Thursday, April 8, 2021

Greatest by Number: #29-20

We have a few difficult decisions to make in this part of the Greatest by Number series. A few numbers are obvious, but a few have two or three or six options. You have world champions against Indianapolis 500 winners, NASCAR champions against MotoGP champions, Team Penske drivers against other Team Penske drivers. There are a lot of notable names that will be listed below, but only ten get the top honors. 

#29: Kevin Harvick
After the death of Dale Earnhardt, Harvick was thrusted into the NASCAR Cup Series, taking on the #29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. With all the pressure and emotional weight put on him, Harvick went out and won his fourth career start at Atlanta. He would finish ninth in the championship as a rookie despite missing the opening race of the season. 

Two years later, Harvick won the Brickyard 400 and in 2007, Harvick won the Daytona 500 in a photo finish over Mark Martin. He would add two Coca-Cola 600 victories in 2011 and 2013. While he won 23 races and finished in the top five of the championships in six of 13 seasons in the #29 Chevrolet, after seeing what Harvick has done since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, you almost feel he was being held back in the #29. 

Honorable Mentions:
Bud Kaeding (Three-time USAC Silver Crown champion)

Fernando Alonso (Alonso famously used the #29 in his 2017 Indianapolis 500 attempt, where he qualified fifth, led 27 laps and retired while running in the top ten with 21 laps to go).

#28: Ryan Hunter-Reay
This was a tough one all things considered, but in the last decade Hunter-Reay has become identifiable with the #28 and his success backs it up. 

He first took on the number in 2011 representing the 28 million people living with cancer worldwide as he has been an advocate for the Racing for Cancer organization. He would win at Loudon that season. The following year would see Hunter-Reay win four races, including three-consecutive at Milwaukee, Iowa and Toronto, which put him firmly in the championship battle. His victory at Baltimore kept him alive heading into the Fontana season finale and he pulled out the championship in the final race of the season ahead of Will Power. 

Two years later, Hunter-Reay took a thrilling victory in the Indianapolis 500. Fourteen of his 18 IndyCar victories have come in the #28 car. He has also won the Pocono 500, three Iowa races and two Barber races in the #28. In an era where livery designs and numbers are constantly changing, for a decade Hunter-Reay has driven the yellow #28 DHL Dallara for Andretti Autosport. Time is the key to building recognition. Hunter-Reay has been around long enough, and he has won the biggest races along the way as well. 

Honorable Mentions:
Davey Allison (19 NASCAR Cup Series victories in 191 starts, including the 1991 and 1992 Coca-Cola 600s and the 1992 Daytona 500).

Fred Lorenzen (26 NASCAR Cup Series victories, including the 1965 Daytona 500 and the 1965 World 600).

Didier Pironi (Pironi won two races in the #28 Ferrari, an infamous victory in the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix and the 1982 Dutch Grand Prix. He was leading the world championship entering the German Grand Prix when an accident end his season and he would finish second in the world championship, five points behind Keke Rosberg)

Gerhard Berger (Berger has the most Formula One victories in the #28, all five coming with Ferrari between the 1987 and 1994. This includes Ferrari's famous victory in the 1988 Italian Grand Prix, the first race after Enzo Ferrari's passing and the only race keeping McLaren from a perfect season with the MP4/4). 

#27: Gilles Villeneuve
Name a more iconic driver and number combination! Name one. Everyone sees the #27 and thinks of Villeneuve with Ferrari and Villeneuve has been dead for almost 39 years. 

The strange thing is for how revered Villeneuve is with the #27, he only won twice in the #27, the 1981 Monaco Grand Prix and the 1981 Spanish Grand Prix. Four of his victories were in the #12. His runner-up championship finish to teammate Jody Scheckter in 1979 was in the #12. Only 19 of his starts were in the #27. He retired from ten of those races and was disqualified from another two. And yet, Villeneuve remains synonymous with the #27. 

It is part of his legend. What could have been? Ferrari won the constructors' championship in 1982. Pironi should have won the drivers' championship that year. What if Villeneuve had not had his accident in Zolder? He was already great. The only thing missing is his name filling the record book.

Honorable Mentions:
Dario Franchitti (Franchitti won 18 races in the #27 car, including his first Indianapolis 500 and his first championship, both occurring in 2007). 

