Stats & Info: Kyle Busch

Johnson and Busch likely to lead at Dover

May, 31, 2014
May 31
Here are the projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Dover. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, pre-race on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 1-mile oval) and time of year.

No. 48 is a front-runner at Dover
Jimmie Johnson broke into the win column last week at Charlotte, and he could be primed for another win at Dover. He’s won a Cup Series-record eight times at Dover after winning last fall’s Chase race, breaking a tie with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. In the last 10 races at Dover, Johnson has led more than half of the laps run and more than 1,300 more than any other driver.

Busch seeks a Dover sweep
Kyle Busch has won the first two NASCAR events at Dover this weekend and will try to complete the sweep on Sunday. He is the only driver to win all three National Touring Series in the same weekend (Bristol in August 2010). Busch should have a very strong car, and had it not been for mediocre showings in the last two practices (22nd and 15th) he would have overtaken Johnson in the projections. It’s splitting hairs between these two cars, as both should be out front most of the day.

Gordon atop points leaderboard
Jeff Gordon continues to lead the traditional points after a seventh-place finish at Charlotte - the sixth straight race he’s led in points. Since winning his last championship in 2001, this is tied for the second-longest span he’s topped the points leaderboard, behind only a 21-race streak in 2007.

Variety of winners
For the first time in the Chase era we’ve had 10 different winners in the 12 races. After 26 races (Dover is the halfway point before the Chase), the top 16 drivers in wins will make up the Chase field. Among the drivers who have yet to win is Matt Kenseth, who led the series with seven wins last season and currently sits second in points.

Biffle streak alive
Although he’s sitting outside the top 10 in points, Greg Biffle could have a record-breaking weekend at Dover by just finishing the race. Biffle has been running at the finish of 84 consecutive races, tying the Cup Series record for most consecutive starts without a DNF, set by Herman Beam from 1961-63.

Harvick projected to win at Charlotte

May, 24, 2014
May 24
Here are the projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Charlotte. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, pre-race on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 1.5-mile Quad-Oval) and time of year.

• Projected winner Kevin Harvick has won two of the last three Coca-Cola 600s. Harvick’s projection is influenced heavily by his past history in this race as his car appears to be top-five capable, but not quite elite - he qualified sixth and finished sixth in the final practice.

• Kurt Busch will attempt to become the fourth driver to start both the Indianapolis 500 and the 600-mile race at Charlotte in the same day. John Andretti, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart have done it before, but only Tony Stewart in 2001 completed all 1,100 miles. It’s important for Busch to make it to Charlotte in time for the start of the race because only the driver who starts a Sprint Cup race receives points for the race.

• Jimmie Johnson is still looking for his first win of the season, and on the surface, Charlotte looks like a good site for that to happen. He’s tied with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for the most career wins there with six. However, Johnson has just one win in the last 16 Charlotte races, after winning five of the previous six.

• Jeff Gordon leads the points, but it was his win two weeks ago at Kansas that all but locked in his Chase berth. But don’t expect an encore this week, as drivers this season have a 21.6 average finish in the next race following a win, with more DNF’s (three) than top-10 finishes (two).

• In the last points race at Kansas, Danica Patrick finished a career-best seventh, the best Cup finish by a woman since Janet Guthrie finished sixth at Bristol in 1977. However, Patrick has averaged a 32nd-place finish in the races following her previous three best finishes. After her 8th-place finish in the 2013 Daytona 500, her only other career top 10, she was 39th the following week at Phoenix after being in a wreck.

Harvick projected to repeat in Richmond

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25

Robert Laberge/Getty ImagesKevin Harvick looks to win back-to-back Richmond races.

Here are the projections for Saturday's Sprint Cup race at Richmond. 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 (in this case, a ¾-mile D-Oval short track) and time of year.

Kevin Harvick, defending race winner and wins leader this season, is projected to win again Saturday. Harvick has posted a stellar average driver rating of 102 over the last three races at this track while finishing 11th or better each time.

Kyle Busch has won four of the last five NSCS spring races at Richmond. With a win Saturday, he’d join Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty as the only drivers to win at least 30 Cup Series races before turning 30. Despite an excellent track record, Busch finished 19th and 20th in the two practices this week, which slightly reduced his value in the projections (to eighth).

Denny Hamlin is winless this season, but Richmond could be a good place for the Virginia native to pick up his first win. Since the start of the 2008 season, Hamlin has led 1,323 laps at the track, more than twice as many as any other driver.

