Illinois drivers are no strangers to NASCAR

The Chicago Street Race might be the first of its kind, but the circuit does have a rich racing history in Illinois.

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Danica Patrick —  who raced out of Roscoe, Illinois —  in the GoDaddy.com Chevrolet at Charlotte in 2013. 

Danica Patrick — who raced out of Roscoe, Illinois — in the GoDaddy.com Chevrolet at Charlotte in 2013.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

NASCAR’s Chicago Street Race might be the first of its kind, but the circuit does have a rich racing history in Illinois.

Entering the 2023 season, there had been 70 drivers in the Cup Series with their hometown listed in Illinois. Drivers representing the Prairie State had a combined 28 victories, 126 top-fives and 228 top-10s in 1,234 starts.

Ray Erickson was the first Illinois native to compete in the Cup Series, running in the inaugural 1949 season. Justin Allgaier is the most recent Illinois-born driver to be seen at the Cup level, making two starts during the 2022 season.

Through the various competitors, some have stood out more than others. Here are five Illinois drivers who established themselves the most during their Cup tenure.

Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick

Robert Laberge/Getty Images

5. Danica Patrick (Active 2012-18)

After making her Cup Series debut at the 2012 Daytona 500, Patrick collected seven top-10 finishes in 191 career starts, spending the majority of her career as a member of Stewart-Haas Racing. The Roscoe driver’s official rookie season in 2013 got off to an incredible start. She won the pole for the Daytona 500 and finished eighth in the “Great American Race” itself.

Patrick cooled off afterward, as she did not secure another top-10 finish for the rest of the season on the way to a 27th-place finish in points. She finished behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for Rookie of the Year honors.

Patrick had her best statistical season in 2014, capturing three top-10s, including a career-best finish of sixth at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (The other two came at Kansas Speedway and Daytona International Speedway.) Patrick then had her best points results in 2015 and 2016, finishing 24th both years and getting two top-10s in 2015. After a 2017 season that featured one top-10 and a 28th-place finish in the points standings, Patrick retired from full-time racing following her final Cup appearance in the 2018 Daytona 500 with Tommy Baldwin Racing.

Since her retirement, Patrick has stayed involved in stock-car racing, becoming a color commentator for Superstar Racing Experience events on CBS in 2021, as well as NASCAR on Fox in select Cup Series races beginning with the 2022 season.

Villa Park native Bobby Wawak spent most of his NASCAR Cup Series career driving for his self-owned Wawak Racing team.

Villa Park native Bobby Wawak spent most of his NASCAR Cup Series career driving for his self-owned Wawak Racing team.

Theodore Van Pelt

4. Bobby Wawak (Active 1965-87)

With his Cup Series debut realized at Darlington Raceway in 1965, Wawak picked up 14 top-10s in 141 starts in his career while driving for his self-owned Wawak Racing team for much of his tenure. The Villa Park native would have an unusual start to his career. Despite getting three top-10s during his rookie season in 1967, he wouldn’t put together another year with a significant number of Cup starts for almost another decade.

Wawak resurfaced to run the majority of the 1976 schedule, where he had the best season of his career with nine top-10s in 19 starts, punctuated by his career-best sixth-place finish at the now-defunct Ontario Motor Speedway. While this allowed him to score his best points finish of 22nd, he only would race in more than a half-season once more (1980) before his final points-paying event at North Carolina Motor Speedway (now Rockingham Speedway) in 1987. Sadly, Wawak would suffer career-ending injuries from a crash in his qualifying race for the 1988 Daytona 500, though he continued to operate Wawak Racing until it closed in 1990.

Waukegan native Ted Musgrave had four runner-up finishes during his tenure in the NASCAR Cup Series. 

Waukegan native Ted Musgrave had four runner-up finishes during his tenure in the NASCAR Cup Series.

David Taylor /Allsport

3. Ted Musgrave (Active 1990-2003)

After making his Cup Series debut at Michigan International Speedway in 1990, Musgrave captured 20 top-fives and 55 top-10s in 305 career starts, competing primarily for Roush Racing. Although he struggled in his official rookie campaign in 1991, the Waukegan native broke through in 1992 with a top-five and seven top-10s for RaDiUs

Motorsports, followed up by a pair of top-fives and five top-10s in 1993. This promising run prompted Roush Racing to sign him beginning with the 1994 season, leading to Musgrave’s best showings of his career.

