We are closing in on the final handful of weeks of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, the stock car series' 75th anniversary campaign. To celebrate, each week through the end of the season, Ryan McGee is presenting his top five favorite things about the sport.
Top five best-looking cars? Check. Top five toughest drivers? We've got it. Top five mustaches? There can be only one, so maybe not.
Without further ado, our 75 favorite things about NASCAR, celebrating 75 years of stock car racing.
Top five best-looking cars
As we have dropped the hammer on our series of NASCAR 75 top-five greatest lists, we spent the first four weeks dealing with the racers and races, but what about the machines those racers drove in those races?
Nearly 2-ton machines snarling around ovals, road courses and dirt tracks at speeds exceeding 200 mph. It sounds like there's no way they couldn't all look cool while in the midst of doing that, but the reality is that, like people, some race cars just look more awesome than others, no matter whether they are pushing the edge of the envelope at Talladega or just sitting on the race shop floor.
So, what NASCAR models stand out above the rest in stock car racing's grand 75-year-old showroom? Grab a can of Simoniz and a chamois cloth and read ahead as we present our top five best-looking NASCAR race cars.
Honorable mention: 1955-56 Chrysler 300C
Anyone who gets frustrated now when Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing gets on a hot streak and seemingly wins all the races and titles would have totally hated these cars back in the day, and really hated the team that fielded them.
Team owner Elmer Carl "EC" Kiekhaefer ran a fleet of long, sleek Chrysler 300Cs for two seasons, and they won 49 races (plus three more via other cars) and both Grand National titles. Tim Flock, Buck Baker and their teammates drove machines up and down Daytona Beach with giant three-digit car numbers and a script "Full Jeweled" painted above that number.
Remembering Carl Kiekhaefer— NASCAR Legends (@LegendsNascar) June 4, 2022
6/4/1906 - 10/5/1983 #RIP
Carl Kiekhaefer was a NASCAR Grand National team owner for 2 years & he won 2 championships in dominant fashion. In 1955 Tim Flock won 18 races & in 1956 Buck Baker won 14 races. Kiekhaefer's cars won 52 races in 2 seasons. pic.twitter.com/WDYigLN4lI
The 300C was so dominant and looked so cool that every race led to protests from defeated rivals, although none ever turned up any cheating. It made Kiekhaefer so angry that he quit racing and went back to selling his Mercury boat motors in Wisconsin, taking his awesome 300Cs with him.
5. 1951-54 Hudson Hornet
The 300C's predecessor was a car that was so sleek in its design that it looked like it was racing even when it was sitting still. Heck, even the car numbers were painted with cartoon vapor trails as if they were in constant motion.
The Hudson Hornet won 79 races in all, piloted by everyone from Daytona Beach legend Marshall Teague and two-time champ Herb Thomas to Flock's 1952 ride that famously had a shotgun spot for his pet monkey, Jocko Flocko. This car was so cool that Paul Newman voiced it in "Cars" for a character featuring Thomas' "Fabulous Hudson Hornet" paint scheme.
4. 1995-99 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
After years of success with its squared-off 1980s Monte Carlo models and the equally boxy Lumina made famous by "Days of Thunder," Chevy showed up at Daytona in 1995 with a brand-new Monte Carlo that was shaped like it was designed by a wind tunnel itself.
It immediately started crushing the field, thanks to the arrival of some kid named Jeff Gordon. It's also the machine that finally delivered a Daytona 500 win for Dale Earnhardt.
Unfortunately, it also delivered the super-whiny "Their spoiler is higher than ours!" aerodynamic age of Cup Series racing that was the late 1990s and early 2000s, but hey, it still looked cool.
3. 1987 Ford Thunderbird
The impetus for Chevy's move to a sleeker machine in the 1990s was because even when it was winning races and Cups with the likes of Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip, their rivals' rides always seemed to look sleeker thanks to the perpetually futuristic design of the Ford Thunderbird.
Peak T-Bird was reached in 1987. That was the year when Bill Elliott's No. 9 red-and-white Coors Ford set the record for fastest lap recorded in a stock car, 212.809 mph at Talladega, and Davey Allison embarked on a rookie campaign in a black-and-white ride with the gold No. 28 on the door.
2. 1969-70 Dodge Charger Daytona/Plymouth Superbird
Actually, just go on and throw the 1969 Ford Torino Talladega/Mercury Cyclone Spoiler in here too, because it also looked awesome and, if not for it, we wouldn't have gotten the other two.
After Richard Petty won 27(!) races in 1967 driving a Plymouth Belvedere (a car that should probably also be on this list), Ford built an extended, slope-nosed beast with a Blue Crescent 429 engine in it and stomped the field. Dodge responded in late 1969 with its own Boss 429-powered Daytona, which took the Torino's knife-edged style and added a 2-foot-high fiberglass wing on the back.
Petty, who had switched to Ford in 1969, came back to Chrysler and ran the now-world-famous Petty Blue No. 43 Plymouth Superbird. All season, those wings ran around speedways looking like a Star Wars prequel.
Also, can we take a moment and acknowledge an entry that includes the terms "Torino," "Cyclone," "Charger," "Superbird," "Belvedere," "Blue Crescent" and "Boss"? Weren't the names of everything just more awesome back then?
1. 1972 Dodge Charger
Could this list have been five Petty-driven machines and been done at that? Totally. From the NASCAR Convertibles Division (yes, that was a real thing) to Belvederes to Pontiacs, "His Royal Fastness" piloted some of the most beautiful rides ever witnessed on a racetrack (and also some of the ugliest, more on that coming in our next list).
The best-looking race car that has ever taken a green or checkered flag, though, is Petty's 1972 Dodge Charger. That's the one with the giant signature Charger grill, the raised rear end, "The Racer's Edge" printed on the front spoiler, the slanted roof number and the thick-striped melding of STP DayGlo red with Petty Blue.
That color compromise dang near killed the deal that became the model for all future sponsorship contracts. For more on how that went down, read this story from 2010.