Whipping around a track at an impressive speed is nothing for these guys. But their top-dog reputations pretty much end there—presenting the naughtiest drivers in NASCAR history.
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NASCAR fans are a baffling group. They say they don’t want whitewashed, goodie-goodie, cookie cutter drivers. But the second a driver shows personality or flair—whether it’s by driving too aggressively or shooting his mouth off—he gets ripped a new one for it.Consider the main personality traits that have ruled the racetrack: fearless, confident (sometimes bordering on arrogance), and mentally driven to get the W. So it should be no surprise that many of the best racers in the world can’t stop getting in trouble. Here are the 10 most controversial drivers in NASCAR history.Fittest Man in NASCAR >>>
10. Lee Petty
The head of the most famous family in NASCAR history was one of the first to approach racing as a way to make a living. He lived on what he earned on the track, and that made him an aggressive driver, so much that it frustrated the men who ran NASCAR. In 1957, NASCAR, fed up with Lee’s rough driving, sent him a letter, a copy of which is on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame: “We have received a great many complaints this season about rough driving on your part, and they are now piling in so fast and from so many different directions that it is going to be necessary for someone to put the ‘eye’ on you for the next several race meets.”
9. Junior Johnson
He spent a year in jail for having an illegal still. He was a win-at-all-costs kind of driver. And as an owner, he was either a master innovator or a first-rate cheat, depending on whether you liked his drivers or not. The truth is he was sometimes both at the same time. He scoured the NASCAR rule book for gray areas to exploit. He was among the first men to own more than one race team, and he delighted in pitting those teams against each other, because that made them both better.
8. Jeremy Mayfield
Mayfield had a history of squabbling with teammates and blowing up bridges behind him as he left race teams. Both are common in NASCAR and other sports, too. But Mayfield’s life and career spiraled downward on May 9, 2009, when he was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR after he failed a drug test, which ESPN reported was methamphetamine. He failed another test in July. He insisted both tests were false positives. In 2011, he was charged with possession of methamphetamine and possession of stolen goods.
7. Darrell Waltrip
Waltrip’s rise to the top of NASCAR is the prototypical story: Talented nobody from nowhere claws his way to the top, feuding with every big name in the sport along the way. He earned the nickname 'Jaws' because he never stopped talking, usually about how good he was compared to everybody else.
Now a broadcaster, he has toned it down … but only slightly. He had rivalries with Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Cale Yarborough. All of them, plus Waltrip, are now in NASCAR’s Hall of Fame.
6. Curtis Turner
You can tell a lot about a driver by the titles of his biographies. One book about Turner is “NASCAR’s First Bad Boy.” The headline on an Internet bio of him is “Wood, Whiskey, Women and Winning: Curtis Turner.”
He lived as hard as he drove, and he drove so hard his nickname was “Pops,” because he popped people from behind to get them out of the way. In 1961 he was banned from NASCAR for life for trying to form a union, though that was lifted four years later and he returned to the track.
5. Tony Stewart
There are two Tony Stewarts. Good Tony lives away from the track. He is calm, funny and generous. Terrible Tony has just stepped from a hot race car and has a short fuse and scathing wit. Terrible Tony snaps at reporters and storms at drivers who make him mad, throwing punches and insults.
Some in the sport thought that becoming a team owner, which he did before the 2009 season, would mellow him out. But that didn’t happen, as his attempt to fight Joey Logano after a race at California early this season proved.
4. Kyle Busch
He is every NASCAR fan's dream driver—a cocky, mouthy, sublimely talented do-anything-to-win hellraiser—and they can’t stand him for it. Busch has gotten in trouble off the track (a speeding ticket at a whopping 128 mph in a 45-mph zone) and on the track (far too numerous to mention, often involving him wrecking another driver on purpose.)
He donates time and money to children’s hospitals, but that stuff is rarely publicized, which is fine with him. More than any modern driver, Busch wears the black hat with pride.
3. Kurt Busch
So disliked is Kurt Busch that when Jimmy Spencer punched him in the face after a race at Michigan, NASCAR fans reacted as if it was Busch’s fault for putting his nose right in front of Spencer’s hand. Last year, Busch was on probation, so a reporter asked if that meant he didn’t drive as aggressively as he’d like to avoid getting in more trouble. Busch’s answer: “It refrains me from not beating the s$%t out of you.”
2. Tim Richmond
Richmond came from the open-wheel ranks, which made him a subject of derision in the NASCAR world just on principle. It didn’t help that he knew nothing about how cars work, which infuriates those with grease under their fingernails. He was a flamboyant and entertaining driver who some considered to have as much pure talent as anyone in history. The inspiration for Tom Cruise’s character in Days of Thunder Richmond loved to party, seemingly always with a woman under each arm. Sadly, illness forced him out of the car in 1987 and he never returned. Two years later, in 1989 he died of AIDS at only 34 years old.
1. Dale Earnhardt
Earnhardt's death elevated him into a beloved icon—but before that he was notorious for aggressive driving, earning two ominous nicknames: The Man in Black and The Intimidator. He came by those the honest way: by knocking people out of the way and not caring who got mad about it. Always more famous than popular, he was involved in some of the most high-profile feuds in the sport’s history. His death was controversial, too, prompting lawsuits about safety equipment, the release of photos by the medical examiner and his life insurance policy. Even today, 12 years after his death, there is debate about whether his No. 3 should ever be used again at the Sprint Cup level.