Stats & Info: Brad Keselowski

Keselowski projected to win at Bristol

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
Here are the projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Bristol. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, prerace on-track activity (practices and qualifying), and probability of finishing the race.

All of the data is then adjusted for the track type, which in this case is a 0.533-mile concrete oval short track.

ESPN Stats & InfoBristol’s steep banking has resulted in 150 DNFs since 2004 -- most of any non-restrictor-plate track.

Bristol Motor Speedway has produced the most accidents (369) and accidents per race (7.7) of any track on the circuit over the past quarter-century. Completing all 500 laps in this race is difficult, as there were eight crashes here last spring and seven crashes in the fall.

Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton and Marcos Ambrose were among those involved in wrecks in this race last season. Johnson, Bowyer and Burton also crashed in the fall race, so they might outperform their projected finishes if they can manage to keep their cars on the track.

Brad Keselowski has won here twice (spring 2012, fall 2011) -- the same result projected for him Sunday. However, since his 2012 win, Keselowski has wrecked twice in three Bristol races, finishing 30th and at least 22 laps down in each of the races in which he crashed. If he can avoid trouble, he has a good shot to record his first career back-to-back Sprint Cup wins.

Keselowski cools off after hot start

August, 1, 2013
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesBrad Keselowski has struggled after winning the 2012 NSCS points title.
Maybe Brad Keselowski has a championship hangover. With six races to go before the Chase for the Cup, Keselowski is 13th in points and has only two top-five finishes in the past 16 races.

Hot Start

Keselowski finished fourth or better in his first four races, becoming the first Sprint Cup driver to do so since Dale Earnhardt in 1995.

The defending Sprint Cup Series champion was the first NSCS driver to start a season with four consecutive top-five finishes since Jimmie Johnson in 2005. That hot start might have been a harbinger of Keselowski’s later struggles as each of the previous five drivers to achieve that failed to win the Cup that season.

In early March, Keselowski looked in line to duplicate the success of Jimmie Johnson in 2007, when he repeated as champion after winning his first NSCS title in 2006. Before Johnson, no driver had finished higher than sixth in the season after winning his first championship since 2000. Now, Keselowski would be happy to be in the top 10 in points.

Cooling off

Among drivers to run a full season the year after winning a championship, no driver has finished worse than 12th in points the year after winning a title. A full season is classified as one in which the defending champion ran in at least 75 percent of the races. Keselowski is currently in 13th.

Keselowski has failed to win any of his 20 races this season. No defending series champion has gone this far into a season without a win since Jeff Gordon got his first win in the 24th race in 2002.

In the last 20 seasons, the most races a defending champion went into a season before recording a win was Terry Labonte in 1997 (29 races).

Despite not winning any races this season, only Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart have more wins since the start of 2011 than Keselowski.

For this season, he just hopes to avoid being the second driver since the Chase for the Cup began in 2004 to miss the Chase the following season (Tony Stewart, 2006).

Jared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesLast year, Brad Keselowski was the first car across at Talladega.

Talladega Superspeedway is the longest, highest-banked track on the Sprint Cup Series circuit –- and it’s also one of the wildest.

What should you know in assessing Sunday’s race there?

Expect a tight finish
Five of the six races at the track from 2010 to '12 were decided with a last-lap pass. The only exception in that span was last spring’s race, which Brad Keselowski won after passing Matt Kenseth and holding off Kyle Busch on a green-white-checkered finish with two laps to go.

Not only are the finishes usually up in the air at Talladega, the margins of victory are usually razor-thin. Dating back to when NASCAR began using electronic scoring in 1993, the average margin of victory at Talladega in races that don’t end under caution is 0.12 seconds, the tightest margin of victory of any track at that time.

To put the 0.12-second margin of victory in perspective, since 1993, only three tracks have an average margin of victory of less than a second: Talladega, Daytona (.28 sec) and Martinsville (.97 sec).

