Last week, we presented our semi-scientific findings on NASCAR’s most popular drivers. If we’re going to give you the good, we’ve got to present the bad. Our findings come from a far-reaching observance, social media, reader reaction at this website and other sources. It bears keeping in mind that you will find more than a few drivers who are alternately revered and reviled…..
Here’s our list. Like these drivers, there will be moments you’ll say “Yeah, that’s right,” and others where you’ll say, “You little twerp, what do you know?” Can’t win ’em all, I guess.
1. Joey Logano- Isn’t wasn’t always like this. Sure, there was some jealousy over the hype when he burst on the scene at 18, and his father’s considerable investment in his son’s career. Let’s be honest, hating the rich kid has always been a popular sport. You remember that kid that got bullied a lot that became a bully? After years of being pushed around by the likes of Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman, Logano started fighting back. He’s rattled swords with more than a few, and then he really got fans fired up when he spun out Matt Kenseth at Kansas last Fall. Kenseth got quite a reception when he hammered Logano at Martinsville. This may subside with time, but right now, Joey Logano is light years ahead of some pretty stiff competition.
2. Brad Keselowski- We’re not hating on Ford here, seriously. Yours truly owns a Fusion. Logano’s teammate once enjoyed a little bit of halo effect from driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Xfinity Series some number of years ago. Keselowski quickly showed he was a “take no prisoners” type with a storied feud with Carl Edwards. Believe it or not, Bad Brad had plenty of support on HIS side at the time, but has given back a lot of that goodwill- tangling with Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and others. Truth be told, Keselowski really doesn’t seem to care.
3. Kyle Busch- He’s at the head of the class among alternately loved and hated drivers. The same thing happened with Earnhardt, Gordon and Waltrip. Kyle’s legion of admirers has grown some; many like him for the some of the same reasons people like Donald Trump. Busch doesn’t mince words, and Busch is a winner. On the other hand, he still whines too much in defeat and still manages to squander whatever admiration he earns with his cockiness. I guess it isn’t bragging if you can back it up, huh? Like most everyone on this list, he really isn’t a bad guy, but a rep is a hard thing to shake.
4. Tony Stewart- One very complicated human being. Was once named “Most Caring Athlete,” and yet has and always will be one of NASCAR’s most mercurial personalities ever. Now a NASCAR elder statesman nearing retirement, Stewart has a lot to contribute, but he will always a polarizing figure that you either love or loathe. Stories abound of great fan encounters and there’s just as many who report a very negative experience.
5. Kevin Harvick- A personal opinion: Harvick had to have been that kid in school that stirred things up, got others fighting and then disappeared (see Keselowski vs. Gordon incident at Texas, Fall, 2014 for reference). Over the years, “Happy” has mixed it up with Ricky Rudd, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards. Becoming a father has softened his image a little. Very little. Let’s also not forget that little incident in the Fall race at Talladega last season. He reportedly can’t get his car going, needs a decent finish to stay in the Chase, and Harvick gets a big push on the re-start, a wreck ensues, and Harvick limps it home to survive. Here’s an account of the radio conversation from Dustin Long (click here). It’s interesting to note the reader reaction. Divided- much like the hordes who love the 2014 champion, and numerous others who don’t.
6. Danica Patrick- NASCAR has been a man’s world historically. Patrick mixing it up with the big boys has earned fans, and also critics. Her willingness to play along with racy TV ads and posing in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has gained followers AND detractors. Her results has demonstrated little progress during her NASCAR career, and her difficulty in playing well with others hasn’t endeared her much with the racing public.
7. Kurt Busch– Ever since shaking off accusations of domestic violence from a former lover, Busch has been as model a citizen as he can be. Earlier in his career that was not the case. His over-the-radio rants directed at former boss Roger Penske, his boorish behavior towards respected pit reporter Jerry Punch, his spat with AP reporter Jenna Fryer, and the Jimmy Spencer feud are all a matter of historical record, and have done their share to sully his reputation. Recently dubbed “The Outlaw,” the elder Busch has gained some following, but a lot of his personal baggage sticks with him in the court of public opinion.
8. Ryan Newman- An infrequent winner, the Hoosier has done little to garner much in the way of headlines. To many fans, he comes across as whiny, and seems to take exception to anyone “racing hard.” It didn’t keep Newman from dumping Kyle Larson to stay alive in the 2014 Chase. Far removed from his early days as a master qualifier, “Rocket” has done little to merit much of a loyal following.
9. Carl Edwards- In many respects, Edwards is quite popular; on the other hand, there are more than one or two fans who take Sunday’s winner at Bristol for being a phony. His altercations, coupled with his chiseled physique, make him the target of “‘roid rage” rumors. You can’t them all, but Edwards certainly tries.
10. Clint Bowyer- Just flashback to the late summer race at Richmond for reference. Though Bowyer and those affiliated with the now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing insist that Bowyer didn’t intentionally spin to enhance the chances of then-teammate Martin Truex Jr. making the Chase, the fact remains the hammer fell hard on MWR and Bowyer’s rep took a big-time hit. Now, Bowyer bides his time with H.Scott Motorsports, awaiting the retirement of Tony Stewart to take over the 14 car next year.
Jimmie Johnson still fights off guilt by association with his owner and crew chief and the fact some fans wished he didn’t win so danged much….Like Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin is regarded as a whiner in some circles…..the Dillon brothers take a lot of guff, somewhat in part over things they’ve said and because they are the grandsons of owner Richard Childress…..even the beloved Dale Earnhardt Jr. has his haters, but the recent resurrection of his good fortunes has largely quieted them.