Casey Stoner (Stoner won 34 grand prix on the #27 bike, including two MotoGP world championships in 2007 with Ducati and 2011 with Honda). 

Junior Johnson (Johnson won 13 NASCAR Cup races in the #27 car, including the 1960 Daytona 500).

Rusty Wallace (Wallace's 1989 NASCAR Cup championship was in the #27 Pontiac and in total he won 18 Cup races in the #27). 

#26: Jacky Ickx
Ickx's first career Formula One victory was the 1968 French Grand Prix at Rouen in the #26 Ferrari. It was his ninth career start. Ickx would use the #26 in three other grand prix and never finish in the points again, but he gets this for everything else he did in his career.

Ickx was one of the top Formula One drivers at the start of the 1970s and he was a fabulous in sports cars. In 1969, he won his first 24 Hours of Le Mans in the Ford GT40, Ford's final overall victory at Le Mans. In that same year, he was second in the World Drivers' Championship to Jackie Stewart. Ickx would also finish runner-up in the world championship to Jochen Rindt the following year. In total, Ickx won eight grand prix. 

The Belgian would go on to win six times at Le Mans, still good enough for second all-time. He won the 24 Hours of Daytona once, albeit when it was shortened to six hours because of the energy crisis. He won the 12 Hours of Sebring twice. He won the 1977 Bathurst 1000 and the 1983 Dakar Rally.

He was the 1979 Can-Am champion and he won the World Sportscar Championship in 1982 and 1983. It is an incredible record and not many will come close to matching half of it let alone all of it.

Honorable Mentions:
Dan Wheldon (Wheldon won his first nine IndyCar races in the #26 entry for Andretti Green Racing, including four of the first five races in the 2005 season. Wheldon led an Andretti Green 1-2-3-4 at St. Petersburg and he won the Indianapolis 500. He would end that season as champion). 

Paul Tracy (Tracy won six races in the #26 Team Green entry between 1999 and 2000).

Junior Johnson (Johnson's final 11 NASCAR Cup victory were in the #26 Ford and all of them came in 1965, when he won 13 of 36 starts).

Jacques Laffite (Laffite's six Formula One victories came in the #26 Ligier. He was ranked fourth in the world championship in three consecutive seasons from 1979 to 1981). 

#25: Jean-Éric Vergne
Let's give electric racing some love as Vergne has found his calling in Formula E. 

The Frenchman won the 2017-18 and 2018-19 Formula E championships, becoming not only the first multi-time Formula E champion but the first back-to-back champion as well. His nine victories have him fourth all-time in series history. His nine victories have come in eight different countries with Brooklyn being the only location with multiple victories. 

His first victory was in Montreal and he has also won in Santiago, Punta del Este, Paris, Sanya, Monaco and Berlin. 

On top of his Formula E success, Vergne has won four European Le Mans Series races, although those have come not in the #25, but the very close #26.

Honorable Mentions:
Al Unser (Unser's fourth, and somewhat improbable, Indianapolis 500 came in the #25 March-Cosworth, a year-old car that was on display at a hotel in Reading, Pennsylvania when the month of May starts. Unser was called in by Team Penske after Danny Ongais was injured ahead of the race). 

Danny Ongais (Ongais won six IndyCar races in the #25 Interscope Racing Parnelli-Cosworth between 1977 and 1978. They were the only six victories in his career).

Tim Richmond (Nine of Richmond's 13 NASCAR Cup Series victories were in the #25 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. This included a victory in the 1986 Southern 500 and a memorable victory at Pocono in 1987, Richmond's first race back after missing the first 11 races as Richmond sought treatment for AIDS).
#24: Jeff Gordon
Four NASCAR Cup Series championships. Fourth all-time. 

Ninety-three NASCAR Cup race victories. Third all-time. 

Gordon entered right as NASCAR was set peak and he arguably carried the series to a higher level. His first victory was the 1994 Coca-Cola 600. His second victory was the inaugural Brickyard 400. From 1995 through 2001, Gordon won six races or more in six of those seven seasons with his fewest victories being three. He won at least seven races in five of those years and he won at least ten races in three consecutive seasons from 1996 to 1998. In 1997, he became the second driver to win the Winston Million as he won the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 all in the same season. 