Also, don’t commit to picking a winner too early at Talladega. In 15 of the past 20 races there, the leader with 10 laps to go did not go on to win the race.

The wrecks can happen anytime
The last time the Sprint Cup Series raced at Talladega was in October. Kenseth won, but that was only half the story, as, on the final lap, Tony Stewart moved to block a fast-charging Michael Waltrip, triggering a 25-car accident.

Twenty-five cars make up about 58 percent of the 43-car field.

Dating back to 1990, that was the third-biggest accident at Talladega, a track renowned for “the big one.”

Talladega also features more last-lap wrecks than any other track. Since 1990, there have been seven at Talladega, involving a combined 61 cars.

No other track has more than four last-lap crashes in that time.

Anyone can run up front, but a big name will win
The commonly held opinion at Talladega is that any driver can win, thanks to the draft bunching the fields up and the unpredictability of the big wrecks.

That has held true to a certain degree, as 10 drivers have gotten their first career win at the track, the third-highest total at any track. Among that group, six never won another Cup Series race.
However, we’ve had only two first-time winners at Talladega since 1990, and one of those was Keselowski, who went on to win a Cup Series championship.

Even though the field is tight and the action bountiful, the cream has risen to the top.

In the past 11 seasons, 13 different drivers have won the 22 Talladega races. Six of those drivers were previous or future Sprint Cup Series champions, and five of the other seven had previously won a Nationwide Series championship.

Is Brad Keselowski Bristol’s new bully?

March, 15, 2013

Sean Gardner/NASCAR/Getty ImagesBrad Keselowski has done well recently at Bristol, winning 2 of the past 3 events.

NASCAR heads to one of its most popular and well-known tracks this week, Bristol Motor Speedway. It's a venue that has lent itself to dramatic moments, outbursts of anger and dominating performances.

Take Darrell Waltrip’s seven straight wins there from 1981-84, or Dale Earnhardt picking up his ninth career Bristol win by spinning Terry Labonte on the final lap.

Brad Keselowski Dominating Bristol

Now, Brad Keselowski is well on his way to joining that list of Bristol bullies, having won two of the last three races at the track after not having previously finished better than 13th there.

If Keselowski wins Sunday’s race, he’ll become the seventh driver to win a Cup race at Bristol in three consecutive seasons.

Three of the other six are Hall of Famers: David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Waltrip. The other three are active: Jeff Gordon and both Busch brothers.

He also enters this race with momentum, just the second driver in the last six seasons to start a Sprint Cup Series season with three consecutive top-five finishes.

Going back to 1990, only five drivers have started a Cup season with four straight top fives. The only driver to do it since 2000 is Jimmie Johnson, who did it in 2005.

Last season, Keselowski didn’t start nearly this well, yet still went on to win the Sprint Cup Series championship, not only his first, but the first for Roger Penske.

Keselowski has won two of his six career Bristol races, giving him the best win percentage in series history at Bristol at 33 percent.

Kyle Busch Strong Contender

The driver right behind him in all-time Bristol win percentage, Kyle Busch, could be his biggest competition on Sunday.

Busch has won four of the last eight races at Bristol, but in his last three races there has finished 14th, 32nd and sixth.

So the question is, which Kyle Busch will show up this weekend?

It could be the one that led 1,297 of 3,003 laps in a six-race span at Bristol from 2008-2011, averaging a 2.5 finish in that span.

In those six races, Busch was the fastest driver on 400 of the 2,614 green-flag laps. Johnson had the second-most in that span with 297.

While his performance there recently hasn't matched his previous success, he's still a great bet for a top-10 finish.

In 16 starts, he has 11 top 10s, and that percentage is behind only Benny Parsons and Dale Earnhardt for the highest top-10 percentage at Bristol in Cup history.

Johnson poised for jackpot in Las Vegas?

March, 8, 2013

Jeff Zelevansky/Nascar via Getty Images
Jimmie Johnson will try to keep his momentum going in a place where he's enjoyed plenty of success.

