Ten years have passed since we started counting years that start with the number two. Beginning in 2000 these five drivers accumulated the wins, numbers and success to stand at the head of the class of the best drivers of the decade.
1. Jimmie Johnson. Is there any question? His full-time Cup career began in 2002, spotting most of his competitors two seasons. In his eight years on the tour he has four championships, two seconds and a pair of fifth-place finishes. Jimmie’s 47 victories vaulted him ahead of fellow future Hall-of-Fame inductees Buck Baker, Tim Flock and Fireball Roberts on the all-time win list. Nobody has had more success in the last ten years.
2. Tony Stewart. He is the only other driver with multiple Cup championships. And he is the only driver to win his under the Chase format and the previous modern-era system. Tony entered victory lane on 34 occasions after 1999 and is tied with Bobby Isaac for 18th in all-time wins.
3. Kurt Busch. The inaugural Chase champion in 2004 made his first Cup start in late 2000 driving for Jack Roush. Up to that point his career in the Truck, Southwest Series and local Las Vegas racing was impressive. Kurt’s first top-level NASCAR win came in Bristol’s spring 2002 event and he has totaled 19 more since. His career win total has him one up on Davey Allison, Buddy Baker and Fonty Flock.
4. Matt Kenseth. In 2000 the Wisconsin native was the Cup tour’s Rookie of the Year award and he scored his first series win in the Coke 600. He also has the 2009 Daytona 500 and the 2003 Cup title proudly on his resume. Kenseth’s 18 current wins put him in the same company as Harry Gant and Neil Bonnett.
5. Kyle Busch. His NASCAR Truck debut was in 2001 for Roush Racing at the age of 16. His advancement was delayed when the sanctioning body instituted an age minimum rule of 18 years. He entered into a development program in 2003 with Hendrick Motorsports and was the 2004 Busch Series Rookie of the Year. That was backed up with the 2005 Cup rookie award. His first Nationwide Series championship was clinched in 2009, but he is best known for getting to victory lane. Busch has scored 16 Cup wins, 29 Nationwide wins and another 16 Truck Series wins. Since 2004 Kyle has made 61 victory lane appearances.
(Patrick Reynolds is a professional racing mechanic who has worked for several NASCAR teams.)
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