Stats & Info: NASCAR

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 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.

Expect another different winner at Texas

April, 5, 2014
Apr 5
Here are the projections for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Texas. 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 1.5-mile quad-oval) and time of year.

Expect another different winner
There have been six different winners in each of the Sprint Cup Series races this season -- the first time that’s happened in the Chase era. Only four times in Cup Series history has a season started with seven different winners in a row, most recently in 2003 (nine straight). Our projections this week anticipate that trend continuing, with Greg Biffle picking up his first win of the year.

Expect No. 48 to finish well
Jimmie Johnson, the projected winner in each of the past two races, led more than half the laps in each race but came away winless both times. He had a flat tire while leading inside the final 10 laps at California and was passed for the lead with 11 laps to go at Martinsville but should be good again this week, as he’s won two of the past three races at Texas.

Busch eye smaller gap between wins
Last week at Martinsville, Kurt Busch passed Jimmie Johnson late to pick up his first win since October 2011, snapping an 83-race winless streak. Between his past two NSCS wins, Busch drove for four different teams, starting with Team Penske and finishing up at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Can Junior stay hot?
In six races this season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. already has four top-3 finishes, including a third-place finish last week at Martinsville. In his first five years with Hendrick Motorsports (2008-12), he never had more than five top-3 finishes in a season. Last year he had seven but was held winless.

Make it a weekend
The spring Texas race has been held on Saturday nights in recent years, but instead of competing with the Final Four in Arlington, the track is offering fans a combination ticket package, including tickets to the race, along with Saturday and Monday’s NCAA men’s semifinal and championship games.

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.

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.

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).

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.