Jimmie Johnson also remains winless eight races into the season. In each of his six championship seasons, Johnson won within the first eight races of the season. Although he’s a three-time winner at Richmond, his 17.3 career average finish at the track is his worst at any active track. Our method projects Johnson to struggle to crack the top 10, as he finished 40th and 12th here last season.

Chase could be 3-driver race after Kansas

October, 4, 2013

Getty ImagesMatt Kenseth (left), Jimmie Johnson (middle) and Kyle Busch (right) are the early Chase favorites.
Stop number four in the Chase is Sunday at Kansas (2 ET/ESPN), and already three drivers have emerged as early Chase favorites: points leader Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson (-8 from Kenseth) and Kyle Busch (-12 from Kenseth).

But it could be just Kenseth and Johnson emerging as the prime title contenders after Kansas. The two are first and second in average finish at Kansas since 2010, and both have not finished outside the top 10 in that span.

Busch, meanwhile, has struggled, averaging just a 20.5 finish in that same span.

The trio of drivers have consistently been near the front of the pack in each of the first three Chase events, and considerably more so than anyone else.

Kenseth and Busch have each run 98.6 percent of Chase laps in the Top 15, while Johnson is just behind at 95.6 percent. By comparison, no other driver has run more than 86.2 percent in the Top 15 during the Chase.

A closer look at each top contender:

Matt Kenseth
Kenseth has dominated on 1.5-mile tracks this season, a trend that could certainly continue at Kansas, where he won earlier this year as well as last season in the Chase.

Of the seven trips to 1.5-mile venues this season, Kenseth has won four times while fellow Joe Gibbs driver Busch has won twice.

Jimmie Johnson
As the calendar turns to October, Busch, Kenseth and the rest of the field would be wise to keep an eye on five-time champion Johnson.

The Chase has always seen Johnson dominate, but October has been the month when Johnson has really rolled.

His 12 wins in the Chase era during October are twice as many as anyone else, and also account for over half of his career Chase victories.

Kyle Busch
Busch has often been a title contender entering the Chase, but has traditionally struggled when the postseason got underway.

But in his past seven Chase starts dating back to last season, he hasn’t finished outside the top five in any of them, and is averaging a third-place finish. No other driver has more than five top fives during that run.

Value of 1st race to Chase is significant

September, 16, 2013

John Harrelson/Getty ImagesMatt Kenseth won the Geico 400 at Chicago Sunday night, his sixth Sprint Cup win of the season.
How important was Sunday’s Chase opener in Chicago in previewing the whole Chase?

For Matt Kenseth – A Win at Chicago Bodes Well for a Title
This is the third time that there’s been a Chase race at Chicago.

All three times it’s been the Chase opener.

In each of the previous two years, the driver who won the Chicago race went on to win the title.

In the previous seven Chases, the opener was held at New Hampshire, and only one of the seven winners went on to win the title: Kurt Busch in 2004.

Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick
Should Feel Good Too

The top six finishers Sunday were all Chasers. In seven of the previous nine Chase openers, the eventual Chase champion finished in the top six.

The only driver to recover from a finish outside the top six in the opener to win a Chase championship was Johnson, who did so in 2006 and 2010.

It Doesn’t Look Good for Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Joey Logano
NASCAR’s most popular driver and the driver with the chance to become the youngest Cup Series champion both struggled, finishing 35th (Earnhardt Jr.) and 37th (Logano) after having engine issues.

Both are more than 50 points off the lead.

Since the Chase field expanded from 10 drivers for the 2007 season, the six Chase champions have a combined one finish outside the top 25 in 60 combined races.

That was a 38th-place finish by Jimmie Johnson at Texas in 2009, a race he entered with a lead bigger than the amount of points a driver could make up in a single race.

In fact, no Chase champion has had more than one finish outside the top 20 since the field expanded from 10.

Top things to know on NASCAR's Chase

September, 13, 2013
John Harrelson/Getty ImagesMatt Kenseth enters the Chase as the No. 1 seed, trying for his second title.
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sunday at Chicago (2 ET on ESPN), with 13 drivers vying for the championship over the course of 10 events. Here’s a primer of the top storylines to get you ready:

1. This will be the 10th year of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. After the first 26 races of the season, the top 10 drivers in points, plus two Wild Cards (the two drivers with the most wins from 11th-20th in points) qualify for the Chase.

