Johnson could spoil Kenseth’s history

September, 25, 2013
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.
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.



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