Stats & Info: Matt Kenseth

Numbers don't favor Johnson or Kenseth

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
10:22
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Josh Harrelson/Getty ImagesMatt Kenseth (left) and Jimmie Johnson (right) both are looking to defy recent history.

The Sprint Cup schedule has just two stops left this season, and heads to Phoenix Sunday (ESPN, 3 p.m. ET) with two drivers firmly in the mix for the championship, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.

Mixed Fortunes at Phoenix
Last season, Johnson was in the same position he’s in this year, coming off a Texas win and holding a seven-point lead in the standings entering Phoenix.

He’s certainly hoping to avoid the same fate he suffered last year, when he blew a tire at Phoenix and struck the wall, finishing 32nd. Johnson never recovered, and Brad Keselowski went on to claim the championship.

Johnson is the all-time leader in wins, top-5 finishes, laps led and average finish (minimum 10 starts) at Phoenix, but his numbers aren’t nearly as solid there as in his four starts since the track was reconfigured following the 2011 spring event.

Since then, he has a 13th-place average finish, including finishes of 14th and 32nd in the two Chase races. By contrast, he had a streak of 10 straight top 5s at Phoenix prior to the reconfiguration.

What’s more, in each of the last three seasons, the driver leading with two races to go didn’t end up winning the championship, including Johnson himself last year.

Odds Against Kenseth
The remaining schedule does not set up kindly for Kenseth, who sits seven points behind Johnson for the points lead. The final two tracks on the schedule are among the bottom five of tracks for him in terms of average finish.

Although he’s won at Phoenix before, he hasn’t had a top-5 finish there in the last 11 Phoenix races, and has finished behind Johnson in 13 of the last 14 Phoenix events.

Danger Zone
Both drivers will need to be cautious in turn four this weekend. Since 2004, there has been at least one accident in turn four every year.

That includes last season, when one of the most infamous accidents in NASCAR history occurred: Jeff Gordon wrecking Clint Bowyer in turn four, ending Bowyer’s chances to win the championship.

Kenseth has advantage to break Chase tie

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
3:30
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Jared Tilton/Getty ImagesMatt Kenseth has reason to be confident heading into the stretch run of the Chase.
With just three stops remaining on the Sprint Cup schedule, the top two drivers in the standings, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, have earned the same number of points, with Kenseth ahead on the tiebreaker (most wins this season).

It’s just the second time there has been a tie atop the standings with three or fewer races remaining. The only other time was the final 2011 standings, where Tony Stewart won the championship over Carl Edwards thanks to his 5-1 advantage in wins.

Sunday, the Chase visits the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway (ESPN, 2 ET), with both drivers looking to gain an edge down the stretch.

By career numbers, this looks to be a toss-up. Kenseth has a narrow edge on Johnson in average finish at the track, 8.5 to 9.1, with each having two wins there.

But looking specifically at the eight Chase races at the track tells a different story. In those races, Kenseth’s average finish is more than five spots higher. Although Johnson won this race last year, Kenseth is coming off four straight top-five finishes in Chase races at Texas.

This is the 10th race this season to be held on a mile-and-a-half track, and Kenseth has won four of the first nine, with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch winning two of the others.

In fact, Kenseth has finished ahead of Johnson in seven of the nine 1.5-mile track races this season. However, one of two where Johnson beat the No. 20 team was at Texas earlier this season.

Johnson and the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization has yet to win a race on a 1.5-mile track this season, which is surprising, because no driver in NASCAR Cup Series history has won more often on 1.5-mile tracks than Johnson (17 wins).

But it’s not like Johnson has been a slouch on these tracks in 2013. No driver has run more fastest laps on those track this season, and he’s one of three drivers to average better than a 10th-place finish in the first nine races.

But it’s important to note not all 1.5-mile tracks are created equal. ESPN NASCAR analyst Ricky Craven says to look at Atlanta Motor Speedway for a Texas comparison.

“The primary similarity is the racing surface and the way the track wears tires, which encourages the drivers to move up the racetrack in the turns," Craven said. "Moving up the racetrack helps preserve the tires.”

Earlier this season, Johnson finished 28th at Atlanta, statistically putting up one of his worst races of the season after being involved in an early wreck and spinning without contact later in the race.

Johnson was only the fastest driver on three laps during the race, tying him for 16th-most in the field. By comparison, Kenseth was the fastest driver on 26 laps, the third-highest total in the field despite a 12th-place finish.

