NASCAR series champions
2013: Jimmie Johnson
The king was crowned once again in 2013 as Jimmie Johnson claimed his sixth Sprint Cup Series title, and first since winning five straight from 2006-2010. Johnson started the season with a win at the Daytona 500 and never looked back, cementing his place as one of the greatest drivers in history.
2012: Brad Keselowski
Keselowski won five races in a memorable 2012 season, which saw him fined for tweeting from his car during a delay and finished with a memorable interview in which he admitted to being "buzzed" after drinking some of his sponsor, Miller Lite. Keselowski became only the second driver after Bobby Labonte to win both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series.
2011: Tony Stewart
Heading into the final race of the season, Tony Stewart trailed Carl Edwards by just three points in the championship standings. At the Ford 400, Edwards led the most laps, but Tony Stewart edged out the win, finishing in a dead-heat in the standings. Tony Stewart won the title via tiebreaker, having won five races to Edwards' one over the season, ending Jimmie Johnson's streak of dominance.
2010: Jimmie Johnson
Trailing Denny Hamlin by 15 points heading into the Chase's final race, Jimmie Johnson made up that deficit and then some to capture his fifth straight Sprint Cup Championship title. Johnson finished the race second behind Carl Edwards to end up 39 points ahead of Hamlin in the final standings and 41 points ahead of third-place finisher Kevin Harvick. "I was after it pretty hard," Johnson said following the race. "Even if you aren't a 48 fan, I think you saw something special today." It was the closest race in Chase history and the first come-from-behind championship in its seven years.
2009: Jimmie Johnson
Becoming the first racer ever to win four straight series championships, Jimmie Johnson dominated the field once again down the stretch. Of his seven wins in the 2009 season, four came in the Chase. While a crash in the third-to-last race made the standings a little closer, Johnson still beat out second-place finisher Mark Martin by 141 points. It was the fifth time in his career that Martin earned runner-up honors.
2008: Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson inked his name in the NASCAR record books, holding off Carl Edwards by 69 points to win his third straight series championship and tying Cale Yarborough's 30-year-old record. He clinched the title with a 15th-place victory in the season's final race. Johnson won seven races and six poles in 2008 while also finishing in the top five 15 times and in the top 10 22 times.
2007: Jimmie Johnson
Big changes occurred in the 2007 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, as the Car of Tomorrow was introduced for 16 races. That included five of the 10 races in the Chase. Jeff Gordon finished the regular season with a 410-point lead over Jimmie Johnson, who was fourth in the standings, but Johnson began the race in first because of his six victories. After relinquishing control of the top spot to Gordon after the second race, Johnson surged ahead for good with four straight wins in the sixth through ninth races of the Chase.
2006: Jimmie Johnson
After starting the season on a strong note by winning the Daytona 500, Jimmie Johnson let that momentum carry him to his first NASCAR championship. A 39th-place finish in the 2006 Chase's first race nearly derailed him, however, as he dropped from second to ninth in the standings. A late charge brought him back to first by the eighth of the 10 races. He finished the year with five wins, one of which came in the Chase.
2005: Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart said he would gladly trade a championship for a win at the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard, but in a standout 2005 season he didn't need to compromise on either of those goals. He started the Chase in first and held that spot for all but one week of the championship series. He ultimately topped second-place finisher Greg Biffle by 35 points for the title. It was in 2005 that Stewart started his tradition of climbing the fence following wins. He earned five wins and three poles and had 25 top-10 finishes that season.
2004: Kurt Busch
Racing his way to three wins and 21 top-10 finishes in 2004, Kurt Busch won the championship in the first year the Chase format was employed. His margin of victory over second-place finisher Jimmie Johnson was just six points. Johnson finished second in the final race of the season but had no bonus points, while Busch finished fifth with bonus points.
2003: Matt Kenseth
Despite winning just one race all year, Matt Kenseth earned the Winston Cup championship in 2003. His victory, which was earned on the merits of his consistency, was the impetus for changing the way the championship subsequently would be awarded. Kenseth had a series-best 25 top-10 finishes that season.
