Andrew Hines was never farther out of the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle points lead than third over the course of the 2006 POWERade season.
He didn't take over the top spot in the standings until after the first race of the Western Swing in Denver in July, and when the season had ended, the rider of the Vance & Hines "Screamin' Eagle" Harley-Davidson had a total of only three national event wins out of five final-round appearances.
But as the old saying goes, he was only as good as he needed to be.
The story of the 2006 Pro Stock Motorcycle title chase isn't a tale overloaded with record runs, soaring winning streaks or statistical bombshells. In the final analysis, Hines' third consecutive POWERade championship was won with a combination of timely round wins, overall consistent performance and the inability of his closest competitors to launch a decisive attack when Hines was most vulnerable.
The team which got off to the quickest start in '06 was the U.S. Army-sponsored brigade of Antron Brown and three-time champion Angelle Sampey.
In the year's first four bike events, Brown and Sampey each won two, giving the Don Schumacher Racing Suzuki outfit the high ground in the early going. The annual Harley-Buell-Suzuki debate and questions about the effectiveness of the NHRA's efforts to level the playing field via displacement and weight minimum rules heated up once again with the red-hot Suzukis running away from the American bikes.
But the rules structure remained unchanged and in the next five national events, only one Suzuki – piloted by Matt Smith – found its way to the winner's circle as the Harleys and Buells of Ryan Schnitz, Chip Ellis and Hines steadily evened the score.
The season's turning point for Hines was definitely the Mile-High Nationals at Denver's Bandimere Speedway. Although he qualified in the bottom half of the field at No. 9, Hines was unstoppable on race day, winning his first national event of the season and taking the points lead from Sampey.
The points battle, however, remained an unresolved issue over the season's second half. The top three – Hines, Sampey, and Brown – were only a handful of rounds apart over the season's final half-dozen events and Brown actually led the points twice during that stretch, following the races in Brainerd, Minn. and Reading, Pa.
Hines' victory in Las Vegas in late October all but sealed his third consecutive championship, although Brown was still mathematically alive as the season finale in Pomona, Calif., got under way. In fact, when Hines fouled out against the unheralded Tom Bradford in the opening round of eliminations, Brown was in position to score a miracle comeback for his first career POWERade title. But in Round 2, Brown also suffered a red light against Craig Treble, thus ending his championship hopes and handing the big prize to Hines by only 23 points.
"I'm glad it ended the way it did," said Hines when asked to reflect on his 2006 season. "This one was really hard especially when you look at how close it was all year. Not that the other two championships were easy because they weren't.
"This championship was different from last year's because of how we were able to win it. Our consistency was a big part of it this year. The whole team feels that we really earned it."
Andrew Hines has now matched his older brother Matt – who serves as his crew chief – with three straight PSM championships. Their father, Byron, is perhaps the most renowned motorcycle drag racing patriarch in the sport's history and his partner, Terry Vance, is a former bike racing champion with numerous pro victories. All the pieces are in place for an enduring, title-winning future for Andrew Hines as the 23-year-old member of a legendary racing family savors his latest achievement.
Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.