It’s hard to start a season any better than with a Daytona 500 win, but Jimmie Johnson has kept up the momentum with a second-place finish last week at Phoenix.

Now, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Las Vegas, a track where Johnson has won four times, twice the total of any other driver.

In five of the last eight Sprint Cup Series races at Vegas, Johnson has finished in the top two. If he makes it six of nine this Sunday, Johnson could become just the fifth driver in the modern era (starting in 1972) to start a Cup season with three consecutive top-two finishes.

The last to do it was Johnson himself in 2006, the only driver to pull off the feat in the last 15 seasons. In that season, Johnson went on to win the first of his five consecutive championships. Three of the four drivers to pull off the feat in the modern era went on to win the series title that year.

Las Vegas is one of seven tracks where Johnson is either the outright wins leader or tied for the track record in victories. The Sprint Cup Series has 23 different tracks on its schedule this season.

If Johnson and the 48 team picks up a fifth win at Vegas, it would give Johnson at least five wins on five different tracks. In Cup Series history, there are only eight drivers to have won at least five times on five different tracks. Seven of those eight are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and the eighth, Jeff Gordon, is a lock to be enshrined at the end of his career.

Even if Johnson finishes third, fourth or fifth, he can join some select company. Over the last five Sprint Cup Series seasons, only one driver has started a season with three consecutive top-five finishes: Greg Biffle last season en route to a fifth-place finish in points.

Other Strong Contenders

But Johnson is not alone in that quest. Both defending series champion Brad Keselowski and 10-time defending Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. have also started the season with back-to-back top-five finishes.

He will have a couple big challengers for the win, including Tony Stewart, who has finished second and first in the last two Las Vegas races. In those starts, he’s led 290 laps. No other driver has led more than 70.

Last week’s winner, Carl Edwards, also figures to be a factor. He’s finished sixth or better, with two wins, in four of the last six Las Vegas races. After each of Edwards’ last three Sprint Cup wins, he’s finished in the top two in the next race.

Four storylines as Sprint Cup season begins

February, 22, 2013

AP Photo/Terry RennaDanica Patrick became the first woman to win the pole in a Cup Series race.
The Daytona 500 will usher in the start of the Sprint Cup season Sunday, with several storylines taking center stage. Here's a look at a few notable drivers and key stats for them heading into the Cup season:

Miguel Cabrera
Brad Keselowski looks to defend his Cup championship, but it will not be an easy road. Since 2000, only one first-time Cup champion has gone on to win the Cup the very next season (Jimmie Johnson). Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte all attempted it in that span, but none finished in the top five of the standings the following season.

Keselowski performed at his best last season at just the right time, posting an average finish of 6.1 in his final 12 starts. That was three positions better than any other driver in that span.

Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick will be competing in her first full season in the Cup series, and although there will likely be a learning curve, she's gotten off to a nice start by claiming the Daytona 500 pole. She’s the first woman to win a Cup pole and she'll seek to become the first Daytona 500 pole winner to win the event since 2000 (Dale Jarrett).

Patrick had a trying 2012 season but did show improvement down the stretch. In her final two starts, she completed 99.8 percent of laps run, compared to just 90.2 percent in her first eight starts. Patrick (10) will likely break the record for the most Cup starts by a woman this season, a mark currently held by Janet Guthrie. Guthrie had 33 starts between 1976 and 1980.

Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson will be making his 400th Cup start at Daytona, and could certainly be considered the favorite to win the championship this season. Although he came up just short last year, he was a factor until the very end and it is easy to see why.

His five wins were tied for the most in the Cup series, and he also led all drivers in top fives, top tens and laps led last season. If he were to win his sixth Cup championship in 2013, he would be just one shy of the record held by both Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

Miguel Cabrera
Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a resurgent 2012, even leading the Cup standings during the summer for the first time since 2004. He was sidelined during part of the Chase while recovering from a concussion, but his overall season was stronger than both his 2010 and 2011 campaigns. The key? Earnhardt Jr. put himself in better contention for wins.

