A few years ago, I went home for Christmas to see that my dad had plastered his living room with a new driver. This is a guy whole cried over Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death and refused to take down his framed photo of the guy. It’s still up; don’t worry, that’s not the point of this article. The point is, he was a single driver sort of guy. And he’s not your usual fan. He’s quiet, can’t afford to leave the country to get to a race, and he likes to pause his DVR recordings to go make tea.
But he never misses one, and that’s how you know he’s dedicated.
So this new driver, Denny Hamlin. I couldn’t figure out why he picked Denny over anyone else. As an avid fan, I thought I knew my stuff. Back then, I didn’t. I was more interested in telling people I knew my stuff, but really I got said stuff from my dad. The information on why he suddenly loved Denny Hamlin was the most important fact from the pool of information I now call ‘Dad Stuff.’
I asked him, first, where he got the tiny toy car that he had balanced on his desk. He lives in an area remote enough that it’s easy to figure out who sells NASCAR merchandise—nobody. My dad, however, made his first online purchase for this tiny toy car. There you go, Denny! You got a sixty-four-year-old man to brave Ebay, just for a little piece of you.
The subject of why he was his favourite came up moments later. Now, most people use one of two criteria when picking a driver: their aesthetic, and their stats. I was unknowingly a former. I played NASCAR ’06: Total Team Control on his Xbox when I was a teenager with my friend, and I picked Jeff Gordon’s car because it had awesome colours. My friend picked Jimmie Johnson because she liked the blue, and we didn’t find out until a year later that they were teammates… despite being on the cover of the game.
My dad is usually the latter. Sure, Senior was cool. What’s not to love about a guy called The Intimidator? But when it came to Denny Hamlin, it was a pretty even mix. Denny was one letter off of my dad’s name, Danny. He drove a black car. His number was 11; my dad’s favourite number. And in his debut year in the (then called Nextel) Cup series, he finished with three top tens and one pole, after only seven starts.
In Denny’s first full season as a Cup driver back in 2006, he actually won the Budweiser Shootout, beating out every other driver before him, and because of that he earned the title Rookie of the Year. On June 11th of the same year Denny took home his first Cup win at the Pocono 500, which also happened to be his second pole. Barely a month later on July 23rd he won at Pocono again for the Pennsylvania 500, becoming the second rookie in Cup history to sweep both races at the same track during a season. As as you probably know, that was also from the pole position.
He finished his very first Cup season in third place, scoring higher than any other rookie since 1966 and becoming the very first rookie ever to make the Chase.
Photo Source: James Marvin Phelps