Musgrave nabbed a top-five and eight top-10s in his debut season with Roush, along with winning three poles and finishing 13th in the points. However, 1995 would be his true defining year. He put together seven top-fives and 13 top-10s, including two of four career runner-up finishes at Martinsville Speedway and Pocono Raceway. Thanks to this, Musgrave claimed his best points finish of seventh at the end of the season.

While he wouldn’t have as much success in the next few seasons, Musgrave still put together solid performances, such as a 12th-place points finish in 1997 with five top-fives and eight top-10s, including another runner-up at Darlington Raceway. The 1998 season saw him claim yet another second-place run at Martinsville Speedway, but a disappointing 1999 season with only two top-10s would spell the end of his time as a Cup Series mainstay. Musgrave parted ways with Roush Racing at midseason, then raced on a limited basis until his final start in 2003. After leaving the Cup Series, however, he would have a resurgence as a Truck Series driver, winning the 2005 championship along with finishing in the top three in points in five consecutive seasons.

Chicago native Tom Pistone with his car at Soldier Field in 1956 (top). He had two victories in the NASCAR Cup Series in his career.

Chicago native Tom Pistone with his car at Soldier Field in 1956 (top). He had two victories in the NASCAR Cup Series in his career.

Midwest Racing Archives

2. Tom Pistone (Active 1955-68)

After first appearing in the Cup Series at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1955, Pistone earned a pair of victories, 29 top-fives and 53 top-10s in 130 starts, finding the most success with team owner Carl Rupert. In his first full-time year in 1959, Pistone immediately made his presence known with two victories, 12 top-fives and 18 top-10s, turning the debut season into a career-high sixth-place points finish. While the Chicago native would not get any more Cup victories after his rookie season, he still would have a respectable follow-up in 1960 with a pair of top-fives and eight top-10s before taking a hiatus from the sport to focus on his race-shop business.

Pistone made his return to the Cup Series in 1965, getting four top-fives and eight top-10s with car owners Emory Gilliam and Glen Sweet, before transitioning to an owner-driver role for 1966. In what would be his final full-time season, Pistone went out on a high note with six top-fives and six top-10s, along with an impressive four poles. After retirement, he remained involved in the Cup Series as an occasional team owner, most notably fielding a car for open-wheel legend Jim Hurtubise, whom he took to a seventh-place finish in the 1970 Daytona 500. Though Pistone exited the Cup Series after the 1971 season, he would make brief reappearances as an owner in the 1982 Daytona 500, running an entry for veteran Tighe Scott in what would be his final start, as well as in the Truck Series in 2002 in a one-off start by grandson Tommy.

Fred Lorenzen competing in a race in Milwaukee in 1958.

Fred Lorenzen competing in a race in Milwaukee in 1958.

Midwest Racing Archives

1. Fred Lorenzen (Active 1956-72)

Making his Cup Series debut at the infamous Langhorne Speedway in 1956, Lorenzen notched 26 victories, 75 top-fives and 84 top-10s in 158 starts, the majority of which came as a part of Holman-Moody Racing. However, the Elmhurst native would have a unique career arc, as he achieved these numbers despite running more than half the schedule only once during the course of his time in the series.

Initially running for his own team in 1960, Lorenzen was scooped up by Holman-Moody for the 1961 campaign, quickly proving the team made the right decision with three victories, six top-fives and six top-10s in 15 starts. He continued the positive momentum into 1962, securing a pair of victories with 11 top-fives and 12 top-10s in 19 races, giving him the first of two top-10 points finishes (seventh).

Lorenzen’s best statistical season came in 1963, when he earned an astounding six victories, 21 top-fives and 23 top-10s in 29 starts, good for his career-best points finish of third. Lorenzen’s tear carried into the 1964 season, when he earned a career-high eight victories, including back-to-back at North Wilkesboro and Martinsville Speedway, to go along with 10 top-fives and 10 top-10s in only 16 starts. Despite missing 46 races, Lorenzen still managed to finish inside the top 15 in points, a feat that likely never will be seen again. As though his Hall of Fame résumé wasn’t solidified enough, he would win the 1965 Daytona 500 on the way to another multi-win season, claiming four by the end of the year.

While the 1966 season saw him reach the 25-win mark, Lorenzen’s tenure as a Cup competitor began winding down, as he would put together only one more season with a double-digit number of starts. After locking up his final career victory in his Daytona 500 qualifying race (which was counted as a points-paying race at the time), he provided an impressive send-off in 1971 with seven top-fives and nine top-10s in 14 races. Lorenzen was included on NASCAR’s list of the 50 greatest drivers in 1998 and was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015.

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