2002: Tony Stewart
In 36 races during the 2002 season, Tony Stewart had three wins, 21 top-10 finishes and six DNFs. That total was good enough to earn him top series honors. Not even an altercation with a photographer at the start of the second half of the year could halt his momentum, as he won the week after being put on probation for the rest of the year. By finishing in the top 10 in nine of the season's final 10 races, Stewart held off Mark Martin by 38 points to win his first career Winston Cup championship.
2001: Jeff Gordon
Winning for the fourth time in seven years, Jeff Gordon claimed the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship. The victory silenced naysayers who thought Gordon's best racing was behind him after a 2000 season in which he struggled to a ninth-place finish overall. In 2001, Gordon won six races and six poles and finished in the top 10 a series-best 24 times. He won by a commanding 349 points over Tony Stewart.
2000: Bobby Labonte
Bobby Labonte surged to the top of the series standings after the year's 10th race, and he held on to that lead for the remaining 25 weeks of the season. Labonte finished with two poles, four wins, 19 top fives and 24 top-10 finishes in 2000 en route to a 265-point Winston Cup championship victory.
1999: Dale Jarrett
Making a quick comeback from an offseason surgery, Dale Jarrett won his first race in the 1999 season's 11th event. The victory gave him a lead in the points standings, which he then sustained throughout the rest of the season. By finishing 201 points ahead of Bobby Labonte, Jarrett earned the first and only Winston Cup championship of his career.
1998: Jeff Gordon
With notable 1998 victories including his fourth straight Southern 500 win and second career Brickyard 400 win, Jeff Gordon earned the Winston Cup championship. He had 13 victories overall in the series that year, which tied Richard Petty's modern era record for a single racing season. Just as impressive was his feat of 28 top 10s in 33 races. Gordon finished 364 points ahead of Mark Martin in the standings.
1997: Jeff Gordon
Ten wins and 22 top-five finishes propelled Jeff Gordon to the series title in 1997. Despite those impressive statistics, his win was not by a landslide; Gordon finished the year just 14 points ahead of runner-up Dale Jarrett. Gordon nearly let the win get away from him, as he finished three laps off the lead in the final race of the season.
1996: Terry Labonte
After the season-ending race in 1996, Terry Labonte celebrated a dual victory lap with his brother; Bobby had won the race, and Terry had clinched the series championship by 37 points over Jeff Gordon. Labonte won just two races that year but had 24 top-10 finishes in 31 races. Gordon, on the other hand, had 10 wins.
1995: Jeff Gordon
Just as Dale Earnhardt won his first championship the year after Richard Petty won his seventh and final title, Jeff Gordon won his first the year after Earnhardt won the final of his seven. It was only fitting that Gordon just edged out Earnhardt in the final standings, finishing 34 points ahead of the veteran. Gordon had more poles (eight) and wins (seven) than Earnhardt (who had three and five, respectively).
1994: Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Matching Richard Petty's record of seven series championships, Dale Earnhardt raced his way to victory in 1994. With four wins, 20 top-five finishes and an average finish of 8.0, Earnhardt ended the season over 400 points ahead of runner-up Mark Martin in the standings. Earnhardt's Winston Cup clinching victory came in the third-to-last event of the season, a race in which he led a race-high 108 laps and won by .06 of a second.
1993: Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Dale Earnhardt won six races in 1993 en route to earning his sixth Winston Cup title. He moved into the top spot in the standings after the 10th race of the season, a race in which he led more laps than any other driver but finished in sixth place. It was one of 21 top-10 finishes he would have that year.
1992: Alan Kulwicki
The 10-point margin by which Alan Kulwicki won the Winston Cup in 1992 was the closest margin in NASCAR history to that point. The championship came down to the season's final race, where Kulwicki's second-place finish propelled him from second to first in the standings. Bill Elliott, who was first in the race, was the Winston Cup runner-up. The race capped a 278-point comeback for Kulwicki over the season's final six races. He was not able to defend his title, however, as he died in an airplane crash five races into the 1993 season.
1991: Dale Earnhardt Sr.
1991 wasn't Dale Earnhardt's best racing season by a long shot, as he finished with four wins, 14 top fives and 21 top 10s. It was still enough for him to win the Winston Cup by 195 points, however, earning him a million dollar bonus for taking home his second straight championship.