Inside 48's dominance at Martinsville

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
2:20
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Peter Casey/USA TODAY SportsJimmie Johnson trails only Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip for the most Cup wins at Martinsville.
With just four events to go in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson again finds himself at the front of the standings after surviving Talladega. He swapped places with Matt Kenseth after finishing 13th at the superspeedway and now paces Kenseth by a slim four-point margin.

With the rest of the field at least 26 points adrift, it’s looking more like a two-driver battle for the championship.

Jimmie Johnson Dominates Martinsville

But Kenseth might have a tough time keeping pace with Johnson as the series travels to Martinsville, one of Johnson’s best tracks on the schedule. He’s won there eight times, tied with Dover for his most wins at any venue, and his 5.3 average finish there is best all-time among drivers with at least 10 starts.

In Johnson’s win there earlier this season, he led 346 laps including the final 138, and was the fastest in the field on any given lap over 21 percent of the time. There’s certainly the potential for him to reach similar marks again this weekend, which should be a scary prospect for the competition.

What’s more, Johnson enters Martinsville with significant momentum. He’s paced the field for 467 laps during the Chase, 182 more than any other driver, and hasn’t had an average running position worse than 7.6 in any Chase start this season (average of a driver's running position on each lap).

Historically, Johnson trails Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip for the most Cup wins at Martinsville, but he's arguably been the most impressive there. He has won over a third of his starts (35 percent), a much higher percentage than both Petty (22) and Waltrip (21), and his average finish is over five places better than either.

Matt Kenseth Has Uphill Battle

Even if Johnson doesn’t win, Kenseth could certainly find himself losing ground leaving Virginia, as he’s rarely finished well at Martinsville. Since 2009, his average finish is just 15th, with only two top 10s in that span. In those same nine starts, Johnson has a 4.9 average finish with seven top 10s.

Kenseth has never won at Martinsville in 27 starts, behind only Pocono (28) for his most starts at any Cup track without a victory. However, his exemplary season (series-high seven wins) proves there is still reason for optimism.

Who has the edge: Kenseth or Jimmie?

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
6:13
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Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR/Getty ImagesThrough four Chase races, Matt Kenseth leads Jimmie Johnson by three points.
After Saturday’s race at Charlotte, the 2013 Chase will be half over, and the story through the first four races has been Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson separating from the pack.

Those two are separated by three points, with Kenseth holding the edge entering the weekend, with Kevin Harvick 25 points back in third place.

But who has the edge the rest of the way?

The Case for Matt Kenseth
Kenseth has a three-point lead over the five-time champion through four races, and historically, that pencils him in as the favorite.

Over the previous five seasons, the leader at this point went on to win four of the five championships. The exception was Kenseth’s former teammate Carl Edwards, who lost the 2011 title on a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart.

Also in Kenseth’s favor are the tracks remaining on the schedule. Three of the final six races will be held on 1.5-mile tracks (Charlotte, Texas, Homestead). This season, six of the eight races on 1.5-mile tracks have been won by drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing, including four by Kenseth.

The other two were won by Richard Childress Racing’s Kevin Harvick, meaning Johnson and the rest of the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports organization have been shut out in such races this season.

The Case for Jimmie Johnson
This is the fifth race of the 2013 Chase, and races 5-7 of the Chase have been Jimmie’s time to shine.

In the nine previous Chases, Johnson has 10 wins in 27 starts in races 5-7 of the Chase, with a 5.6 average finish. To compare, Kenseth has won two of those races with a career average finish of 14.5.

And despite Kenseth holding the points lead, Johnson has an edge over Kenseth in average finish, laps led and fastest laps run during the 2013 Chase. In fact, Johnson leads all drivers in those three areas during the 2013 Chase, with Kenseth ranking second in all three.

The Case Against Jimmie Johnson
Looking at the overall numbers, Johnson seems like a favorite for Saturday night’s race at Charlotte. His six wins at the track are the most among active drivers, and tied with Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for the most all-time. His 11.9 average finish is the best in track history among drivers with more than 10 starts.

But five of those six wins came in a six-race span from 2003-05, and he has just a single win in the last 15 Charlotte races, and an average finish close to 20th in the seven races there over the past four seasons.

Dating back to 2007, Johnson’s average finish at Charlotte is 17th, his third-worst mark at any of the 23 tracks on the current schedule in that time.

Chase could be 3-driver race after Kansas

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
2:35
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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.

