire and, sure enough, it didn’t find anything on them. Will anyone find anything to beat Gordon in this bracket?

No. 5: Darrell Waltrip

  • 12 wins in 31 races

  • 21 top 5s

  • 25 top 10s

It’s a battle of Fox’s current broadcaster and Fox’s former broadcaster in this semifinal. And yes, there was a controversy in Waltrip’s 1981 season too. Waltrip and Cale Yarborough both were convinced that they won the Mountain Dew 500 at Pocono. 

How is that possible? Well, Yarborough beat Waltrip to the finish line. But Yarborough wasn’t on the same lap as Waltrip. In fact, Waltrip wasn’t passing him for the lead, Waltrip was passing him to lap him. Somehow, Yarborough had lost nearly a lap to Waltrip during the course of the race without realizing it. 

Maybe it was the deer on the track in the four-hour race that caused Yarborough to lose track. After a delay and both drivers claiming victory in the immediate aftermath, NASCAR declared Waltrip the winner.

1975 Richard Petty vs. 1987 Dale Earnhardt

No. 2: Richard Petty

  • 13 wins in 30 races

  • 21 top 5s

  • 24 top 10s

Crazily enough, Petty hadn’t won what’s now the Coca-Cola 600 until 1975. That win, along with 12 others, helped give Petty a single-season win rate record that stands to this day. Yeah, Gordon won 13 races in 1998, but he also raced three more times that season than Petty did.

The 1975 season was also the last of Petty’s career that included 10 or more wins. Petty won 10 or more times in eight seasons and had double-digit wins in seven of nine seasons from 1967 to 1975. That 1967 season, where Petty won 27 times and had 40 top-10 finishes in 48 races, might have been his best. But it’s not eligible for this discussion because it came before NASCAR’s modern era.

No. 3: Dale Earnhardt

  • 11 wins in 29 races

  • 21 top 5s

  • 24 top 10s

Earnhardt was so ferocious on the track in 1987 that the Intimidator nickname came to life. That nickname was sparked by Earnhardt’s “Pass in the Grass” at the non-points All-Star event as he was racing aggressively for the lead. 

That race even led to a death threat for Earnhardt. Just after the famous maneuver, Bill Elliott suffered a cut tire because of contact with Earnhardt. An unhappy fan wrote a letter to then-NASCAR president Bill France Jr. and said that Earnhardt should “watch his ass WHEREVER he goes.”

The FBI investigated the threat and didn’t make any arrests, though it did provide protection for Earnhardt at Pocono, Watkins Glen and Dover.

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