1990: Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Leading on the final lap at the season-opening Daytona race, Dale Earnhardt ran over a piece of metal and cut his tire. His team took that tire and hung it on the shop wall for the rest of the season to use as inspiration. It worked, as Earnhardt went on to win nine races and four poles in 1990. He held off Mark Martin by 26 points to win the Winston Cup.
1989: Rusty Wallace
With a 15th-place finish in the 1989 season's final race, Rusty Wallace held off Dale Earnhardt by 12 points to win the Winston Cup championship for the first and only time. That season he raced to six wins, including two at Richmond, 13 top fives and 20 top 10s.
1988: Bill Elliott
Bill Elliott had very similar racing stats in 1987 and 1988, but only in the latter year did he win the Winston Cup. Elliott had six wins, six poles, 22 top-10 finishes and an average finish of 6.6 en route to championship, which he won by 24 points over runner-up Rusty Wallace.
1987: Dale Earnhardt Sr.
The 1987 season was Dale Earnhardt's most successful. En route to winning the Winston Cup by almost 500 points, he picked up 11 wins, 21 top fives and 24 top-10 finishes. He also led a career-high 3358 laps in 29 races. Six of his 11 wins came in the first eight races of the season, as he won a modern-record four straight in the process. It was also this season that he earned the nickname of "The Intimidator."
1986: Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Dale Earnhardt earned five wins and 23 top-10 finishes in 1986, as he won his second Winston Cup championship. Earnhardt had the title clinched before the season's final race, but that assurance didn't stop him from racing hard at the Riverside International Raceway, where he finished second.
1985: Darrell Waltrip
Behind three wins, four poles, 18 top-five finishes and 21 top 10s, Darrell Waltrip won his third Winston Cup championship in 1985. Although he had a 101-point cushion over runner-up Bill Elliott by the end of the final race, his victory was far from assured during the race. Only after Elliott had transmission problems that forced him out of the race for 23 laps was Waltrip safe atop the standings.
1984: Terry Labonte
Terry Labonte won just two races during the 1984 season, but his consistently strong performances earned him the Winston Cup championship. He picked up 18 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes in 30 races for a 65-point win over runner-up Harry Gant.
1983: Bobby Allison
One year after finishing as the runner-up to Darrell Waltrip by 72 points, Bobby Allison swapped places with his rival. Allison won the 1983 Winston Cup by 47 points on the strength of his six wins, 18 top fives and 25 top-10 finishes.
1982: Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip defended his Winston Cup title in 1982 by matching his previous year's total of 12 wins. He also picked up seven poles, 17 top-five finishes and 20 top 10s and led a career-high 3027 laps in the season's 31 races.
1981: Darrell Waltrip
In the season that marked Darrell Waltrip's most successful year in the Winston Cup circuit, it was only fitting that he earned his first championship. Waltrip earned a 53-point victory courtesy of his season's 12 wins, 11 poles, 21 top fives and 25 top 10s.
1980: Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Prior to 1980, Dale Earnhardt had competed in just 36 Winston Cup races in five seasons, earning one win, 12 top fives and 19 top 10s. In 1980 alone, he bettered all of those marks. Racing to five wins, 19 top fives and 24 top 10s, Earnhardt also earned his first career Winston Cup championship. The victory came one year after he was awarded Rookie of the Year honors.
1979: Richard Petty
While the 1979 Daytona 500 may be best known for the fist-fight between Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers, Richard Petty is the driver who won the first NASCAR race to be televised live from start to finish. The win, which was his first in 45 races, jumpstarted his season, and he went on to claim his record seventh Winston Cup championship. Petty won five races and had 20 top fives that year, ultimately topping Darrell Waltrip by 11 points in the series' final standings.
1978: Cale Yarborough
By winning the Winston Cup in 1978, Cale Yarborough accomplished a feat no other driver has ever matched: winning three consecutive championships. Yarborough won a third of the season's 30 races, coming in the top five in 25 races.
1977: Cale Yarborough
In 27 of the 30 races in the 1977 season, Cale Yarborough finished among the top 10 drivers. He never once finished outside the top five in the season's final 11 races. It was that consistency -- plus his nine wins -- that propelled Yarborough to a 386-point victory in the Winston Cup standings that year.
1976: Cale Yarborough
Cale Yarborough unseated the two-time defending champion -- and six-time overall champion -- Richard Petty by 195 points in 1976. His nine victories that season, including four in a row, were the second-most in the series; David Pearson won 10 races but finished ninth in the standings.