Johnson could spoil Kenseth’s history

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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Matt Kenseth’s Chase has started about as well as it could, with back-to-back wins at Chicago and New Hampshire putting him atop the points with eight races remaining.

That start, although impressive, is not unprecedented.

Kenseth is the third driver in the past six seasons to start the Chase with back-to-back wins, and his performance means that in all 10 seasons of the Chase, a driver has won back-to-back races during the 10-race playoff.

Where Kenseth could do something of significance is if he wins a third consecutive race Sunday at Dover (1 p.m. ET on ESPN & WatchESPN).

Since 1995, only two drivers have won three consecutive races, and both have done it twice.

Jeff Gordon won three straight races in 1996 but finished second in points to teammate Terry Labonte. Two years later, Gordon won four in a row as part of his modern-era-tying 13 Chase wins.

Jimmie Johnson won three straight in the inaugural Chase in 2004 but finished second in points to Kurt Busch. Three years later, Johnson won races 6 through 9 of the Chase, winning his second of five straight titles.

Kenseth is on the short list of Dover favorites, as he’s a two-time winner at the track and has eight top-five finishes in his past 11 starts there.

Since 2005, when NASCAR began tracking loop data, Kenseth ranks second in laps spent in the top 15, green-flag speed and overall driver rating.

But, looking at the stats, he isn’t the favorite this weekend at the Monster Mile, as five-time champion Jimmie Johnson ranks ahead of him in all three of those categories.

Johnson has started his 2013 Chase with back-to-back top-5 finishes, but he is third in the points thanks to Kenseth’s consecutive wins, along with Kyle Busch’s back-to-back second-place finishes. He could gain ground at Dover, though.

Johnson is a seven-time Cup series winner at Dover, tying him with Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for the most in the track’s history. But Johnson needed fewer starts than both Petty and Allison to reach seven wins.

Johnson has been even stronger recently at Dover. In nine races there dating back to the start of the 2009 season, Johnson has led over half of the 3,600 laps run (1,824), taking the checkered flag in four of those starts.

In that same five-season span, Johnson’s average driver rating (a statistic that encompasses many of NASCAR’s loop data statistics) is a 134.5.

That’s the highest mark by any driver at any track in that span, and no other driver is over 126, with a perfect rating being 150.

Value of 1st race to Chase is significant

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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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
9/13/13
1:20
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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
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.

Is Harvick a legit title threat?

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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Jared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesKevin Harvick is looking for bigger reasons to celebrate.

Kevin Harvick sits fourth in the Sprint Cup Series standings with two races until the Chase, basically a lock to make the Chase for a fourth straight season and the seventh time in the last eight years.

He’s only one of five drivers in the series with multiple wins this season, joining championship favorites Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne.

However, a deeper look shows that he might not be quite the championship threat that his wins and points position make him out to be.

Inside the numbers
Two of the best measures of a driver’s performance are average running position, an average of where he’s been on the track for every lap, and fastest laps run, a count of the amount of times the driver was the fastest on the track on a given green-flag lap.

Harvick ranks eighth in both of these categories, which would put him firmly in the 12-driver Chase, but not among the favorites.

“Happy” has also rarely been found running at the front of the pack this season.

Despite winning a pair of races, he’s led just 51 laps in the 24 races this season, ranking 21st in the series. He led 28 of 400 laps in his Charlotte win in May, and only three of 400 for his win at Richmond in April.

Harvick is labeled “The Closer” for his ability to appear at the front of the pack late in race. The nickname is deserved, but also is a label for his inability to run up front consistently and dominate races.

Last year, Harvick led just 256 laps, 13th among all drivers. This season, seven drivers have already reached that mark and an eighth, Martin Truex Jr., is at 255.

But Harvick should never be ruled out of a race just because he didn’t lead early or much at all. In five of his 11 wins dating back to the 2007 Daytona 500, Harvick has led four or fewer laps.

In NASCAR’s modern era, going back to 1972, no other driver has more than three such wins, and only eight have won multiple races when leading four or fewer laps.

Despite Harvick’s high overall season points ranking, he has been sliding recently. Over the last five races, Harvick ranks 17th in points, behind drivers way outside of Chase contention such as Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya.

However, in that same span, he still has more points than the perennial championship favorite, Jimmie Johnson, who is 19th in that span.

Keselowski cools off after hot start

August, 1, 2013
8/01/13
11:52
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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).

Hendrick power on display in 2013

March, 22, 2013
3/22/13
11:05
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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.

Wrecks may keep Patrick out of victory lane

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
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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
Kenseth
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).