In 2012, he had an average running position of 11.6 (an average of a driver’s position on every lap), compared to 16.1 in 2011 and 18.9 in 2010.

Wrecks may keep Patrick out of victory lane

February, 21, 2013

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images/NASCARDanica Patrick looks to become the first pole-sitter to win the Daytona 500 since 2000.
The green flag drops on the 55th-annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, officially kicking off the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Last year, Matt Kenseth waited out multiple delays to win his second-career Daytona 500. He’ll start this season with a new team, Joe Gibbs Racing, and will try to become just the fourth driver to ever win back-to-back Daytona 500s and the first since Sterling Marlin in 1994 and 1995.

Jimmie Johnson
Despite Kenseth’s bid to repeat, much of the talk about this season’s “Great American Race” has revolved around pole-sitter Danica Patrick. Patrick is looking to become the first woman to finish in the top 10 at the Daytona 500 and she’s off to a good start. Earlier this week, she became the first woman to ever win an NSCS pole and did so with an average speed of 196.434 mph.

Her qualifying lap was the third-fastest at the Daytona 500 since NASCAR instituted restrictor plates in 1998--only Darrell Waltrip in 1989 (196.996) and Derrike Cope in 1990 (196.515) were faster--and that may be partly due to the new car being used in NASCAR this season. The streamlined "Gen-6" model is 160 pounds lighter than its predecessor with identical horsepower (850 hp at 9,000 rpm).

Unfortunately for Patrick, however, earning the pole at Daytona has not led to success in the ensuing race recently. No pole-sitter has won a Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway since 2010 and no pole-sitter has won the Daytona 500 since Dale Jarrett in 2000. One reason for the trouble? Pole-sitters haven’t been able to avoid wrecking.

The pole-sitter has been part of a wreck in each of the last four races held at Daytona, the longest active Cup streak at any track. At the Daytona 500 specifically, wrecks have been most prevalent towards the end of the race.

There have been 48 wrecks in the final quarter of Daytona 500s since 1990, nearly as many as the first three quarters combined (55). There were three wrecks involving 19 cars in the final 25 laps of last season’s race.

Dodge will not have a car in the Daytona 500 despite winning a championship last season with Brad Keselowski. Since 2007, Dodge engines reported failures just once every 101.8 Sprint Cup entries, the highest rate among all manufacturers. It's been a while since NASCAR has been without a Dodge presence as Sunday’s Daytona 500 will mark the first Cup season to begin without a Dodge entry since 2000.

5 stats to know on Keselowski's title

November, 18, 2012
Five notable things to know on Brad Keselowski's clinching the NSCS title on Sunday.

1-- Keselowski is the third driver in racing’s modern era (since 1972) to win a NASCAR Cup Series championship within his first three full seasons (Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon are the other two).

2-- He is the second driver to win a Cup title in a No. 2 car. The only other was Earnhardt in 1980.

3-- Keselowski gave Roger Penske, who has 15 Indy 500 wins, 12 Indy Car championships and 76 Sprint Cup wins, his first Sprint Cup championship. He also gave Penske his first NASCAR title by winning the 2010 Nationwide Series championship.

4-- He’s the third driver to win his first NSCS championship in the Chase era, joining Kurt Busch in 2004 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006.

5-- Keselowski is the fourth driver to win titles in two NASCAR National Touring Series. He also won the 2010 NNS title. The other three are Bobby Labonte, Greg Biffle, and Johnny Benson.

Keselowski consistency spells Cup title run

November, 16, 2012

AP Photo/Larry PapkeBrad Keselowski leads Jimmie Johnson by 20 points entering the finale in Homestead.
To lock up his first Sprint Cup Series championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Brad Keselowski needs only to finish in the top 15. It seems a virtual lock, seeing as in the last 21 starts, more than half of the season schedule, Keselowski has only finished outside the top 15 once, a 30th-place run at Bristol.

