There's nothing race fans claim to hate more than being force-fed "favorite drivers" by the media. And if that's true, those people will really despise this story.
But if you already have a favorite, you won't need this helpful guide: Our first ever NASCAR Driver Rootability Rankings. This is for the people who aren't quite sure who to pull for, like your buddy down the street who is just getting into NASCAR.
And before you jump up and down in protest...YES, it's completely unscientific, opinion-based and biased. Someone in the media is offering you advice on who to root for. That is just awful, isn't it?
Even worse, there was absolutely no formula used to come up with the rankings – though the following factors were considered:
Relevance: If the driver in question has little-to-no chance of winning each week (or even running near the front), there's not much point in rooting for him. Why would you do that to yourself? Underdogs are one thing, but self-torture is entirely another.
Affability: Is the guy a good dude, the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with? Or is this person going to crush your hopes and dreams by being an asshole when you meet him in person?
Age: Recommending a driver to root for favors those who have many years left in their careers. Because if you're going to invest your passion in a driver, why not pull for a guy who's going to be around for awhile?
Let's get started on the rankings. Here's a list of the top 35 drivers to start rooting for as a *new* fan:
1. CARL EDWARDS: Look, nobody's perfect – and Edwards certainly has his faults (like almost eliminating Brad Keselowski from the planet). But as far as the total likability package, Edwards comes closest. He's always done a backflip after he wins, and now he even goes into the stands for a big ol' group hug.
While the whole Keselowski thing is certainly a black mark on his likability – and Edwards has been accused of being a phony – the driver is most often a genuinely decent person.
It's tough to sift through what's real and what's a public relations stunt these days, but Edwards does many things away from the cameras (like giving all of his race trophies away) that make him an extremely easy person to root for.
2. JOEY LOGANO: Everything is still relatively new and fresh for the 20-year-old Logano, so he's more than willing to do fan-friendly activities, conduct interviews and generally act like a normal person.
He's quick to laugh and smile, appearing as if he's actually having fun (an all-too-rare concept in the NASCAR garage these days). But at the same time, he's beginning to stand up for himself after on-track incidents – and that's a good thing.
3. JAMIE MCMURRAY: Who doesn't like McMurray? There's really nothing bad to say about him, except he's never made the Chase. If you're into the sensitive, prayerful type who stays out of controversy, McMurray is for you. Plus, he actually wins now.
4. CLINT BOWYER: There isn't a whole lot of fluff with Bowyer. He's just a simple guy from Kansas who likes to race and have a good time, and that's really the extent of it. The notable thing about Bowyer is when he's "on," he's extremely personable.
5. DENNY HAMLIN: Here's a guy who wins races and speaks his mind – two traits fans often say they like. On the other hand, he has plenty of detractors who say he speaks his mind too much. So if you don't mind a vocal, opinionated driver, Hamlin might be your man.
6. GREG BIFFLE: For some reason, Biffle doesn't have that many fans in comparison to other top drivers. It's somewhat puzzling. He wins a couple races every year, makes the Chase and says interesting things while avoiding controversy. On top of all that, he's not a jerk. Where's the love for The Biff?
7. BRAD KESELOWSKI: Though he drives too aggressively at times and therefore pisses off many other drivers – and therefore, the fans of many other drivers – Keselowski is a tremendous personality who is only going to become more relevant as the years go on. He's quite likable, but fans wearing Brad K. merchandise need to have thick skin to put up with the dirty looks and glares from the fans of whichever driver got into it with Keselowski last week.
8. AJ ALLMENDINGER: Ding-dong – the Allmendinger bandwagon is here, and there's still plenty of room. 'Dinger seems to both live his life and race like one of those bouncy rubber balls: He's excitable and energetic, but occasionally all over the place. The guy has talent, though, and the slimmed-down Richard Petty Motorsports might set the stage for his breakout year.
9. JEFF GORDON: There's one big problem with Gordon – his history. Because of the way he came into the sport as a clean-cut California kid who piled up race wins and championships, Gordon was loudly booed for almost his entire career. But as a veteran who hasn't won much lately, Gordon has taken on an almost underdog quality. Plus, he's as nice of a person as you'll find anywhere – in racing or in life.
10. KASEY KAHNE: Great driver, nice guy. And if you're female, there's no reason not to like him. But what if you're a dude who works at a construction site? Can you really walk around with a Kasey Kahne T-shirt? Somehow, his massive female fan base seems to limit his appeal to men.
11. MARCOS AMBROSE: Damn, if this guy could just win a few races. With contagious enthusiasm for NASCAR and a smile that never seems to wane, Ambrose could be one of the easiest drivers to root for in years. There's just one problem: The Aussie's results are often Down Under the top 20 – except on road courses, where he's clearly the best.
12. DAVID RAGAN: Poor David. A couple years ago it looked like he was going to be a breakout star, and then he fell off the map. Still, he remains unfailingly polite and ultra-courteous – plus, there's a chance he'll be competitive again as long as he stays at Roush Fenway Racing. If you want a friendly Southern boy to root for, Ragan is your guy.
13. BRIAN VICKERS: If you like comeback stories, this one's for you. Vickers nearly died last year after blood clots were discovered in his leg and lungs, then had surgery to repair a hole in his heart. After sitting out most of the season, he's back in 2011 and ready to race again. In addition to his compelling story, though, he's both fan-friendly and capable of making the Chase.
