NASCAR is one of the most popular and lucrative motorsports in the world, attracting thousands of fans to their live races, with millions more watching on their television sets at home. This provides a great platform for companies who want to showcase their products and services to a vast audience of potential customers through sponsorship of NASCAR teams and individual drivers.
As of 2018, a quarter of Fortune 500 companies – the richest and most successful firms in the US – were involved in some aspect of NASCAR sponsorship. Shell has extended its sponsorship deal with Team Penske and top NASCAR driver Joey Logano until 2022, while Coca-Cola is still the “Official Soft Drink of NASCAR” continuing its 50-year association with the sport.
Drivers too can earn a lot of money from NASCAR, even if they don’t take home the cash prizes awarded for coming in first, second and third in the big races. As well as the salary from their team, they can pick up their own sponsorship deals, with companies keen to have their name attached to competitors who are going to get a lot of TV coverage. Dale Earnhardt Jr was the highest-paid NASCAR driver in 2018, with earnings of $22 million.
Not that you would know it from the sad cars that some NASCAR stars have in their garages at home; vehicles which don’t fit at all with the image that fans have of their motorsport heroes.
Mexican-born Daniel Suarez became the first non-US driver to win a NASCAR series when he took first place in the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series. He stayed with the Joe Gibbs Racing team when he made the move into the big league in 2017, joining the Monster Energy Cup Series and ending the season in 20th place.
Suarez grew up around cars, particularly the vintage Volkswagens that his dad used to work on in the garage he owned and which he sold to fund his son’s dream of making it in motorsports. His VW Beetle could be explained away as nostalgia, but it’s still a pretty tame car for a NASCAR driver to have in his garage.
Joey “Sliced Bread” Logano is the reigning Monster Energy Cup Series champion, having picked up three race wins on his way to the title in 2018. Logano even manages to drive part-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, driving a Team Penske Ford Mustang GT in both competitions. He seems to enjoy driving Ford vehicles, as one of the more unusual cars in his impressive collection is a Ford Econoline van.
This functional and not-so-stylish minivan is the last thing you might expect to see a speedster like Logano driving, although he has made some pretty extreme modifications to his Econoline which have left it virtually unrecognizable.
As we have already seen, Dale Earnhardt Jr is not short of money, thanks to his $22 million income from NASCAR races and sponsorship deals, so he could afford to buy some of the most expensive and stylish cars in the world. Instead, however, he prefers to keep hold of vehicles that have some sentimental value for him and his family. Like the 1976 Chevy Laguna which has a special place in his heart because this was a model which was widely used in NASCAR races in the 1970s.
Although he keeps the vehicle in good condition, there are much better vintage cars out there is Earnhardt wanted a 1970s classic.
Some of the cars on this list are sad because they are old and battered; some are brand-new but lack the style you might expect from a champion driver. None are as downright weird as the Cadillac Hearse owned by Tony Stewart.
Nicknamed “Smoke,” Stewart won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series three times, in 2002, 2005 and 2011, and now owns his own team, Stewart-Haas Racing. He even holds the record for becoming the first owner-driver to win the NASCAR championship, although none of this success explains his bizarre decision to splash the cash on a vintage funeral car!
Unlike many sports, NASCAR has always welcomed female drivers. 109 different women have taken part in NASCAR competitions since trailblazer Janet Guthrie became the first to qualify for both the Indianapolis and Dayton 500s. Danica Patrick was one of NASCAR’s most successful female drivers, having started her career in open-wheel racing where she was the only woman to win a race in the IndyCar Series.
Patrick is much less ambitious when it comes to her personal car, however, as one of the vehicles in her garage is the very dull Ford Expedition, a clunky SUV which was designed as the successor to the Ford Bronco.
Perhaps another surprising aspect of some of the personal cars driven by NASCAR stars is how many of them are environmentally friendly. After all, NASCAR itself is hardly a green sport, when you take into account all the pollution from those modified gas guzzlers. It seems that some drivers might be trying to make up for the damage they have done to the environment at work when it comes to the cars they drive at home.
Carl Edwards, for example, who is as famous for his somersault celebration as for his NASCAR wins, drives a Ford Fusion Hybrid when he is away from the track.
Kyle Busch is another racer who started early, becoming the youngest ever NASCAR pole winner at the age of 19 years and 317 days in 2005. He has gone on to enjoy some impressive results in NASCAR, including a record 24 wins in one season across all three NASCAR series. His racing car is a souped-up Toyota Camry, which has been fitted with a specialist engine as well as all the extra bits and pieces you need to create the perfect NASCAR vehicle.
However, the Toyota Camry which Busch drives when he is off duty is a rather uninspiring choice of car; rather like an office worker choosing to decorate their home like their workplace!
Currently driving the No. 6 Ford Mustang for Roush Fenway Racing, his best finish in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was 17th in 2018, although he did take the chequered flag in the legendary Daytona 500 race in 2008.
Nicknamed “Rocket Man” Newman can certainly boast an intriguing collection of cars at home, even if he doesn’t have too many NASCAR trophies for his mantelpiece. His Chevy C10 pickup may have seen better days, but it was a gift from his father Greg, so it will always have pride of place in his garage.
As well as driving a Ford Mustang GT in NASCAR races, and a renovated Ford Econoline van, Joey Logano also owns a Ford Thunderbird. Nothing sad about that, you might think, expect that Logano owns a 2004 Thunderbird, an awful attempt by Ford to create a 21st-century homage to one of their most stylish cars.
To be fair, Logano is one of the youngest NASCAR racers – he is the youngest ever winner of two of NASCAR’s top three divisions, as well as being the second youngest driver to win the Daytona 500 – so perhaps he didn’t realize that he should really have splashed out and bought an original 1960s Thunderbird, rather than the modern copy.
