The decade was unmistakably dominated by Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson. He won four NASCAR championships in consecutive seasons from 2006 to 2009. Tony Stewart was the only other multiple champion of the decade, winning titles in 2002 and 2005. Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Matt Kenseth, and Kurt Busch all earned one championship a piece. Below is the list of drivers that did not win a championship despite enjoying success over the course of the decade.
Edwards joined Roush Racing’s Nextel Cup program in 2004, replacing Jeff Burton. By early 2005, he was winning races. His first win at Atlanta in March of 2005 was a photo finish in which he edged out Jimmie Johnson by inches. Edwards won 16 races in 193 starts from 2004 to 2009. He finished in the top 10 in the NASCAR standings in three seasons, with a best of second in 2008. Edwards won a Sprint Cup series high nine races that season. He also led the series with 19 top five finishes and 27 top 10 finishes. In 2005, Edwards actually tied his Roush teammate Greg Biffle for second in the championship standings, but Biffle won more races that season, moving Edwards to third.
Busch was a rookie in 2005 with Hendrick Motorsports, and rapidly became a force on the track. He won two races in his rookie season, becoming the youngest winner in NASCAR, a record later broken by Joey Logano in 2009. Busch would win 16 races in 186 starts from 2004 (when he made his Cup debut) to 2009. His finest season was in 2008 when he scored eight victories in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing. While he struggled once the Chase for the Championship began, it was an impressive season overall. He won four races in 2009, but missed the Chase for the Championship. While he won an abundance of races in a short span of time, he was often inconsistent. He only finished in the top 10 in the championship standings twice. His best points finish was fifth in 2007.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Earnhardt Jr edged out Biffle for the third spot on this list. The son of legend Dale Earnhardt had towering expectations when he first entered the Cup series. He followed through with some exceptional seasons in the first half of the decade. His best season was the 2004 campaign when he won six races, including his first Daytona 500 victory. He finished in the top five in the standings three times throughout the decade, with a best of third place occurring in 2003. He won a race in every season of the decade except for 2007 and 2009. He won 18 races in 358 total starts from 2000 to 2009. Many detractors used Earnhardt’s down years against him, referring to him as overrated. No other driver wheeled a car with as much pressure and expectations as Earnhardt in the 2000’s, especially once he joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.
Honorable mentions include Greg Biffle; Kevin Harvick; Ryan Newman; Jeff Burton; Mark Martin; Dale Jarrett; Kasey Kahne; Denny Hamlin