Tuesday, March 15, 2011

11 Reasons to Cheer for the 11

On Friday I participated in a contest on Twitter by posting the 11 reasons I as a fan cheer for NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Denny Hamlin and the #11 FedEx Toyota. Most of the reasons were jokes or personal insights, so when it was suggested I should write an opinion piece about them, I jumped for NASCAR.com's stats page to find legitimate reasons (and in the end wound up here thanks to a fellow fan).

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR
It finally occurred to me that there are so many variables in accurate NASCAR statistics. Make of the car. Night race or day race. Time of year. Track. Throw in the changes NASCAR mandates to the body of the car every year and it's a wonder drivers are as predictable as they seem. These athletes have to overcome everything a race can throw at them, from the tracks like Phoenix where the temperature of the asphalt changes dramatically out of Turn 2, to too many or too few cautions.

Media outlets put a lot of faith in statistics. Like me, they still have their favorite drivers, but they rely on statistics and recent performances to tell you who to cheer for on race day. They tell you no runner-up in the Chase has ever made a comeback the next year.

Countless pundits swore off Denny's chances of making a serious run at the Chase after he had surgery on his ACL. He overcame the physical taxation, the pain--why can't he overcome the mental taxation of playing runner-up last season? The easy answer: he can.

Do you know what "average" means? It means "as if." It is "as if" Denny has finished in 11.17th position at Homestead for the last six years. Denny has never finished 11.17th at Homestead. He's never even finished 11th. He has, however, finished first.

Statistics don't mean a thing if your guy gets taken out on lap 15--and then his stats don't reflect his talents in the next season. Statistics can't measure the will, the resolve of your favorite driver.

The fact of the matter is, "as ifs" don't win championships. Drivers do.

Denny has exceeded expectations. He has a resolve unmatched by any other driver. The pundits aren't going to convince me of anything else.

And in case you're interested, here are the 11 reasons I gave on Twitter:

1. Denny made the Chase his rookie year, which is pretty much unheard of.
2. It's likely NO ONE will break that record in the new Chase format.
3. Denny was a rookie driver the same year I was a rookie fan.
4. I decided to cheer for Denny without knowing he'd won the Shootout and long before he made the Chase.
5. He has by far come the closest to knocking JJ out of the top spot.
6. He goes by his middle name (as do I).
7. He drives for FedEx--they deliver everything!
8. He had a plan if racing didn't work out. He was prepared. He's a realist.
9. He uses two aces to represent the number 11.
10. He puts on a smile when it's time to meet the fans, even if he's dog tired.
11. Because it's 2011 and I want to see that number 11 in the top spot!

All opinions belong solely to the author of this post.

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