1975: Richard Petty
Richard Petty's 1975 racing season ranks as one of the best in the sport's history. He set a modern record for victories in a season with 13 in 30 races and also raced his way to 21 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes. His average starting position was 4.1 and average finish was 6.6.
1974: Richard Petty
Despite many races in the 1974 season getting shortened due to the energy crisis, Richard Petty still led a total of 3100 laps throughout the year. In addition to winning the series championship, he also picked up 10 race wins, seven poles and 22 top-five finishes in 30 races.
1973: Benny Parsons
In the 1973 season, David Pearson won 11 races but entered just 18 events. Benny Parsons had just one win, but he competed in all of the season's 28 races and racked up 15 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes in the process. That consistency was the key to his winning the championship. He nearly lost the title in the season's final race, where his car was virtually crippled in an early crash. The rest of the garage desperately wanted to see someone beat Richard Petty, so many came over to help Parsons' crew patch the car enough to get it back on track. He returned 136 laps later and finished in 25th place to win the championship.
1972: Richard Petty
Of the 31 races in 1972, Richard Petty finished in the top 10 an impressive 28 times. Twenty five of those times he was in the top five, and eight times he won. Just eight drivers recorded wins in 1972, which was the first year the season was shortened and is viewed as the start of the modern era of racing.
1971: Richard Petty
Becoming the first driver to win the Daytona 500 three times wasn't Richard Petty's only accomplishment in 1971; he also earned the Grand National Championship and became the first driver to earn more than $1 million in career earnings. Petty raced in 46 of the season's 48 races and earned 21 wins, nine poles, 38 top fives and 41 top 10s.
1970: Bobby Isaac
En route to winning the 1970 Grand National championship, Bobby Isaac won 11 races and 13 poles and had 32 top-five and 38 top-10 finishes. He competed in 47 of the 48 races that season.
1969: David Pearson
While David Pearson competed in the Grand National Circuit every year from 1960 to 1986, he never once raced in every race of a season. The 1969 season was the last year he competed in at least 90 percent of the races (racing in 51 of the 54), and it was also the last year he won the Grand National title. Pearson won 11 races and 14 poles while turning in 42 top-five and 44 top-10 finishes.
1968: David Pearson
Winning the second Grand National championship of his career, David Pearson took the checkered flag in a career-high 16 races in 1968. He also earned 12 poles, 36 top-five finishes and 38 top-10 finishes while racing in 48 of the season's 49 races. Pearson's 3950 laps led was another career-high that year.
1967: Richard Petty
Ten of Richard Petty's career-high 27 wins in 1967 came consecutively between Aug. 12 and Oct. 1. He competed in 48 of the series' 49 races, earning 18 poles and 38 top-five and 40 top-10 finishes. His total dominance on the track earned him the moniker of "King Richard."
1966: David Pearson
With 15 wins and 33 top-10 finishes in 42 races, David Pearson raced his way to his first Grand National championship in 1966. Pearson finished first to Petty's second five times that season and was the runner-up to Petty once. Pearson and Petty would finish 1-2 (or 2-1) 63 times from Aug. 8, 1963 to June 12, 1977.
1965: Ned Jarrett
In addition to winning his second career Grand National championship in 1965, Ned Jarrett also set a NASCAR record for the largest margin of victory in a race. In a Southern 500 marred by major wrecks and car troubles, Jarrett outlasted the field to win by 14 laps. It was one of 13 wins Jarrett would earn that year. He also finished in the top five in 42 of the 54 races he competed in and had career bests in average starting position (4.5) and average finish (4.9). Jarrett didn't defend his title as he retired the following season.
1964: Richard Petty
In NASCAR's busiest season, the 62-race 1964, Richard Petty competed in 61 of the races. He won nine races and eight poles and had 37 top-five and 43 top-10 finishes during that time. It was a year of big firsts for Petty, who won the Grand National championship for the first time and took the checkered flag at the Daytona 500 for the first time. Petty was 27 years old during the season.