His 13 victories in 1998 set the modern-era record for victories in a season. He won a record six Southern 500, including four-consecutive from 1995 to 1998. He won three Coca-Cola 600s and three Daytona 500s. He won a record five Brickyard 400s. Gordon is also tied for most victories at Pocono with Denny Hamlin on six and he has the most Sonoma victories with five. His 93 victories are the most in the modern era. 

In 23 full-time seasons, Gordon was in the top five of the championship 11 times and the top ten in the championships 21 times. His worst championship finish was 14th in his rookie season. 

Honorable Mentions:
Jack Brabham (The #24 has won five Formula One races. Three of those were first career victories for future world champions. The first was Brabham in the 1959 Monaco Grand Prix. The Australian led the final 19 laps after Stirling Moss dropped out of the race with a broken transmission. It was also Cooper's first grand prix victory).

Emerson Fittipaldi (Less than a month after Jochen Rindt's death at Monza, Rindt's Lotus teammate Fittipaldi won the United States Grand Prix, taking the lead when Pedro Rodríguez ran out of fuel with seven laps to go. Fittipaldi's victory combined with Jacky Ickx finishing fourth clinched the world championship posthumously for Rindt). 

James Hunt (Driving for Hesketh, Hunt took an upset victory for the privateer team in the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix. Hunt led the final 61 laps and won by just over a second ahead of Ferrari's Niki Lauda with Lauda's teammate Clay Regazzoni in third).

#23: Satoshi Motoyama
Motoyama had a stellar career racing in his native Japan in both Super GT and Super Formula. 

Driving for NISMO, Motoyama won three Super GT championships, including successive titles in 2003 and 2004, and he picked up 16 victories.

In Super Formula, Motoyama won four championships and 27 races, ranking him second behind only Kazuyoshi Hoshino in both categories. Only one of his Super Formula championships came with the #23, but two of his Super GT championships did and he excelled in two different types of racing simultaneously. 

He went to Le Mans with Nissan and even won the 1999 Fuji 1000km. After winning both the GT5000 and Super Formula championships in 2003, Motoyama earned himself a Friday outing at the Japanese Grand Prix with Jordan. He tested with Renault at Jerez at the end of 2003 and ran respectable times compared to Fernando Alonso. 

Honorable Mentions:
Jim Clark (Clark won the 1964 Belgian Grand Prix in the #23 Lotus-Climax after Graham Hill lost a fuel pump on the final lap of the race. Dan Gurney had led 28 laps when he ran out of fuel while leading and Clark only won this race by 3.4 seconds over Bruce McLaren.

Rubens Barrichello (Barrichello's final two grand prix victories were in the #23 Brawn in the 2009 season. He won the European Grand Prix on the streets of Valencia and he won the Italian Grand Prix in front of the tifosi, which cherished the Brazilian). 

Johnny Benson (Benson won the 2008 NASCAR Truck Series championship in the #23 Toyota. All 14 of Benson's Truck victories were in the #23 Toyota from 2006 to 2008). 

Hans Herrmann/Richard Attwood (Porsche's first 24 Hours of Le Mans victory was the #23 Porsche 917 from Porsche Salzburg with Herrmann and Attwood at the wheel. They won by five laps over the Martini Racing Porsche).

Doug Polen (Polen won the 1991 World Superbike championship on the #23 Ducati. He won 17 of 24 starts. His 17 victories remain a single season record with Jonathan Rea the only one to match the total in Rea's 2018 season. Polen would successfully defend the title in 1992 with another nine victories). 

#22: Chad Reed
This is in honor of longevity because not only was Reed a two-time Supercross champion and a Motocross champion, but Reed's career spanned 23 years, from Australia to the United States with a stint in the world championship in-between. 

Reed went toe-to-toe with the likes of Ricky Carmichael and James "Bubba" Stewart. Reed's 2004 Supercross championship did come when Carmichael was out with a knee injury and Reed's 2008 title was when Stewart had a knee injury, but in both years, Kevin Windham pushed Reed to the finale and Reed came out on top on each occasion. In 2009, Reed returned to the AMA Motocross series after not competing the previous two years and he won that championship, clinching it with two rounds to spare. 