If he clinches the title on Sunday, Keselowski will have won his first championship in just his third full Sprint Cup season. In NASCAR's modern era (starting in 1972), only two drivers have won a title within their first three full seasons: Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt.

Earnhardt ended up winning a record-tying seven championships in his career, while Gordon is at four and still counting.

Two seasons ago, despite winning a Nationwide Series championship, Keselowski's Sprint Cup performance was disappointing. He finished 25th in points, failing to finish better than 10th in any start.

The next season, with the addition of crew chief Paul Wolfe, Keselowski won three times and finished fifth in points. He was just the second driver in the modern era to run a full season and finish 25th or worse in points, and then rebound to win at least three races the following season, joining Kurt Busch.

This year, with a title, he'll become the sixth driver in series history to win a Cup championship after finishing 25th or worse in points in the previous two seasons. But the other five didn't run a full season the year they finished 25th or worse.

Keselowski had already made history prior to this year, dating back to his time racing part-time for Phoenix Racing and Hendrick Motorsports in 2009.

In just his fifth career start, Keselowski won his first Cup race. It was one of the most memorable races in recent history, a door-to-door battle that sent Carl Edwards flying into the catchfence. The win made him the first driver in series history to make his first career lap led the final lap of a race.

The win was one of the largest upsets in Cup history at the time. It remains the only Cup win for Phoenix Racing and made Keselowski one of just five drivers to win within his first five starts in series history, joining Trevor Bayne, Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick and Mark Donohue.

Keselowski can also complete the resume of his team, Penske Racing, which has won 15 Indianapolis 500s but has yet to win a NASCAR Cup Series title, coming closest in 1993 when Rusty Wallace finished second.

What's more, Keselowski has five wins in 2012 and assuming he holds on for the championship, only one driver since 1990 would have more wins during his first Cup title season (seven by Jeff Gordon).

Keselowski will turn 29 next year, but he already has a career's worth of accolades.

Can Keselowski rise again at Phoenix?

November, 9, 2012

AP Photo/Larry PapkeBrad Keselowski has been setting career bests the entire season. Can he do it again at Phoenix?
On the surface, the matchup between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s race at Phoenix looks like a mismatch.

In 18 starts at Phoenix, Johnson has four wins, three coming in Chase races, 15 top-10 finishes and a 5.3 average finish. That average finish is the best in track history among drivers with at least 10 starts.

Keselowski, on the other hand, has a single top-10 finish in six career starts at the raceway, a fifth-place finish earlier this year. His 22.2 average finish at the track is his fifth-worst mark at any track on the Sprint Cup Series schedule.

All of a sudden, Keselowski’s seven-point deficit seems a lot more daunting.

But these numbers don’t tell the whole story.

For the entire 2012 season, especially in the Chase, Keselowski has routinely been besting his career marks at tracks. Some highlights include:

• Chicago: entering the Chase opener, Keselowski had an 18.3 average finish at the track, but he won the race to put himself in the title picture.

• Dover: at a track where he had never previous finished better than 12th, Keselowski picked up his second win in three races to move into the points lead.

• Martinsville: Keselowski had never finished better than ninth at the “Paper Clip,” a track where Johnson has had tremendous success, but Keselowski finished sixth to minimize the damage from Johnson’s win.

• Texas: entering with a 25.3 average finish at the track, Keselowski finished second, bettering his previous career-best of 14th to stay just seven points behind Johnson.

Keselowski appears primed to add another turnaround performance to his résumé at Phoenix this weekend. In his first five races at the track, he averaged worse than a 25th-place finish. Earlier this year, he was fifth.

He also showed the ability to pass good cars in that race, something he didn’t do in his first five races there. He made 38 quality passes (green-flag passes of cars running in the top 15) in that race. In his first five Phoenix starts, he averaged fewer than 15 a race.

