Over the course of NASCAR history, hundreds of different cars owners have fielded thousands of different cars for various drivers. Over time, certain cars have grown to be much more recognizable than others. Some have even reached legendary status for both their longevity in the sport and dominance on the track. Some of NASCAR’s most iconic cars have had several successful drivers who have each gone to victory lane or won championships behind the wheel. Others are mostly associated with one driver who spent the majority of their career in the driver’s the seat.
Now, this is not a compiling of NASCAR’s most successful numbers. The car’s number is just a part of what makes it iconic. You must also take into account the car owners, drivers, and success on the track. Considering that, here are NASCAR’s twelve most iconic rides.
12. No. 6 – Roush Racing
The No. 6 was now-legendary car owner Jack Roush’s first foray into NASCAR, back in 1988. Roush hired Mark Martin as his driver and history was made. Roush Racing would eventually become a multi-car, powerhouse team which at one time fielded five full-time Cup Series entries. But it all started with the No. 6 and Mark Martin.
Martin would drive the car through the 2006 season and win 35 races in the No. 6. He would also finish in the top-five in series points 12 times during this span. Following Martin’s departure in 2007, David Ragan was hired as the new driver. Ragan would have several lacklustre seasons, highlighted by just one win in 2011, at Daytona. The No. 6 was then only raced sparingly over the next few seasons until Trevor Bayne was announced as the new full-time driver for 2015. Bayne remains the driver to this day and has had little success behind the wheel, with just a handful of top-ten finishes.
Roush’s No. 6 doesn’t hold the same number of race victories or championships as other cars on this list. But the No. 6 was the class of the field throughout the 1990s and early 2000s when Mark Martin was behind the wheel. Considering the now legendary status of car owner Jack Roush, his inaugural entry in NASCAR has to be on this list.
11. No. 48 – Hendrick Motorsports
The No. 48 is the first of several Hendrick Motorsports cars to make our list and may be the most controversial. Hendrick has only operated the No. 48 since the latter part of the 2001 season. How can a car that’s only been around for 17 years be so iconic? Well, it’s won seven championships.
Jimmie Johnson has been the sole driver of the No. 48 and since 2001 and has been to victory lane 83 times. Johnson has also won seven Cup Series championships, including five consecutive from 2006-2010. Few other cars on this list have been so dominant. The No. 48 also has the power of brand recognition behind it. Since its inception, the No. 48 has had just one sponsor, Lowe’s. The number has now become synonymous with Lowe’s and Jimmie Johnson is involved in several of the home improvement chain’s commercials and promotional materials. You can see the neon-yellow No. 48 nearly everywhere if you walk around a NASCAR race today.
Yes, the No. 48 has only been around for a short time, but Jimmie Johnson has done enough to secure its place as one of NASCAR’s most iconic rides.
10. No. 4 – Morgan-McClure Motorsports
Morgan-McClure Motorsports first showed up with its No. 4 car in 1983 and would go on to be a staple in NASCAR for nearly 30 years. In 1986, the team would pick up sponsorship from Kodak, thus creating one of NASCAR’s most memorable paint schemes. Kodak would sponsor the team in various capacities all throughout their time in NASCAR.
It would take the team seven years and nearly a dozen driver changes to finally get their first win in 1990 with Ernie Irvan behind the wheel. This win kicked off the peak period of Morgan-McClure’s success. Irvan would win the 1991 Daytona 500 as well as the Watkins Glen race that year. Irvan would win four more times over the next two seasons, but would leave the team part way through the 1993 season. Sterling Marlin was hired in 1994 and he immediately won the Daytona 500. He would repeat his Daytona win in 1995 and add two other races wins on the season.
Following Sterling Marlin’s departure in 1998, the team began to struggle. Several journeyman drivers were hired over the next several seasons including Bobby Hamilton, Robby Gordon, Mike Skinner, Kevin Lepage, Mike Wallace and Jimmy Spencer. None were able to find any success in the car and the team cut back to a partial schedule following the 2007 season. By 2009, Morgan-McClure was out of NASCAR and hasn’t returned since. As a sign of respect, NASCAR did not issue the No. 4 again until 2014 when it was finally issued to Stewart-Haas Racing for Kevin Harvick to use.
Morgan-McClure’s No. 4 is still one the most recognizable NASCAR rides of the 1990s. Its three Daytona 500 victories and dominance on super speedways helped make it a fan favourite and one of NASCAR’s most iconic rides.
9. No. 28 – Robert Yates Racing
Robert Yates Racing began its tenure in NASCAR in 1989 with driver Davey Allison in the No. 28. Little did Yates know that his No. 28 car would go on to have several legendary drivers and win over 20 races.