POLE PROBLEMS
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 FAREWELL
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.

Jimmie Johnson feels at home at Fontana

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
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There is no team with more momentum in Sprint Cup than the 48 squad, with most of that coming from off the track.
Jimmie Johnson
Johnson
Jimmie Johnson and company won their final appeal earlier this week, meaning he gets his 25 points back, and jumps from 17th to 11th in the standings. That puts Johnson just two points back of 10th.

He’s been impressive on the track as well. After a disappointing Daytona 500, Johnson has reeled off three straight top-10 finishes.

Now, Johnson heads home (he's from southern California) to arguably his strongest track, Fontana. He leads all active drivers at Auto Club Speedway in: wins (5); top 5s (12); laps led (849); and average finish (5.1).

Johnson’s average running position in his last 13 starts at Fontana is 5.4, nearly four positions better than the next-closest driver (Matt Kenseth, 9.1).

Johnson consistently puts himself in a better position to win than any other driver at Fontana. In the last 13 races at the track, 95.5 percent of his laps run have been inside the top 15. No other driver has a higher percentage than 82.7 in that span.

A Johnson win would mark a historical occasion as well. His team, Hendrick Motorsports, is seeking its 200th Cup victory, a milestone only Petty Enterprises (268 wins) has reached. Hendrick has won a record nine Cup races at California, and will likely be the team to beat Sunday.

Matt Kenseth's road to Victory Lane

February, 28, 2012
2/28/12
10:31
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ESPN Stats & InformationAfter languishing near the back of the pack in the early laps, Matt Kenseth led the final 38 laps on the way to his second career Daytona 500 win.
Matt Kenseth overcame overheating problems early in the race to win the Daytona 500 for the second time in the past four years. Here’s a look at the road he took to Victory Lane.

Lap 2
Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick, Trevor Bayne and Jimmie Johnson are involved in a wreck in Turn 1. It’s the earliest accident in the Great American Race since 1990, as there hadn’t been a wreck before Lap 5 in the previous 22 Daytona 500s. It was Johnson’s fifth accident in the past six 500s, the second-most among drivers over that span.

Lap 43
Kenseth turns a blistering lap of 44.861 seconds, which remains his fastest time until he tops it with a time of 44.746 with six laps to go.

Lap 81
Jeff Gordon’s engine explodes and catches fire. With teammate Jimmie Johnson in the garage after completing only one lap, Hendrick Motorsports is having a 500 to forget. Gordon and Johnson combine to record 82 laps and only seven points.

Lap 92
In the 12 laps following Gordon’s engine failure, Kenseth trims a whopping 55-second deficit to a 0.1650 one, moving from 32nd to fifth in the process. Kenseth takes advantage of Terry Labonte’s caution on Lap 88 (spun by Marcos Ambrose), entering the pits in 10th place and leaving them in fifth.

Lap 142
Kenseth chases down leader Denny Hamlin and passes him three laps later. Running ninth on Lap 137, Kenseth charges through the field and takes the lead on Lap 146. Following a pit stop for David Stremme’s blown engine (and a 2-hour, 5-minute red flag after Juan Pablo Montoya hit a jet-dryer truck under caution), Kenseth retakes the lead for good on Lap 165.

Lap 201
Kenseth holds off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and teammate Greg Biffle by hundredths of a second on the race’s final restart to claim the checkered flag.
The top notes, stats and trends to come from Matt Kenseth’s win in the 2012 Daytona 500:

• Kenseth is the ninth driver to win multiple Daytona 500's and fourth active driver to do so. The other three active multiple winners are Jeff Gordon (3), Michael Waltrip (2) and Bill Elliott (2).

• This was the 300th NASCAR National Series win for Roush Fenway Racing (including the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series). They are the first team to reach that mark.

• This snapped a 10-year streak of different Daytona 500 winners, the longest such streak in race history.

• Kenseth is the fourth driver to win both his qualifying race and the Daytona 500 in the same season since 1990, along with Sterling Marlin (1995), Dale Earnhardt (1998) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2004).

• Of the past five Daytona 500 winners, none has finished the season higher than 10th place in the final points standings. The most recent driver to win the Daytona 500 and finish first in the end-of-season points standings was Jimmie Johnson in 2006.

• Johnson was among those involved in a Lap 2 wreck. Johnson has been involved in five wrecks in the past six Daytona 500's. He hasn't finished better than 27th in the Daytona 500 since winning it in 2006. He finished 42nd, tying a career worst.

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