What's in a (car) number?

March, 6, 2012
03/06/12
4:58
PM ET

What's in a number? Frankly for me, quite a bit, seeing as I'm employed as a researcher and a statistically themed blogger.

Driving a car with the No. 11 on it didn't make Denny Hamlin great, but he helped add to the legacy of a number that has been driven by some of the greats: Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Ned Jarrett. Even Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt won races in the 11.

Hamlin's victory Sunday at Phoenix was the 198th by a driver in the NASCAR Cup Series driving the 11, tying it with the legendary 43 car for most by any car number. No other car number is within 100 wins of those two.

But, the 11 does have some advantages over the 43 when comparing the two. The first is recent success, as Hamlin has won 14 Cup races over the past four seasons, more than any driver not named Jimmie Johnson. The 43 has won just three Cup races since the start of the 1985 season, two by Bobby Hamilton and one from John Andretti, the last in 1999.

The other is the variety of drivers in the cars. The 43 is dominated by Richard Petty; 192 of his 200 career wins came in that car. The other six wins have come from Hamilton, Andretti, Jim Paschal and Lee Petty.

Hamlin is the 13th driver to win driving the 11 car, and his 18 wins in the car rank fourth in that car's history, behind Yarborough's 55, Jarrett's 49 and Waltrip's 43. Junior Johnson also won 11 races in the 11.

They don't retire numbers in NASCAR, and that's for the best, because it only gives opportunities to add to the legacies that have been laid by legends.

Trivia break: Before Hamlin, who was the last driver to win in the 11?

Warm Cup Of Joe

Joe Gibbs Racing put all three of its cars into the top 10 at Phoenix. Hamlin's win was supplemented with a sixth from Kyle Busch and a 10th from Joey Logano.

It's the first time the Coach has had all three of his cars in the top 10 since the 2010 Chase race at Martinsville, but back then, it was a common occurrence.

That Martinsville race, also won by Hamlin, was the fourth time in a seven-race stretch that JGR had all three cars in the top 10.

Trivia break: What driver got JGR's first top-10 and win?

Streak Bustin'

In my Eliminator for Phoenix (got a third out of Biffle), I noted that Phoenix has been a great place to end winless streaks, and that held true Sunday, as Hamlin ended his modest 22-race winless streak.

Each of the past five Phoenix winners broke winless streaks at least that long. In fact, before Hamlin, the previous four Phoenix winners had winless streaks of at least 66 races: Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman.

Trivia break: Who holds the Cup record for most starts between wins?

Trivia Break Answers

1. Bill Elliott was the last driver before Hamlin to win in the 11.
2. Dale Jarrett gave JGR its first top-10 at Bristol in 1992, and first win at Daytona in 1993.
3. Elliott went 226 starts between wins from 1994 to 2001.

Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.

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