But in an unprecedented move, NASCAR added Jeff Gordon as a 13th driver in the Chase. NASCAR chairman Brian France said it was as a result of the "unfair" tactics by other teams that knocked Gordon out of contention late in the regular-season finale at Richmond.

All 13 drivers have their points totals reset to 2,000, and the top-10 drivers in points are given three bonus points per win (Wild Card drivers do not receive bonus points).

Matt Kenseth is the top seed entering the Chase this year, but that’s not where recent champions have started. Last year, Brad Keselowski entered in fourth, while the year prior, eventual champion Tony Stewart entered the Chase in ninth after the re-seed.

Chicago, however, could provide insight as to the eventual champion. Each of the past two seasons, the winner of the inaugural Chase event (2011 Tony Stewart, 2012 Keselowski) has gone on to win the title.

2. But Kenseth arguably has a considerable edge over his competitors entering the Chase. Of his five victories this season, three have come on 1.5-mile tracks, which make up five of the 10 Chase venues (Chicago, Kansas, Charlotte, Texas and Homestead). His three victories on 1.5-mile tracks are the most this season in the Sprint Cup Series, as are his 355 laps led.

In addition, Kyle Busch has two wins on 1.5-milers this season, meaning Joe Gibbs drivers have won all but one of the events on 1.5-milers this year.

Jimmie Johnson
3. While Kenseth is certainly among the frontrunners, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson enters as another strong contender. Although he has struggled down the stretch this season (36th-place average finish in his last four starts), he still has to be considered among the favorites heading into the Chase.

After all, he holds nearly all the major records associated with NASCAR’s postseason, including most wins (22), top 5s (49), top 10s (65) and average finish (9.2). Johnson is also the only driver to make all 10 Chases.

However, Johnson has finished 28th or worse in each of last four races, the first time in his Sprint Cup career that he’s done so.

4. Kyle Busch is one of five drivers in the Chase field this season that missed the Chase last year, and he could finally be a late-season threat for the title. Last year, no driver notched more top-five finishes during the Chase than Busch’s seven, and his strong running at 1.5-milers this season (as detailed above) could be an advantage for him this fall.

A championship run would certainly be a welcome change of pace for a driver who has yet to finish better than fifth in the Chase standings over the course of his career.

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.

Hendrick power on display in 2013

March, 22, 2013

Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesJimmie Johnson's dominance at Fontana is one reason Hendrick's strong start in 2013 should continue.
Hendrick Motorsports, arguably the strongest team in the Cup Series, has jumped out to an impressive start this season.

In 2012, Hendrick didn’t earn a victory until Darlington, which was the 11th event of the season. This season the team already has claimed two of the first four races.

Kasey Kahne's win last week in Bristol only helped strengthen Hendrick's 2013 season. The combination of Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon have led 451 laps through four events compared to just 167 at this time last year.

What’s more, California is one of Johnson’s strongest venues. His 5.4 average finish at California is not only the best in track history, but the best by any active driver at any track (minimum 15 starts).

Meanwhile, Earnhardt Jr. is off to the best start in his Sprint Cup Series career. This is the first time he’s started a season with four straight top-10 finishes.

For Starters
Qualifying won’t likely be imperative in Fontana. In the past 57 Cup Series events (dating back to the 2011 Brickyard 400) only three drivers have won from the pole. In fact, drivers starting 15th have won more often (5), than those drivers who started on the pole.

California has also not been kind to the early leader, as no lap-one leader has ever gone on to win at the track. It’s the only lap that an eventual race winner at California has never led.

Gibbs Winless at Auto Club
Joe Gibbs Racing has 101 Cup Series wins, but has never won at California. It's the only active track where his team has not won Cup Series race. However, with a win this weekend, Joe Gibbs Racing will become the first team to win at least once on every active track. It’s ironic that Gibbs hasn’t won a Cup event at California because they have won a series-record eight straight Nationwide events at California.

Who could capture the checkered at California for JGR? New arrival Matt Kenseth seems like a possible candidate, he’s won four Sprint Cup and three Nationwide series races at the two-mile oval.

But a better bet could be Kyle Busch, who has a record five Nationwide Series wins at the track. His first Sprint Cup win also came at the track in 2005, when he was still driving for … Hendrick Motorsports.

Busch has led more than 70 percent of the total laps in the last two California races, but finished second and third, respectively, in those races.

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.