14. MARTIN TRUEX JR.: The Michael Waltrip Racing driver only has one career win in five full seasons, so you might not get to see him drive to Victory Lane very often. But he's a friendly and likable personality, so if you can overlook the lack of performance, he might be worth supporting.
15. KYLE BUSCH: I'm confident the vast majority of NASCAR fans would have Busch ranked last on this list. He is truly reviled by many people because of his sore loser, spoiled brat image. But the guy wins – a lot. And when he's in a good mood, there's something delightfully anti-establishment about his words and actions. So if you want to go against the crowd and pick a guy who's difficult to love, there's no one better than Busch.
16. TREVOR BAYNE: If you want to be among the first to pull for this promising rookie, you could reap the rewards down the line. There's few things more satisfying than rooting for a team or athlete before they've achieved anything of note, then tag along for the ride to the top. Bayne is a polite young guy with a load of potential (and is vocal about his religion, for those of you who are into that). He'll drive a partial Cup schedule this season.
17. DAVID REUTIMANN: This is a strange case – Reutimann is 40 years old, but still in the early part of his Cup career (he got a late start). Full of self-deprecating humor and having fought hard to reach NASCAR's top level, Reutimann comes across as the ultimate underdog. The only issue is there's no guarantee he'll ever topple the sport's bigger names, and the clock is ticking.
18. JEFF BURTON: There's nothing wrong with being a Jeff Burton fan. He's a future politician and a media favorite who always offers incredible perspective on the sport through his long, detailed answers. But though Burton is capable of winning races and making the Chase (as he did last year), the veteran is 43 years old and probably only has a few years left.
19. RYAN NEWMAN: Do you have a sarcastic sense of humor? If so, you'll certainly identify with Newman. Though the "Rocket Man" missed the Chase last year, he did win a race. Overall, though, Newman can be a bit dry.
20. MATT KENSETH: Just here to race. Same as last week. Same as next week. You can't get excited about Kenseth, because he's not exciting. He's about as neutral as they come. He does win sometimes though, so that's exciting. I guess.
21. DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Dude, everyone roots for Dale Jr. already. He's a great guy, but do you really think he needs any more fans? This is your pick if you want to follow the crowd and join the masses.
22. TONY STEWART: As with Busch, you must be willing to overlook certain negatives to be a Tony Stewart fan. In Stewart's case: 1) He can be a jerk; 2) He might not sign your autograph; 3) He can be a jerk. But when he feels like it, he can also be one of the most engaging, personable drivers in NASCAR. And his peers say he's the most talented. It's up to you whether you can overlook the bad parts.
23. KEVIN HARVICK: The man known as "Happy" can be very difficult to like or very easy to like depending on how he's running, so it was hard to figure out where to put him on this list. The best answer is if you're a tough person wanting to root for a scrappy driver who can win races – despite being as cuddly as a cactus at times – the prickly Harvick is for you.
24. ROBBY GORDON: This is the ultimate against-the-grain pick. With an independent team and an independent mind, the outspoken driver/owner is about as different as they come. In a vanilla garage, Gordon has always been rocky road. But his days of being competitive are seemingly behind him, so rooting for him is a tough sell.
25. REGAN SMITH: Nice guy, but doesn't run up front enough.
26. CASEY MEARS: Nice guy, but doesn't run up front enough.
27. DAVID GILLILAND: Nice guy, but doesn't run up front enough.
28. TRAVIS KVAPIL: Nice guy, but doesn't run up front enough.
29. BOBBY LABONTE: Former Cup champ at tail end of his career has looked disinterested in recent years, but new ride at JTG Daugherty Racing has a chance to restore his enthusiasm.
30. MARK MARTIN: Martin, one of the classiest and most beloved drivers in NASCAR, is only near the bottom of this list for one reason: This might be his last full-time season. So if you're going to invest your fan passion in a driver, try someone who will be around a little longer.
31. KURT BUSCH: Few see the real Kurt Busch, or even know who he is. Publicly, there's the Kurt who appears in interviews with the tight, forced smile and speak-in-circles answers. Then there's the Kurt who is a hard-edged, winning racer but displays a frightening volume of anger on the team radio. We want to like him, but both Kurts are hard to embrace – and we have little indication what he's really like.
32. PAUL MENARD: It's not just because Menard's Cup ride exists due to his billionaire family's money – his quiet personality and lack of on-track success also contribute to this low ranking.
33. BILL ELLIOTT: With a partial schedule in an uncompetitive car, this 16-time winner of the Most Popular Driver award has long been a non-factor. The 55-year-old last recorded a top-10 finish in 2004.
34. JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: He doesn't care whether you like him or not, and thus does little that is likable. His most common response to any questions seems to be a shrug of the shoulders and an "I don't care." Because of that, we don't care, either.
35. JIMMIE JOHNSON: Disclaimer – Johnson is one of the nicest people in NASCAR; he's friendly, funny and extremely down to Earth. But starting to root for Johnson now would make you the ultimate bandwagon fan. The guy has just won five straight championships. He doesn't need your help, nor do the true Johnson fans need a frontrunner in their ranks.