However, Keselowski does face a strong challenge from the man in front of him in points. Despite finishing fourth at Phoenix earlier this season, Johnson led the field in several key categories, showing his strength at the track.

Johnson will be looking for his fifth career Phoenix win. No other driver in Sprint Cup Series history has ever won there more than twice. He’ll also be going for a 23rd career Chase race win, which would be a dozen more than any other driver.

Johnson, Hamlin strongest at Martinsville

October, 26, 2012

Rob Grabowski/US PresswireCan Brad Keselowski hold off Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville to maintain his Chase lead?
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup rolls into Martinsville Sunday (ESPN, 2 ET) with Brad Keselowski pacing the field. He leads Jimmie Johnson by a slim seven-point margin and Denny Hamlin by 20, but that championship lead could vanish at the shortest venue on the Cup schedule.

History has shown that drivers need to have a good run here in order to win the Chase title. Of the eight prior Chase champions, four won the Martinsville Chase event, two finished second and no eventual champion finished worse than fifth.

That’s great news for Johnson and Hamlin, who have dominated recently at Martinsville. Among drivers with more than five starts at the track, only Hall of Famer Lee Petty has a better average finish there than those two drivers.

Johnson is Martinsville Master
Johnson’s 5.8 career average finish at Martinsville is the fourth-best in Cup Series history by a driver at any track with at least 20 starts. He’s also posted a 2.0 career average finish in Chase starts at Martinsville, and has four wins in eight events.

Since 2006, no one has been quicker at Martinsville than Johnson during the Chase. In that span, he's posted the fastest lap 425 times, 126 more than any other driver (fastest laps run are the amount of laps in which a driver was the fastest on the track).

Hamlin Holds Edge Recently
Similar to Keselowski, Hamlin is seeking his first career Cup title; but unlike the points leader, Hamlin has been very strong at Martinsville. He’s won three of the last six Martinsville races, and has 12 top-10 finishes at Martinsville in 14 starts.

Hamlin has also led 892 laps at Martinsville since 2009, the most among any Cup driver. Keselowski, meanwhile, has never finished better than ninth in five career Martinsville starts and has led only two laps.

Both of Keselowski’s wins in the Chase, however, have come at tracks where he had never won in Cup before (Chicago and Dover). He’s also posted eight victories since the start of 2011, which is tied with Tony Stewart for the most in Cup.

Earnhardt Jr. Returns
After being sidelined for two races with a concussion suffered at Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been cleared to return to Cup this weekend. His 10 career top-5 finishes at Martinsville are his most at any Cup track, and he has finished seventh or better in his last four Martinsville starts.

Earnhardt Jr. excelled on upcoming tracks

October, 11, 2012

Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty ImagesDale Earnhardt Jr. was looking forward to the 1.5-mile tracks at Charlotte and Kansas.
It was announced Thursday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss both Charlotte and Kansas after being diagnosed with a concussion this week, snapping his streak of 461 consecutive Cup starts, which was the fifth-longest active streak.

Earnhardt Jr. enters this weekend 11th in the Chase standings and 51 points adrift of the leader, meaning he had virtually no chance at a title even before it was announced he would not compete in the next two events. projections gave him just a 1.7 percent chance of claiming the championship, the worst of any Chase driver.

As for the upcoming schedule, the two tracks Earnhardt Jr. will miss are both 1.5 miles. That’s significant, because no driver had a better average finish on 1.5-mile venues this season than Earnhardt Jr. (7.4). He finished seventh at Kansas in the spring and sixth at Charlotte.

Keselowski Up Against the Odds
Elsehwere, Brad Keselowski enjoys a 14-point lead over Jimmie Johnson in the Chase standings as the series heads to Charlotte, thanks in part to a top-10 finish in all four Chase starts this year. He’s the only driver to notch four top 10s in the Chase, and his 3.8 average finish in that span is by far the best in Cup.