Busch's Richmond success bolsters hopes

September, 4, 2012

AP Photo/Russell LaBounty
Kyle Busch won earlier this season at Richmond, his fourth win in the last seven races at the track. Busch enters the Chase cutoff race with a 12-point lead over Jeff Gordon for the final Chase spot.

With just one race remaining until the field is set for the Chase for the NASCAR sprint Cup, plenty of big names are still looking to punch their tickets to the field.

The top nine drivers in the Sprint Cup Series standings have locked themselves into the top 10 in points. Tenth-place Tony Stewart is guaranteed at least a Wild Card berth, and Kasey Kahne has all but locked up one of the Wild Card spots.

That leaves just one Wild Card spot, with drivers like Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman fighting for the final berth. Busch enters Saturday’s race with a 12-point advantage over Gordon, but those two, along with Newman, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano, could all likely make the Chase with a win.

But the race is at Richmond, and that plays right to Kyle Busch’s strengths.

Busch has won four of the last seven Sprint Cup Series races held at the “Action Track,” including the race earlier this season. Those four victories in just 15 races leave him already seventh all-time in wins at Richmond. To compare, Richard Petty is the record holder with 13 Richmond wins, but he did so in 63 starts.

Even when Busch doesn’t win at Richmond, he’s still a force to be reckoned with. Busch has finished sixth or better in each of the last seven Richmond races, and in 13 of his 15 career starts at the track, giving him a 4.7 career average finish there.

Among drivers with at least five career Richmond starts, nobody has a better average finish than Busch’s mark, just ahead of Hall of Famer Lee Petty’s 4.9.

In NASCAR Cup Series history, only two drivers have averaged better than a fifth-place finish at a single track with a minimum of 15 starts at the track: Busch at Richmond, and Cale Yarborough at Nashville, with a 4.67 mark just ahead of Busch’s 4.73.

Busch’s biggest obstacle to racing his way into the Chase might be the calendar.

In 87 career Sprint Cup starts in September-November, Busch has just two wins, both coming in 2005 for his first two career wins, for a 2.3 career winning percentage in those months. To compare, Busch’s win percentage for the rest of the season is 11.3.

All four of his Richmond wins have also come in the spring race at the track, and all three of his career finishes outside the top five at Richmond have come in the September race there.

But history is on Busch’s side to maintain his Chase spot.

In the last five seasons, only one driver has raced his way into the Chase field in the “regular season” finale, that being Brian Vickers in 2009, who knocked out Matt Kenseth and held off Kyle Busch at Richmond.
Stats & Info insights into this morning's top sports stories.

Derrick Rose
1. BULLS LOSE A LOT IN WIN: The NBA Playoffs began on Saturday with four games. The Chicago Bulls defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, 103-91. The win came at a heavy price. Derrick Rose suffered a torn ACL late in the fourth quarter and will miss the rest of the playoffs. The Bulls went 18-9 in the 27 regular-season games which Rose missed in 2011-12.

2. JAMES AND HEAT HAND KNICKS ANOTHER POSTSEASON LOSS: The Miami Heat defeated the New York Knicks, 100-67. LeBron James scored 23 of his 32 points in the first half to hand the Knicks their 11th consecutive playoff defeat. The NBA record for most consecutive playoff losses belongs to the Memphis Grizzlies, who lost 12 straight from 2004 to 2006.

3. DURANT CLUTCH AGAIN: The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Dallas Mavericks, 99-98. Kevin Durant hit the game-winning jumper with 1.5 seconds left in regulation. It is his fourth game-winning field goal in the final five seconds in the last two seasons (playoffs included). That is most by any player in the NBA.

4. NFL DRAFT IS OVER: The 2012 NFL Draft concluded on Saturday. 42 players were drafted from SEC schools, one more than the Big Ten for most the draft picks by conference. It’s the sixth straight year the SEC has had the most selections.

5. KEMP HITS HEROIC HOMER: Matt Kemp hit a walk-off home run to give the Los Angeles Dodgers a 4-3 win over the Washington Nationals in 10 innings. It’s Kemp’s 11th home run this month, setting a Dodgers record for most in April. The game also featured the MLB debut of Bryce Harper. He went 1-3, with a double and RBI. Harper is the fourth teenager with an extra-base hit in his MLB debut since 1969.

6. BUSCH TAKES RICHMOND: Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second. It’s his seventh runner-up finish since his last Cup Series win on June 15, 2008 at Michigan. Earnhardt Jr.’s winless streak now stands at 138 races.