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NASCAR’s Top -5 One Season Wonders to Ever to Race in the Top-Flight

Published 01/09/2024, 3:02 PM EST

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USA Today via Reuters

NASCAR can be an unforgiving sport at times, and not every driver who sets out with an aspiration to make their mark in the premier stock-car racing series gets to live out the dream. Not everyone can reach the heights of some of the greats like Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson, or Jeff Gordon. But there are a few drivers who, over the years, did help the community realize how difficult it is to stay relevant in the scene, despite having the best Cup Series season of their career.

There have been a fair few Cup Series drivers who did look like the next big thing, but unfortunately, those few could never build on their one-season wonder tag. This is the phrase commonly thrown around in the sporting world, and NASCAR has seen quite a few in its long history. Let us take a look at those unlucky drivers who could never build on the hype and expectations of their one-season exploit.

The Top 5 NASCAR One-Season Wonders to Race in the Cup Series

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Juan Pablo Montoya (2009)

Starting with this list, we have Juan Pablo Montoya. He had a successful career as an open-wheel race car driver. His championship win at CART Champions in 1999 and the win at the Indianapolis 500 the following year sure planted the seeds for him to replicate this success in the premier stock-car racing series. 2009 was the year when it felt like he could finally win the championship with consistent top-ten finishes for most of the season. Despite making it to the playoffs for the only time in his career, he could not replicate this run in the future. If it weren’t for his aggressive style and multiple wreck incidents, who knows? The Columbian could have achieved the impossible.

Jamie McMurray (2010)

A trifecta win at the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, and the Charlotte certainly set up Jamie McMurray in the talks of being the title contender in 2010, but it was all just a dream. A 14th-place final finish was the result he had to be content with, despite those impressive wins. To add to his disappointment, he was released by Fenway Racing that year, and he could reach the heights of 2010 soon. The only win McMurray was able to clinch after this season was in 2013 at Talladega. He did manage a back-to-back 13th-place overall finish in 2015 and 2016, but he certainly would look back at the 2010 season as his career highlight.

Alan Kulwicki (1992)

It’s one thing to be hyped about to clinch the championship and another to go on and win it. Well, in 1992, Alan Kulwicki certainly pulled off the biggest underdog championship win. There was no noise about him being the next big thing going into the 1992 season, so it was a major surprise to see him reach his major peak in his NASCAR career. The wins at Bristol and Ponoco, along with the seventeen top-five finishes, propelled him to a championship finish. It was Bill Elliot and Davey Ellison who put on a challenge, but he was playing in a different league. His demise in 1993, unfortunately, would not allow the fans to see if he could put up a championship fight in the coming seasons.

Derrike Cope (1990)

Well, Derrike Cope did not have the championship win in 1990, but he did pull off a major upset that season with the win at the Daytona 500. The win was monumental because he did beat the intimidator, Dale Earnhardt. His win was a complete shocker, as nobody saw it coming. If it had not been for Dale Earnhardt, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. With the Daytona 500 win, he also emerged victorious at the Dover Motor Speedway in the same season. These were the only two Cup Series wins Cope managed in his entire NASCAR career, and therefore, the tag of one-season wonder certainly fit well for him. You can only get lucky once in your lifetime, and that was the case with Cope in 1990.

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Bill Rexford (1950)

We saved the best for last. Rounding off the biggest one-season wonder in NASCAR has to be Bill Rexford. At 23 years old, he was the youngest Cup Series champion in 1950 and registered his only win in the Cup Series the same season at Canfield. This result had a lot to do with Lee Petty’s penalty that eliminated him in the mid-season. Petty was stripped of all 809 points for racing in an unsanctioned series. So Rexford was pretty much handed the championship gift wrapped around him in 1950. Forget about hitting this peak again in his career at Rexford; he was banned for life from NASCAR. He is also the only champion not to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Talk about having a one-season wonder in the Cup Series; Bill Rexford certainly sits at the top of every other racer in history.

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Apart from the above-mentioned NASCAR drivers, who do you think could have been featured in this list of one-season wonders? Do let us know in the comments below.

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Written by:

Chintan Devgania

538Articles

One take at a time

It was the Fast & Furious movies that acted as my gateway to the world of cars and motorsports. Later, as I completed my undergrad in Journalism, I learned how to channel my thoughts and opinions, which only helped me kick-start my career as a sportswriter. Having written multiple copies for the Scottish Daily, I am now looking to expand and contribute at EssentiallySports as a NASCAR writer, informing, enlightening, and entertaining the fans with my stories.
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Edited by:

Riya Singhal