He’s on top despite leading just 94 laps during the Chase while both Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin have led over 200 each. He was able to add to his points lead at Talladega, however, by avoiding major damage in the final wreck and finishing seventh. Keselowski picked up 11 spots on the final trip around, while Johnson finished 17th after failing to gain any positions on the final lap.

Five-time champion Johnson is still very much alive, however, and heads to one of his strongest venues. His six wins at Charlotte are tied with legends Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for the most all-time, and he has been very strong on 1.5-mile tracks this season, which comprise four of the final six events, including Charlotte.

Johnson has an 8.6 average finish on 1.5-mile tracks this season while Keselowski’s is just 12.7.

Hamlin is certainly another title contender as he trails the leader by 23 points. He is the only driver to have multiple wins on the remaining tracks this season (won at Phoenix and Kansas), and among Chase drivers, his 4.4 average finish this year on remaining tracks is also best.

John Harrelson/NASCAR/Getty ImagesDale Earnhardt Jr.'s win back in June hasn't been the only highlight of his 2012 season.
(Coverage of NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series at Pocono begins Sunday at noon ET on ESPN.)

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s popularity is being matched by his production.

He’s No. 1 in both categories headed into Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono. After four years of leaving his legion of fans without a victory to celebrate, Earnhardt found his way back to Victory Lane at Michigan in June and goes to Pocono as the leader in Sprint Cup driver standings.

What has been the key to his turnaround? Consistency is the top factor.

Junior has run an incredible 96 percent of laps on the lead lap this season, the best of any driver. He ranks third in average running position (9.7) after ranking 15th in 2011, and is second in quality passes (1,270) behind Brad Keselowski. (A quality pass is a pass of top-15 car under green.)

Earnhardt is the first driver in Cup history to finish the first 20 races of a season on the lead lap. Dating back to 2011, he has finished 21 straight races on the lead lap, which is tied with Jeff Gordon for the overall series record.

In eight of the past 13 seasons, Earnhardt has averaged fewer than 1,800 miles driven per crash. He’s more than quadrupled that total this season, having been involved in only one accident in 20 races this season. Teammates Gordon (5), Kasey Kahne (5) and Jimmie Johnson (3) have found trouble much more often.
Earnhardt could be winning more if he was stronger at the end of races. He has lost 14 positions this season in the final 10 percent of the race, which ranks 64th out of 69 qualifying drivers.

Although he has not won as often as teammate Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt has been very consistent this season. Compared to last year, he’s cut down the number of finishes outside the top 15 (from 7 in 2011 to two this season). He’s run 84 percent of his laps in the top 15 (ranks third), compared to 57.4 last season (ranked 11th).

As for Pocono, there have been 24 accidents involving 62 drivers (2.6 per accident) since the June 2008 race. Of those 24 accidents, 19 have involved multiple cars. From June 2008 to June 2012, there were 15 straight multi-car accidents at Pocono, the second-most consecutive multi-car accidents at any track since 1990, trailing Talladega's 27.

Pocono is called the "Tricky Triangle" due to three different turns of banking and length, making it almost like a road course. Some believe that Turn 2 (the Tunnel Turn) is the trickiest of the three, but there had been no accidents there since August 2008 before two single-car accidents in June.

With the highest banking coming in Turn 1 (14 degrees) and drivers hitting 200 mph plus on the front stretch, that area of the track leads to the most accidents.

2012 marks the first season of Pocono’s change from 200 laps of 500-mile racing to 160 laps of 400-mile racing. Although the amount of racing has dropped, Pocono’s past will set drivers up to be wrecked at the end of the race. Of 132 total wrecks since 1990, one-third of them have happened in the final quarter of the race.

Earnhardt hasn't won multiple races in a season since 2004. He has an even longer drought going at Pocono, having never won at the track in 25 starts. Charlotte and New Hampshire are the only tracks where Junior has made more starts without a win (26).