Davey Allison was the first to wheel the No. 28 and he would win 17 races between 1989 and 1993. After Allison’s unfortunate passing in 1993, Ernie Irvan took over the car and won eight races before departing the team in 1998. After a brief stint with Kenny Irwin Jr. behind the wheel, Ricky Rudd took over the No. 28 in 2000 and would win three races before leaving the team after the 2003 season.
Yates would not use the No. 28 again until 2008 when Travis Kvapil was hired to drive, garnering just four top-ten finishes. Yates would once again shut the team down partway through the 2009 season. Robert Yates Racing has since dissolved and the No. 28 has thus never returned to the track. Despite its tenure coming to an end, the No. 28 and it’s Texaco-Havoline livery will forever live on in race fans’ memories as one of NASCAR’s most iconic rides.
8. No. 42 – Petty Enterprises
Sure, when most people hear the name “Petty Enterprises,” they immediately think of the legendary No. 43 whizzing around the track with Richard petty behind the wheel. But before the No. 43, there was the No. 42, driven by Richard’s father, Lee Petty.
Lee Petty began racing in NASCAR in 1949 and used the No. 42 for the majority of his career. All but one of his 54 race wins came behind the wheel of the No. 42 car for Petty Enterprises. But Petty is perhaps most famous for winning the inaugural Daytona 500 in his No. 42 in a controversial photo finish.
After Lee Petty’s retirement, the No. 42 remained in the Petty Enterprises stable only briefly before it was assigned to other teams. Both SABCO and Chip Ganassi Racing have used the number for drivers including Joe Nemechek, Jamie McMurray, and Juan Pablo Montoya. Today, Kyle Larson drives the No. 42 under the Chip Ganassi Racing banner. Although Larson and several other drivers have won races with the number 42 on the side of their cars, it will always be most famously associated with Lee Petty and his “Photo Finish” at Daytona.
7. No. 2 – Team Penske
Few people realize that Rusty Wallace didn’t win his 1989 championship in Penske Racing’s No. 2. But Wallace became so synonymous with the car, the many race fans just assume he drove it his entire career. Rusty Wallace spent 15 seasons in the No. 2 car, winning 37 races and finishing the top ten in the championship race 12 times. Wallace was dominant throughout the 1990s in the car, seemingly finishing in the top ten every race. By the early the 2000s, the No. 2 would simply become known to race fans as the “Blue Deuce,” due to its blue Miller Beer-sponsored paint scheme.
Wallace would retire following the 2005 season and hand the car over to Kurt Busch. Busch spent five season in the car, winning eight races before moving to Penske’s new No. 22 car in 2011. Brad Keselowski would take over the No. 2 in 2011 and would go on to win the 2012 Cup Series championship, the first championship for the No. 2. Keselowski has won 23 races in the No. 2, bringing its win total to 68 races since the 1991 season.
Due to its constant time running in the top-five on race day, 68 race wins, and one championship, the “Blue Deuce” is among NASCAR’s most iconic rides.
6. No. 5 – Hendrick Motorsports
Hendrick Motorsports in the most successful active team in NASCAR. Its drivers have won 12 Cup Series championships and over 200 races. Drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Kyle Busch have all wheeled cars for owner, Rick Hendrick but it was Geoffrey Bodine who was the first to drive for Hendrick, in its iconic No. 5.
Hendrick Motorsports made its debut in 1984, with Bodine driving the No.5 and they would win their first race at Martinsville. Had they not won the race, Hendrick was considering shutting the team down due to funding issues. Bodine would go on to win seven races in the No. 5 before handing the reigns over to an excellent stable of drivers.
Ricky Rudd, Terry Labonte, Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, and Kasey Kahne would all drive the No. 5 over the next 30 years and would all win races in the car. Labonte is perhaps best known for driving the No. 5, as he spent 11 seasons in the car and won the 1996 championship. The No. 5 was also Kyle Busch’s first full-time ride in the Cup Series, now one of NASCAR’s winningest drivers.
The No. 5 doesn’t share the same number of victories as other cars on our list and has only won a single championship. But its history in NASCAR as the flagship Hendrick Motorsports team, and its longevity in the sport makes it one of NASCAR most iconic rides.
5. No. 18 – Joe Gibbs Racing
Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 car debuted at the 1992 Daytona 500 with Dale Jarrett behind the wheel. The No. 18 made a splash the following season when Jarrett drove it to victory in the Daytona 500. In 1995, the No. 18 would be taken over by Bobby Labonte, who would go on to win 21 races and the 2000 Cup Series Championship. After 10 years in the No. 18, Bobby Labonte left the team after the 2005 season and was replaced by JJ Yeley. Yeley wouldn’t find much success in either of his two seasons behind the wheel, but the No. 18’s next driver would make up for it.
