Commentary

Who is your Driver of the Decade?

Updated: January 8, 2010, 11:05 PM ET
By Tom McKean | ESPN.com

Who is the greatest race car driver since 2000?

We painstakingly whittled a lengthy list of candidates to nine: Sebastien Bourdais, Sam Hornish Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Tom Kristensen, Sebastien Loeb, Valentino Rossi, Bernd Schneider, Michael Schumacher and Tony Schumacher.

Our expert panel voted for its top driver of the past 10 seasons. Then you had your turn (SportsNation fan vote results).

ESPN.com's Driver of the Decade will be revealed Monday.

Meet the candidates, in alphabetical order …

Sebastien Bourdais
Series: Champ Car/CART

Recently fired from his Formula One ride, Bourdais made his name known this decade for his other open-wheel exploits, most notably in the Champ Car World Series between 2003 and 2007.

From the moment that CART became Champ Car, Bourdais was winning races. He won 51 percent of the races between 2004 and 2007, in fact. The Le Mans, France, native also rang off four consecutive titles in that span. To put that in perspective, no driver in Champ Car/CART history (the series began in 1979) had ever won three straight championships, much less four. These include names like Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi. Yes, the competition was tougher in those days, but should Bourdais be punished for that?

Bourdais was winning elsewhere as well. Before his foray into Champ Car, he was the FIA F3000 champion in 2002. That same year he teamed up with Larbre Competition and won the famed 24 Hours of Spa in Belgium.

The driver's versatility shone through when he became the first Champ Car/CART driver since 1997 to win an IROC race when he took the checkered flag at Texas in 2005. Bourdais was also a member of the winning GT2 team at the 2006 12 Hours of Sebring, and finished second overall at the 2007 and 2009 24 Hours of Le Mans while driving with Peugeot. In 2009, Bourdais finished second overall at Sebring.

Sam Hornish Jr.
Series: IndyCar

A three-time IndyCar Series champion during the decade (most of any driver), Hornish stormed onto the scene in 2001 when he became the youngest champion ever (age 22) in a major North American open-wheel series. That same season, he also became the first IndyCar champion to clinch the title before the final race of the season.

The next year, Hornish became the series' first two-time champion.

Then, in 2006, he won the title and the Indianapolis 500. Although he won the title via a tiebreaker, Hornish rightfully deserved the championship, considering he had double the wins than co-points leader Dan Wheldon.

That 2006 title came with Penske. His first two championships came with Panther Racing. Certainly an impressive feat to win titles with two different teams within the span of four years.

Hornish's 19 wins in the series since 2000 are the second-most of any driver (Scott Dixon passed him this season), and Hornish has been out of the series competing in Sprint Cup for the past two years.

Jimmie Johnson
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup

Before reading about any of Johnson's accomplishments this decade, consider this: His first full season in Sprint Cup wasn't until 2002. With that in mind, Johnson leads all drivers this decade in wins (47) and titles (four), including four straight championships between 2006 and 2009.

Among drivers with a minimum of 50 Cup starts since 2000, his 11th-place average finish this decade is tops. Since 2002, no driver has led more laps than Johnson.

Johnson was the 2006 Daytona 500 winner and became the only driver this decade to win the Great American Race and the Sprint Cup title in the same season. He also has multiple wins at 12 different tracks on the circuit.

Johnson is also the only driver to win four or more consecutive races in a season during the 2000s. Perhaps crew chief Chad Knaus deserves some credit; after all, the two are the longest-paired active driver-crew chief duo in Sprint Cup.

Since the Chase was created, Johnson also has dominated the most when it truly counts. He's the Chase's all-time leader in wins, top-5s, top-10s, average finish and laps led. Johnson also has finished among the top five in points in each of his full eight seasons in Sprint Cup competition.

Tom Kristensen
Series: Sports car/endurance

For those of you who may not be familiar with Tom Kristensen, here's all you need to know: Since 2000, he's been the most dominant sports car driver on the planet.

Kristensen is a seven-time winner this decade at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of three events that make up the Triple Crown of Motorsport. His seven wins in the 2000s alone are more than any driver's career victories at the event. To give you an idea, the first 24 Hours of Le Mans was in 1923, and more than 25 drivers have participated at least 15 times in the event during their careers. Well more than 100 drivers have competed at least 10 times, so it's quite the accomplishment by Kristensen in only 13 career starts.

Since 2000, Kristensen is also a four-time winner at the 12 Hours of Sebring, which kicks off the American Le Mans Series season.