It is hardly surprising that Dale Earnhardt Jr has such a spot for old beaters. He grew up around cars and the world of motorsport, thanks to his father Dale Earnhardt, a fellow NASCAR champion. Even his paternal grandfather, Ralph, was a NASCAR driver, and his maternal grandfather was Robert Gee, who built stock car engines.
Earnhardt Sr tragically lost his life after an accident in the 2001 Daytona 500, but Earnhardt Jr has gone on to enjoy his own successes in the sport, all while staying true to his roots. The 1988 Chevy S10 pickup which he still owns was his first car when he was just 16-years-old.
NASCAR does seem to have more than its fair share of successful families. The Earnhardt dynasty is far from the only father and son duo who have enjoyed NASCAR success; Richard Petty, who shares the record for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship wins, was himself the son of racer Lee Petty, and both his son Kyle and grandson Adam have followed him into the sport.
Kyle Petty may not have enjoyed the same success as his father, but he enjoyed a long career between 1979 and 2008 and now works as a sports commentator – while also driving a decidedly lackluster Toyota Prius.
If there was a competition for the NASCAR driver with the oldest beaters in their collection, then Ryan “Rocket Man” Newman would win hands down. As well as the ramshackle Chevy C10 pickup, the NASCAR driver also owns a replica of a 1949 Ford F-150, which he has painted to look like the truck from sitcom Sandford and Son and a 1974 Triumph TR-6 which he has been working on since he got the car for his 15th birthday.
Perhaps the strangest and saddest car in his collection is the 1960 Chevy Parkwood Wagon, an old station wagon that has become a firm favorite with Newman’s kids.
Another driver who has opted for a less-than-inspiring hybrid when it comes to his personal car is Jeff Gordon, who drives a greener version of the Chevy Tahoe SUV. Gordon doesn’t just choose to drive a Chevy; he also owns a Chevrolet dealership in Wilmington, North Carolina, as well as working as a sports presenter on FOX’s coverage of NASCAR races – so it is only right that he ought to drive a car that he sells!
Gordon won three Daytona 500 races in his career, in 1997, 1999 and 2005, and retired from racing in 2016 after 25 years behind the wheel.
The 1972 Chevy Suburban is not just an uninspired choice of vehicle for a NASCAR driver; it is a particularly unusual choice for Joey “Sliced Bread” Logano. After all, the rising star of the NASCAR track wasn’t even a twinkle in his father’s eye when his Chevy Suburban rolled off the production line - and he wouldn’t be born for another 18 years. There’s nothing unusual about young drivers having a passion for vintage vehicles.
What is strange is that someone who spends his time driving some of the highest performing vehicles in the world would choose to roll around in the notoriously disappointing Suburban.
Another NASCAR star who has turned to US auto giant Chevrolet for his rather lackluster personal car is Chase Elliott. Chase is actually Elliott’s nickname, but no-one in the world of NASCAR uses his real first name, William – probably because he is the son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott and is very determined to make his own way in the sport.
Chase started his career in 2014 when he became the first rookie to win a NASCAR national series championship, but before that, he drove a Chevy Silverado in the NASCAR World Truck Series, and he has stuck with the pickup when it comes to his own personal vehicle.
Young Mexican driver Daniel Suarez doesn’t just have a passion for vintage Volkswagens; he also seems to have a taste for the kind of cars used in NASCAR races. While Kyle Busch drives Toyota Camry on the track and at home, Suarez has a Toyota Camry as one of his personal cars but drives a Ford Mustang GT when it comes to NASCAR races.
A Camry which has been modified for motorsport might be a cool choice for a driver but choosing to drive a regular version of the vehicle is a pretty sad option for a NASCAR racer, who will be used to much more power than the conventional Camry can give him.
SUVs and pickup trucks seem to be a popular choice with NASCAR drivers, despite their obvious lack of speed and, in many cases, their apparent lack of style. The Lincoln Navigator owned by Matt Kenseth can at least claim to have a few luxurious touches when it comes to the interior design, but it is still the kind of car you would expect a middle-class soccer mom to drive, rather than a motorsport champ!
Kenseth twice won the iconic Daytona 500 race, in 2009 and 2012, as well as competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series before his retirement in 2017.
The Earnhardt name is one of the most famous in NASCAR. Despite their success, they all seem to have an unexplainable appreciation for sad old beaters, like the 1965 Chevy Impala which still sits in Dale Earnhardt Jr’s garage today. The Chevy Impala was not an impressive vehicle even in its heyday, and this model has definitely seen better days, but it was the Earnhardt family car for years, used by various members of the motoring dynasty when they needed a set of wheels to run an errand.
There’s no chance of Earnhardt selling this car, no matter how much it drags down the rest of his collection.
By far the oldest car on this list of beaters is the 1934 Chevy Sedan owned by Clint Bowyer. Like Ryan Newman, Bowyer also has an enviable collection of vintage vehicles, saying that he prefers older models to brand new cars. His Chevy Sedan may not look like much from the outside, but he has made some impressive modifications when it comes to the vehicle’s performance and has even added a set of new tires!
Bowyer has been racing in NASCAR since 2008, and currently drives the No. 14 Ford Mustang for the Stewart-Haas Racing team, co-owned by former driver Tony Stewart.
Another NASCAR driver who has chosen to go green, at least at home, is Jimmie Johnson. The Hendrick Motorsports driver is one of the most successful NASCAR racers of all time, having won seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championships – a three-way tie with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Dr for the most wins ever.
Given the amount of carbon dioxide he and his cars must have produced over his years on the track, perhaps his decision to drive the hybrid Chevy Volt could be a sign of an environmental conscience – or he could just have made the odd choice to drive an uninspiring compact car.
Sources - Forbes, The Drive, Motor Trend, Racing News