The dirtiest drivers in NASCAR history
No NASCAR driver has ever gotten to the top of their sport without a burning desire to win. But some have taken it too far and rubbed the competition the wrong way, sometimes causing wrecks to get ahead. Here are the five dirtiest drivers in NASCAR history.
5. Ernie Irvan
Though he was often apologetic, Ernie Irvan’s haphazard driving style earned him the nickname "Swervin’ Irvan" in the 1990s.
The first major controversy that Irvan was involved in was at the Darlington race in 1990, when he triggered an accident that nearly took Neil Bonnett’s life. The following season, Irvan caused a multi-car pileup at Talladega that resulted in a broken leg for Kyle Petty.
4. Kyle Busch
Easily NASCAR’s most polarizing driver, it’s understood that Kyle Busch has a low boiling point and isn’t afraid to let his opinion about others drivers known – be it through words or actions.
One of Busch’s most famous outbursts occurred in the truck series in 2011, when he wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. at Texas in retaliation for prior contact during the race. NASCAR subsequently suspended Busch for the remainder of that weekend.
Busch has been involved in numerous incidents with Brad Keselowski alone, and in 2017 he and Joey Logano fought post-race at Las Vegas. In 2020, he was accused of intentionally wrecking Chase Elliott at Darlington, though he later offered a sincere apology.
3. Robby Gordon
Robby Gordon often rubbed his fellow drivers the wrong way on the track.
In 2005, Gordon was involved in a wreck with Michael Waltrip in the Sylvania 300, and he threw his helmet in retaliation at Waltrip’s No. 15 car on the track, narrowly missing another car on the lead lap. When interviewed him about the crash, Gordon called Waltrip "a piece of [expletive]," and was fined $50,000.
Two years later, during the NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Gordon passed Marcus Ambrose to take the lead as a multi-car wreck took place behind them. Ambrose spun Gordon, under the yellow flag, to reclaim first. NASCAR determined that Gordon would restart 13th, but he refused to give up the lead and was black-flagged. Then he returned the favor and spun out Ambrose. He officially finished 18th, but following the race, Gordon proceeded to do burnouts as if he won. NASCAR suspended Gordon for the following race.
There have been other incidents as well, but those two go a long way toward proving that Robby Gordon was an all-time dirty driver.
2. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart had one of sports’ most appropriate nicknames – "Smoke" – and where there was "Smoke," there was indeed fire.
In 1999, at Martinsville, Stewart threw his gloves at Kenny Irwin Jr.’s car following some rough racing and a wreck. In 2011, he spun out Brian Vickers at Sonoma (and was promptly spun out in turn). In 2012, Matt Kenseth sent Stewart’s car into the wall at Bristol. Stewart threw his helmet at Kenseth’s car during the yellow flag in retaliation. The following year, Stewart confronted Joey Logano while still in the pits regarding what he thought were questionable moves on the final restart at Auto Club Speedway.
1. Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. was one of the NASCAR’s all-time greatest drivers, but he earned the nickname "The Intimidator" due to his aggressive tactics.
Earnhardt came out ahead in the infamous "Rattle His Cage" race at Bristol in 1999, when he spun out Terry Labonte during the final lap. He never let up, even during the All-Star race (then known as The Winston) in 1987. He spun out Bill Elliott and drove to victory in what became known as the "Pass in the Grass."