Kristensen also won the 2002 Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

The majority of his wins this decade came while driving for Audi, but Kristensen won the 24 Hours of Le Mans while driving for Bentley in 2003. He's also had success in Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, the German touring car series: four wins (including the 2009 season opener) and finishes in the standings of fourth, third and third in his first three years of competition (2004 to 2006).

Sebastien Loeb
Series: World Rally Championship

Not only has Loeb been the most dominant rally racer of the decade but he's arguably the greatest rally driver of all time.

Loeb has six straight World Rally titles to his name, including this year's crown. He does not rank among the top 10 in career starts, yet holds the World Rally Championship record for most titles, most consecutive titles, most wins, longest win streak and wins in a single season.

Just last year, Loeb broke his own record for wins in a season when he won 11 of the 15 events. If that doesn't sum up his dominance, this should: In 2006, Loeb won the championship despite not competing in the last four events of the season because of a shoulder injury. Before his injury that year, he had eight wins and four runner-up finishes in 12 events.

Loeb's versatility also shone through when he finished second overall at the 2006 24 Hours of Le Mans driving for the great Henri Pescarolo.

Did we mention that Loeb's first full year in the World Rally Championship wasn't until 2003, when he finished second in the standings?

Valentino Rossi
Series: MotoGP

Not all the greatest drivers hail from four wheels. Valentino Rossi prefers two, and there's no wonder as to why:

Seven world championships this decade -- six MotoGP titles since the inception of the class in 2002, and a 500cc title in 2001 (the premier class at the time).

Rossi wrapped up this year's world championship title before the season finale. In this decade, Rossi has won nearly half the races (about 46 percent) in the toughest motorcycle series on the planet. He's won at least half the races in six seasons.

Rossi's nearly 80 wins this decade are an all-time record, not just a single-decade record. His seven titles since 2000 are also second most in series history, one behind the all-time career mark.

Keep in mind that this series has been around as long as Formula One and NASCAR.

Bernd Schneider
Series: DTM

DTM, the popular touring car series in Germany, saw a return in the year 2000 after a hiatus after the 1995 season.

With its return, a nation witnessed the dominance of one Bernd Schneider. He won three of the first four titles since the series returned, becoming the only driver in DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) history to win three championships in the span of four seasons. His titles in 2000 and 2001 meant he was the first and only driver to win back-to-back titles. At the time, DTM was just concluding its 15th season of existence. Schneider went on to win the 2006 title as well, making it four titles this decade, the most of any driver.

Despite retiring after the 2008 season, Schneider leads all DTM competitors this decade in points, wins and poles.

Since the turn of the century, Schneider set the fastest lap of the race 28 times, more than three times the number of fastest laps of any other driver.

Michael Schumacher
Series: Formula One

Winning a race in the premier motorsports series in the world is tough enough; dominating is another story. But that's just what Schumacher did between 2000 and 2004, winning five straight Formula One titles. That stretch alone tied him for the most titles in Formula One history, which spans all the way back to its inaugural season in 1950.

Schumacher notched 48 wins between 2000 and 2004, while no other driver had more than seven. To put that further into perspective, the most career Formula One wins by a driver other than Schumacher is 51. That means that during the first five years of the new decade, Schumacher won 56 percent of the races. His 2003 title season also broke Juan Manuel Fangio's record of five Formula One titles.

To cap his career, Schumacher finished third in 2005 and second in the 2006 standings.

Last summer, Schumacher was set to return to an F1 cockpit, replacing the injured Felipe Massa. But a neck injury he suffered in a February 2009 motorcycle accident prevented the comeback.

Not to be denied, Schumacher is coming out of retirement in 2010 to race with Mercedes.

Tony Schumacher
Series: NHRA Top Fuel

By the slimmest of margins, Tony Schumacher won the Top Fuel title in 2009. His two-point win over Larry Dixon was the closest margin in Top Fuel history.

However, that should not belie Schumacher's utter dominance this decade. His title this season was his sixth straight in the very competitive Top Fuel class. Keep in mind, Schumacher won in 2009 without longtime crew chief Alan Johnson.

The season before was another banner year for Schumacher, who became the first driver in series history to win five straight Top Fuel championships. He also passed Joe Amato for the most career Top Fuel victories. Schumacher's 15 wins that season also tied an NHRA record.

Last season also saw "The Sarge" become just the sixth driver in NHRA history to complete the Western Swing Sweep (Denver, Sonoma and Seattle).

Consistency has been the name of the game: Schumacher has won at least one race in eight straight seasons, a Top Fuel record. To cap it all off, he was named the 2008 Driver of the Year, becoming just the third NHRA driver to win the honor in its 42-year history.

Back in 2005, his 415-point margin of victory was the largest in Top Fuel history.

Tom McKean is a studio researcher at ESPN.