Perseverance Pays Off For Hamlin, 11 Team

I’m not saying my running buddies and I are shallow, but I’ll admit that we aren’t generally given to a great deal of philosophical discourse. As result, when someone does utter a pronouncement of any import, it is worth remembering.

Case in point: Over lunch during a recent trip to Savannah, somewhere between debating the relative merits of shrimp versus crab legs and wondering who might win “The Voice,” my friend Stephanie remarked, “You know, just because you have a job doesn’t really mean you go to work.”

This comment, which seemed nothing more than an idle, albeit true, observation at the time, popped into my head as I watched Denny Hamlin celebrate his first win of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Michigan on June 19.

I’m pretty sure I speak for the group when I say we all have those days when we go to our jobs, but we don’t really work. We are tired, or personal issues occupy our thoughts, or the weather is so gorgeous that it distracts us from the keyboard or the cash register. The body is there, but the work ethic has temporarily left the building.

Hamlin is well known for being one of the most talented and competitive drivers in the garage. For him, enduring 14 points-paying races before getting that all-important checkered flag must have resembled a situation where the world’s fattest rib eye is hung just out of a hungry dog’s reach. Not a pretty picture.

The travails of Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammates Kyle Busch and Joey Logano have been well documented this season. They have been plagued by engine trouble. Busch has a couple of wins to his credit, but his controversial behavior has generated more off-the-track headlines – most of them less than loving — than his often brilliant performances during races. Logano, who many predicted would have a breakout season, has barely cracked the Top 25 in the driver standings.

To make matters worse, NASCAR slapped the “Unapproved” stamp on the oil pans of all three JGR cars during pre-race inspection at Michigan. This cost the three crew chiefs $50,000 each and earned them a seat on NASCAR’s probation list until the end of the year. Talk about some bitter icing on the JGR frustration cake.

But in true NASCAR fashion, the No. 11 team did its job … and went to work. Instead of looking at the situation as the end of the meal and hoping for better luck next week, they picked their forks back up and dug in.

Hamlin admitted it was slow going at first.

“We weren’t super-fast in practice, and we weren’t super-fast in qualifying; we were just kind of average in a lot of different areas,” he said. “For three-quarters of the race, we were average. But we stepped up there at the end.”

The team not only stepped up, but also climbed up, all the way to a tie with Clint Bowyer for ninth place in the driver standings.

Albert Einstein, who rumor has it was a pretty smart guy, left us this list of the three rules of work: “Out of clutter find simplicity. From discord find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

We see these rules successfully applied week after week at the racetrack. Amid the clutter of cars all madly circling the same brass ring, only one finds a way to simply grab it. Guys sometimes at odds both verbally and physically unite as one in that moment when they all become gentlemen starting their engines. The difficulties presented by penalties and problems don’t have to be the end of the journey; they can be the beginning of an entirely new route.

Einstein must have been a race fan, since he noted many years ago what today we all know to be true. NASCAR really knows how to go to work, and it is doing a great job.