Since this is an opinion column, what you are going to read here is totally my opinion and nothing else. I’ve been watching this sport for quite a while, and I’m more than happy to give you my opinion. I’d be interested in hearing your opinion too.
In the old days, most NASCAR drivers came from the South, and literally grew up racing. Some started in go carts and eventually graduated to full sized race cars. Some came from other areas of racing, driving various types of open wheel race cars, and made occasional forays into NASCAR. Some got hooked on stock cars, some just dabbled in the sport.
Since about 1990 or so, NASCAR has experienced an invasion of drivers from other parts of the country who have made it big in the sport. Jeff Gordon came to NASCAR from California by way of Indiana. Tony Stewart came directly from Indiana, as did Ryan Newman. Juan Pablo Montoya came all the way from Colombia. Guess what? It’s all been good for the sport.
A great driver obviously must have talent. Talent is why you and me aren’t currently employed driving in NASCAR’s top series and earning millions of dollars and flying around in our own private jets. Talent isn’t always the only part of the equation however.
A truly great driver must have somewhat of a personality that people either love or hate. Richard Petty was a great driver just on his wins alone, but he was and is an genuinely nice guy, always happy to sign autographs for the fans. Dale Earnhardt was a rather polarizing driver, who while he was alive angered many fans and also grabbed the admiration of many others. Since Dale’s death in 2001, he’s mostly been remembered in a positive way, as the man who changed the sport forever.
There are a few young guns in NASCAR who could certainly be considered potentially great drivers. I would include Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch in that list. I would include Kasey Kahne. History will dictate just how great these drivers will be remembered when their driving days are done. All three of these drivers exhibit a ton of talent, and Kyle Busch alone has enough personality for all three. There are certainly other drivers who may eventually be known as great drivers as well. I’ll leave that list up to you.