In NASCAR’s early days, drivers didn’t worry about their car’s appearance. They drove the family car to the track, raced several hundred laps, then drove home. But by the early 1970s, as the sport began attracting major sponsorships, teams started adorning their cars in colorful paint schemes to showcase their sponsor. By the 1990s, teams even discovered the benefit of using special one-race paint schemes to honor special causes or sponsors … and to boost the sales of collectible merchandise. Here’s our take on the 10 most iconic paint schemes in NASCAR history.
10. Tony Stewart (The Home Depot)
We looked at several factors in ranking these paint schemes. How successful was the driver in cars with that scheme? How long did the driver (or drivers) pilot that car? We also considered the design, which favored more modern, colorful and intricate schemes. Tony Stewart’s orange-and-white The Home Depot car is relatively simple in design, but it’s forever linked with the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion’s best years on the track.
9. Team Penske (Miller Lite ‘Blue Deuce’)
Rusty Wallace, Kurt Busch and now Brad Keselowski have kept this Miller Lite-sponsored car in the top echelon of the sport since 1997. The specific design has differed a bit through the years, but the blue-and-white colors and No. 2 long ago earned it the nickname the “Blue Deuce.”
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Budweiser)
Budweiser has sponsored a dozen NASCAR drivers through the years. None of the sponsorships can match the success of the relationship the brewing company had with Dale Earnhardt Jr. from 1999 through 2007. Junior’s Budweiser colors get the nod here mainly because of his enormous popularity, which made this car an omnipresent sight at tracks. And frankly, a Budweiser paint scheme deserves mention here for the company’s many years in the sport. Darrell Waltrip, who won the NASCAR Winston Cup championship in 1985 driving a Budweiser-sponsored car, told ESPN in 2012 the Budweiser sponsorship is an icon of NASCAR. “I think you look back over the history of NASCAR, nearly 70 years of it now, and there are only a few sponsors that are just as famous as any driver or racetrack,” Waltrip said. “It’s a very short list and the Bud car is on that list. No doubt about it.”
7. Wood Brothers Racing (Red-and-White No. 21)
Wood Brothers Racing has been part of NASCAR racing since the early years of the sport. While the team’s cars have carried many different sponsors, the distinctive red-and-white colors and No. 21 have been a unifying theme on the Wood Brothers Racing equipment.
6. Carl Kiekhaefer (Mercury Outboard Motors)
Team owner Carl Kiekhaefer got into NASCAR in the mid-1950s to promote his Mercury marine motors. In the process, he revolutionized the sport. His team became the first to use haulers to bring cars to the track. The cars were immaculately painted and detailed with the Mercury sponsorship. His team members were the first to wear uniforms. Not surprisingly, given Kiekhaefer’s deep pockets, his team dominated NASCAR during his two years in the sport, winning the championship in NASCAR’s top division in 1955 and 1956. Racing five cars in many events, Kiekhaefer’s cars won an astounding 52 races in that two-year stretch. The innovative owner left the sport early in 1957 after a disagreement with NASCAR officials. Still, despite Kiekhaefer’s short time in the sport, those cars showed other teams the importance of a car’s appearance.
5. Dale Earnhardt (Wrangler)
Although Dale Earnhardt is certainly much better known for his many years in the black No. 3 GM Goodwrench-sponsored Chevrolet, he drove most of the 1980s in a blue-and-yellow Wrangler-sponsored car, both with team owner Bud Moore and Richard Childress.
4. Jimmie Johnson (Lowe’s)
Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse has sponsored Jimmie Johnson since his debut in 2001. Interestingly enough, Lowe’s sponsorship of Johnson came about when company officials grew tired of seeing retail competitor the Home Depot enjoy so much success with its sponsorship of Tony Stewart. Company officials were initially reluctant to sponsor the unknown Johnson, before finally agreeing. Six NASCAR Sprint Cup championships later, the two are still together. Both Johnson and Lowe’s are signed with Hendrick Motorsports through at least the 2017 season.
3. Jeff Gordon (DuPont Rainbow)
By the 1990s, teams were paying more attention than ever to paint schemes as part of their marketing efforts. NASCAR artist Sam Bass designed this rainbow paint scheme for Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet. Gordon carried this color scheme from his first start in 1992 through the 2000 season, collecting 52 wins and three NASCAR Sprint Cup championships along the way. The look even inspired a nickname for Gordon’s crew: the “Rainbow Warriors.” Gordon’s later DuPont “flames” scheme bore similar colors.
2. Richard Petty (STP)
One of the most famous paint schemes in motorsports history almost never came to be. NASCAR superstar Richard Petty began driving light-blue cars early in his career. Known as Petty Blue, Petty has said the color came about by accident, when the team didn’t have enough white or dark blue paint to cover a race car and had to improvise. But in 1972, STP President Andy Granatelli approached Petty with an incredible proposition — put STP’s logo on the car, and he’d give the team $250,000, an enormous sponsorship at the time. Petty thought it sounded great — until Granatelli said Petty would have to paint his cars STP red. Petty actually considered walking away from the deal, before the two sides compromised with the iconic STP red/Petty Blue scheme ”The King” would drive the final two decades of his career.
1. Dale Earnhardt (Black GM Goodwrench)
When Dale Earnhardt stepped behind the wheel of the black GM Goodwrench Chevrolet to start the 1988 season, many of his fans were not happy. They loved the old blue-and-yellow Wrangler paint scheme he’d driven most of his career to that point. But they quickly came to embrace the new design, which Earnhardt used until his death in the 2001 Daytona 500. The car became part of the mythos surrounding the legendary Earnhardt, earning him the nickname, the “Man in Black.” Many drivers have said that seeing that black No. 3 in their rearview mirror was a scary experience.