NASCAR fans are the most loyal fans in American sports.
No matter how many "right turn" jokes I can come up with, it doesn't dampen these fans' spirits or their love for guys named Dale, Bobby, or Jimmie. Nobody even flinches when I insert my own "in-race" commentary about the state of DJ's alternator in full Hank Hill voice.
Being a peripheral NASCAR fan, I have the unique ability to be objective when comparing drivers, teams, and even manufacturers. I don't have a Ford, Chevy, or Dodge bias. I think the rules the NASCAR governing body puts on the makers pretty much squashes any advantage one could have over another.
I don't love or hate any drivers. I think some drivers are beneficiaries of great teams and some teams are helped greatly by their drivers. I look out for wrecks, but not injuries.
I think Jeff Gordon may be the most skilled driver to grace the Cup series in the last 20 years. His record on road tracks and his consistency every year in the points race (except this year, of course) support that assertion, though I wouldn't want to debate it with anyone. In my experience, it just isn't worth arguing with a hardcore NASCAR fan. So much of a fan's love or hate for a driver is pushed by pure emotion (not unlike most sports). I think that the only way to truly separate drivers from each other would be to compare statistics. But then again, NASCAR rules change so much (sometimes week-to-week) that you can't even rely on the numbers. So we're back to emotion and not arguing.
True story: A buddy knows a guy who answers his phone not with a simple "hello," but with an exhuberant "Earnhardt!" I myself have a Dick Trickle hat (but sadly, for less honorable reasons than a typical fan would).