Most of the top drivers of the 1980’s went on the win championships. However, a veteran running a partial schedule, and two up and comers headline the list of best drivers not to win a Winston Cup title in the 1980’s.
Yarborough’s final championship endeavor was in 1980. He left the Junior Johnson team that he won three NASCAR Winston Cup championships in the 1970’s in order to compete in a limited schedule. In 1980, he won six races and finished second in the Winston Cup championship standings. Throughout the early 1980’s, Yarborough was able to rack up wins despite not racing every week. In 1983, he won four races in 16 starts, which is once every four races. From 1980 to 1988, Yarborough won 20 races in 155 starts. He retired following the 1988 season, handing over his ride to the up and coming Dale Jarrett.
Richmond was unlike any other NASCAR driver. The flamboyant driver was not one of the good old boys. He came from a prosperous family. He was a former open-wheel driver looking to make a name in the stock car world. Richmond was a natural behind the wheel, and once Rick Hendrick gave him the keys to the No. 25 Chevrolet, he proved that he belonged in NASCAR. Richmond won seven races in 1986, and finished third in the final Winston Cup standings. He suddenly fell ill prior to the 1987 season, missing most of the year. When he returned in June at Pocono, he celebrated his 12th career victory. He backed up the win at Pocono with another win at Riverside. He competed in only eight races in 1987. He left Hendrick Motorsports, and NASCAR suspended him due to a drug test, one that was admittedly flawed. Richmond passed away in 1989 due to complications from the AIDS virus. Richmond won 13 races in 185 starts in the 1980’s.
Rudd was not the flashiest driver and only won 10 races in 309 starts in the 1980’s, but he was one of the most consistent drivers. He finished in the top 10 in the championship standings eight times throughout the 1980’s. His best finish in the standings was fifth in 1986. He drove for legendary car owners Richard Childress and Bud Moore, though most of his success came with Moore. Rudd excelled on the more difficult tracks such as the road courses and short tracks. He won multiple races in three different seasons.
Honorable mentions include Richard Petty; Neil Bonnett; Harry Gant; Geoff Bodine; Davey Allison