1963: Joe Weatherly
With three wins, six poles, 20 top fives and 35 top 10s in 53 races, Joe Weatherly successfully defended his Grand National title in 1963. Weatherly was killed in the fifth race of the following season when his head went outside his car and struck a retaining wall. He is the only NASCAR champion to be killed on the track while defending his title.
1962: Joe Weatherly
Joe Weatherly got a late start in NASCAR, driving his first race at the age of 30 and never racing a full season until the age of 40. It was that year -- 1962 -- that Weatherly won the first of his two Grand National championships. He matched a career high with nine wins that season, also racing to 45 top 10s in 52 races and leading over 1,000 laps for the only time in his career.
1961: Ned Jarrett
Ned Jarrett won just one of the 46 races in which he competed in 1961, but that didn't keep him from securing his first Grand National championship that year. The win was due in large part to his 34 top-10 finishes.
1960: Rex White
Rex White didn't set any on-track career-bests in 1960, but he did win his only Grand National championship that year and capture a career-high $57,525 in earnings. White finished the season with six wins, three poles, 25 top fives and 35 top 10s.
1959: Lee Petty
The 1959 season was the end of a dominant stretch for Lee Petty (back), one of NASCAR's pioneers. For his first 11 seasons (from 1949-1959), Petty never once finished out of the top five in the season-ending standings. In 1959 he won his third and final championship with 11 wins and 35 top 10s in 42 races. That year he also won the inaugural race at the Daytona International Speedway, edging out Johnny Beauchamp (front) in a photo finish at the race's end.
1958: Lee Petty
Lee Petty crossed the finish line first seven times in the 1958 season en route to winning his second Grand National championship. In the 50 of 51 races in which he competed that year, he also picked up career highs with four poles, 28 top-five finishes and 43 top 10s.
1957: Buck Baker
While driving his own Chevrolets in 1957, Buck Baker (front) successfully defended his Grand National championship, capping the year with a win in the season finale. He competed in 40 of the season's 53 races, winning 10 times. Baker also earned six poles, 30 top fives and 38 top 10s en route to a 760-point title victory.
1956: Buck Baker
Buck Baker competed in more races in 1956 than in any other year, and he also earned more wins than any other season. In fact, he had career highs in most every on-track category with 14 wins, 12 poles, 31 top fives, 39 top 10s and 1401 laps led.
1955: Tim Flock
The 18 victories Tim Flock earned in 1955 stood as a NASCAR record until 1967 when it was broken by Richard Petty. Flock won his second Grand National championship that year, leading a career-high 3,495 laps and earning a career-high $37.780 in earnings.
1954: Lee Petty
Although Lee Petty finished in the top 10 in 32 of his 34 starts, the season's final race was not one of those times. In that race he came in dead last but still earned a 283-point victory over runner-up Herb Thomas. Thomas had 12 wins, five more than Petty, but wasn't nearly as consistent as Petty.
1953: Herb Thomas
Herb Thomas holds the distinction of being the first NASCAR driver to win the series championship twice. The second of his two titles came in 1953, the year in which he won 12 of 37 races. That season he also earned career highs with 12 poles, 27 top-five finishes and 31 top-10 finishes.
1952: Tim Flock
Finishing the 1952 season 106 points ahead of Herb Thomas in the standings, NASCAR pioneer Tim Flock claimed his first Grand National championship. Flock won eight races in 33 starts that year, including the season opener.
1951: Herb Thomas
After switching cars during the 1951 season from a Plymouth to a Hudson Hornet at the suggestion of fellow driver Marshall Teague (right), Herb Thomas earned six wins in a two-month span. He had seven wins in all en route to a close championship win over runner-up Fonty Flock.
1950: Bill Rexford
One of just two Northern drivers to regularly drive on the NASCAR Grand National Circuit in 1950, Bill Rexford took the championship that year. He nearly lost his chance at the title when he suffered an engine failure early in the season's final race. Rexford's major competitor, Fireball Roberts, just needed a top-five finish to win the championship, but instead he raced aggressively for the win. His car couldn't handle it, and it suffered engine trouble of its own. That gave Rexford the room he needed to hold on to his points lead.
1949: Red Byron
In the inaugural season of the "Strictly Stock" series, Red Byron earned the first championship. Competing in six of the series' eight races, he won twice and finished in the top five four times. At the end of the year, Byron was 117.5 points ahead of runner-up Lee Petty.