Stats & Info: Carl Edwards

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.

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.

Raw speed makes Johnson Chase favorite

September, 14, 2012
Last season’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup came down to a final-race, down-to-the-closing-lap battle between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. Stewart won the title in unprecedented fashion: a tiebreaker over Edwards.

Jimmie Johnson
Not pictured in that thrilling finish was Jimmie Johnson, who finished a career-worst sixth in the points. But if the first 26 races of the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season are any indication, Johnson will be right in the midst of the title chase because he’s been showing more speed than any driver this season. That’s best shown by looking at how he’s distanced himself from the field in fastest laps run.

Fastest laps run is a measure of who is the fastest driver on the track on every green-flag lap. This season, Johnson has been the fastest driver on more than 12 percent of all laps. The next highest is Denny Hamlin, at 8 percent. However, Hamlin has turned his speed into four wins, Johnson has three.

Johnson also has the advantage of driving for the fastest team, Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson’s teammates Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rank third, fourth and sixth, respectively.

Dating back to 2006, when NASCAR began tracking the statistic over the course of the season, only two drivers have finished a season running more than 12 percent of the total fastest laps run: Johnson at 14.8 percent in 2009, and Edwards at 12.1 in 2008. Edwards finished second that season to Johnson in the points.

Although Johnson’s three wins this season aren’t eye-popping, his consistency has been taken up a notch. Johnson enters the 2012 Chase with 12 top-five finishes, the most he’s had entering the Chase since 2007.

He also has 17 top-10 finishes in 26 races entering the Chase. The only time he’s had more at this point since the Chase began in 2004 was 2006, when he had 18 top-10 finishes en route to the first of five consecutive championships.

Not only has Johnson been fast this season, but he’s also been tough to pass. In the first 26 races, Johnson was passed 1,479 times under the green flag on the racetrack; that seems like a high number until you consider that it’s 238 fewer than any other driver.

Johnson also has a +202 green-flag pass differential this season, simply meaning he’s passed drivers 202 more times than he’s been passed on the track. Only three other drivers are even over +100 this season and Johnson is 65 spots ahead of second-closest driver, Tony Stewart, who’s at a +137.

The Chase schedule also sets up very well for Johnson. Half of the 10 races will be held at 1.5-mile tracks, including Sunday’s opener at Chicago (1 ET on ESPN). In Sprint Cup Series history, no driver has won more at these tracks than Johnson, with 16 victories in 106 career starts.