In 2008, Joe Gibbs hired Kyle Busch to drive the No. 18 car and Busch would not disappoint. To this day, Busch has won 39 Cup Series races behind the wheel of the No. 18, as well as the 2015 championship. Nowadays, it’s almost a given to see the No. 18 pacing the field in practice sessions and consistency racing in the top-five on race day. With its two iconic drivers, 62 race wins, and two Cup Series championships, the No. 18 is solidly a top-five iconic NASCAR ride.
4. No. 24 – Hendrick Motorsports
The Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 car made its debut at Atlanta in 1992 with a young, up and comer behind the wheel, Jeff Gordon. Gordon was immediately successful in the Cup Series and helped change the stigma that young drivers couldn’t be successful in NASCAR. Gordon spent the next 20 years driving the No. 24, winning four Cup Series championships and 93 races before his retirement following the 2015 season. Gordon was incredibly dominant throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, which helped to burn the No. 24 in every NASCAR fan’s memory. The No. 24 is also known for its two distinct and iconic paint schemes, the “rainbow” scheme of the 1990s and the “flames” scheme of the 2000s.
Following Gordon’s retirement, the No. 24 would see its first new driver in over 20 years, Chase Elliott, son of former Cup Series champion, Bill Elliott. Chase would wheel the No. 24 for the 2015 and 2016 seasons before being moved to Hendrick Motorsports’ new No. 9 car. NASCAR young gun, William Byron became the 24’s new driver in 2018.
Jeff Gordon is the reason we remember the No. 24 today, but its now time for the next generation of NASCAR drivers to take the wheel.
3. No. 3 – Richard Childress Racing
If you take a drive around the American South, you’ll likely see quite a few cars with a “3” sticker on the bumper or back window. This “3” is one of the most iconic logos in all of motorsports and it took on an all new meaning with the passing of its greatest driver, Dale Earnhardt.
The No. 3 was driven by from the early 1980s until his death in 2001. Earnhardt won 67 of his 76 career races in the No. 3, along with six championships. His iconic black paint scheme worked perfectly with his nickname “The Intimidator.” Few numbers in NASCAR bare the distinction of being associated with a single driver, but the No. 3 is synonymous with Dale Earnhardt.
After Earnhardt’s death in 2001, Richard Childress Racing changed the No. 3 to the number 29 and it would be 13 years before the No. 3 returned. Although NASCAR didn’t officially retire the number, they did not issue it to a team until Richard Childress requested it for his grandson Austin Dillon to use. Some fans weren’t pleased to see the number return and others were ecstatic. Since debuting the No. 3 in in 2014, Dillon has won two races, including the 2018 Daytona 500 and is on his way to doing the number proud.
2. No. 21 – Wood Brothers Racing
In 1950, Glen and Leonard Wood formed “Wood Brothers Racing,” a team that would become one of NASCAR’s most iconic. They have fielded the No. 21 Ford every season since 1950 and hold the distinction of being NASCAR’s oldest team. Dozens of drivers have driven the No. 21, including NASCAR legends Junior Johnson, Fireball Roberts, Cale Yarborough, Donnie Allison, and David Pearson. Indycar legend AJ Foyt even drove the No. 21 to victory in the 1972 Daytona 500; and these were only the drivers during NASCAR’s golden era. Since then, Michael Waltrip, Morgan Shepherd, Ricky Rudd, Ken Schrader, Bill Elliott, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Blaney and Paul Menard have all wheeled the No. 21 around the track.
The No. 21 has enjoyed success since its inception and continues to race at the front of the field today. As of the start of the 2018 season, the No. 21 has won 99 Cup Series races, the most recent of which was a win by Ryan Blaney at Pocono in 2017. With an impressive history of hall of fame drivers, 99 wins, and the title of NASCAR’s oldest team, the No. 21 Wood Brothers’ ride is NASCAR’s second most iconic ride.
1. No. 43 – Petty Enterprises
Could there be another number one?
The famous No. 43 car made its debut in 1954 with Bob Welborn behind the wheel, but of course its most famous driver is Richard Petty. Petty would win 199 races behind the wheel of the No. 43, along with seven Cup Series championships. Petty would retire following the 1992 season, leaving the legendary No. 43 to be driven by another driver for the first time in over 30 years. Since then, Wally Dallenbach Jr., Bobby Hamilton, John Andretti, Jeff Green, Bobby Labonte, Reed Sorenson, Aric Almirola, and Darrell Wallace Jr. has all taken turns driving the No. 43.
Although Richard Petty won 199 races in the No. 43, the car has unfortunately failed the see the same success with any of its drivers since. Only John Andretti, Bobby Hamilton, and Aric Almirola have been to victory lane in the ride. But putting this aside, Richard Petty’s time in the No. 43, reigning over NASCAR, is enough to place the No. 43 as NASCAR’s most iconic ride. In fact, it’s arguably the most recognizable car in all of motorsports history.