His 44 Supercross victories has him ranked fourth all-time. He had ten AMA Motocross victories, he was runner-up the 2001 250cc Motocross World Championship and he raced until he was 38 years old in Supercross. 

Honorable Mentions:
Joey Logano (Twenty-five of Logano's 27 NASCAR Cup Series victories have come in the #22 Ford for Team Penske. These victories include his 2015 Daytona 500 victory and his 2018 NASCAR Cup championship).

Simon Pagenaud (Another Team Penske driver, Pagenaud has nine victories in the #22 car, which include his 2019 Indianapolis 500 victory, and Pagenaud won his 2016 IndyCar championship in the #22).

Bobby Allison (Allison's only NASCAR Cup championship was driving the #22 Buick for DiGard Racing in the 1983 season. Allison won six races that season, including the Southern 500. Seventeen of Allison's 84 victories came in the #22 car, including his final victory in the 1988 Daytona 500).

Jenson Button (Button famously won the 2009 World Drivers' Championship driving for the #22 Brawn. He won six races that season. In fact, he won six of the first seven races, and Monaco was one of them. Surprisingly, Button made 77 starts in car #22, but he never won in the #22 outside of that 2009 season). 

Fireball Roberts (Roberts won 25 NASCAR Cup races in the #22, including the 1958 and 1993 Southern 500s and the 1962 Daytona 500). 

#21: David Pearson
The Wood Brothers should really get the nod for the #21, but its most famous driver and perhaps the greatest driver in NASCAR history deserves the recognition. 

Pearson picked up 43 victories, 97 top five finishes and 103 top ten finishes in 157 starts in the #21 car. He won six races or more in a season four times driving the #21 car, including winning 11 of 18 starts in 1973, seven of 19 starts in 1974 and ten of 22 starts in 1976. Pearson's lone Daytona 500 victory came with the Wood Brothers in 1976. He won two World 600s with the team and two Southern 500s.

However, because the Wood Brothers did not run a full season, Pearson only finished in the top ten of the championship twice while driving the #21 car. He was third in that 1974 season despite not even running a third of the races and he was ninth in 1976.

Honorable Mention:
Katsuyuki Nakasuga (Nakasuga does not have much of an international name, but he is a Yamaha rider who won the Suzuka 8 Hours four consecutive years from 2015 to 2018, won nine All Japan Road Race JSB1000 championships and in 12 grand prix starts has scored points ten times, including a runner-up finish in MotoGP's 2012 Valencian Community Grand Prix from 16th on the grid). 

Jackie Stewart (The #21 has one Formula One grand prix victory. That victory was the 1972 Argentine Grand Prix with Stewart leading all 95 laps from second on the grid). 

#20: Tony Stewart
Stewart won 33 races and two NASCAR Cup championships driving the #20 car for Joe Gibbs Racing. He entered NASCAR's top division in 1999 and finished fourth in the championship as a rookie, which included him winning three of the final ten races.

In ten seasons in the #20 car, Stewart finished in the top ten of the championship nine times with his worst finish being 11th and even in that 11th-place season he won five races, tied for the second most. Four of his record five Watkins Glen victories came in the #20 car. His two Brickyard 400 victories were in the #20. He also has a record three victories at Chicagoland, two of which came in the #20 and is tied for most Homestead victories on three, two of which came in the #20. 

Stewart's history with the #20 started long before his first NASCAR Cup start. He won the 1995 USAC National Sprint championship driving the #20 car. He won seven races that season and Stewart became the first driver to sweep the USAC championships, taking the Silver Crown and Midget championships that year as well.

Honorable Mentions:
Gordon Johncock (Johncock had 18 IndyCar victories in the #20 Patrick Racing entry, which included both his Indianapolis 500 victories in 1973 and 1982. Johncock overcame a 220-point deficit to Johnny Rutherford entering the 1976 season finale to take his lone championship with a runner-up finish while Rutherford retired due to an oil line failure. Johncock took the title by 20 points). 

Emerson Fittipaldi (Another Patrick Racing entrant, Fittipaldi won half of his 20 IndyCar victories in the #20 entry, including his 1989 Indianapolis 500 victory, which highlighted his 1989 championship season). 

This is where the bickering and the protesting starts. Disagreements will skyrocket from here onward. If you thought the 20s were rough, wait until we get into the teens.