|ESPN.com: Willis||[Print without images]|
I consider myself a man of the people. In fact, I've been a person myself for quite some time. In being a man of the people, I like to go to bat for the little guys, those pushed around and badmouthed by the public.
Today, I stick up for Pocono Raceway.
Yes, I realize the racing there can be a little on the boring side, but what track doesn't see some down laps? Yes, the facilities are outdated and the track one of the less safe on the circuit, but those things can be spruced up.
Hmm, I'm not doing a very good job of sticking up for Pocono right now, am I? But wait, I'm going somewhere.
NASCAR needs Pocono, the same way I need a cool beverage right now. Ah, that's better. Now let me tell you why.
I hear the chatter that fans don't like the abundance of "cookie cutter" tracks. The cry is for more short tracks and restrictor-plate tracks. Now I'd love some more short-track action, and we might see a driver revolt if another plate race is added, but we also must think outside the box.
While Pocono might not be the most exciting, you have to appreciate it for the test it sets up for drivers, crew chiefs and engineers. There are three distinct corners with straightaways that challenge the engines. Pocono combines elements from several types of racing.
So, not only do we need Pocono, we need tracks that don't fit any other type of mold on the schedule. Let's think outside the box, especially in this time when the 2011 schedule is still in flux.
Now, on to this week's preview, using the finest in stats from NASCAR's loop data.
I played an awesome game called paddleball in college, and one of the coaches that played with us used to try to get in my head (unsuccessfully) by telling me he was in my kitchen.
Let me tell you, this week, Denny Hamlin's in everybody's kitchen.
There's no doubt that Pocono is Hamlin's domain. He's won each of the last two races there and has four wins in nine career Pocono starts.
To go a step further, look at this list of the most fastest laps run at Pocono since 2005.
Denny Hamlin -- 328
Kurt Busch -- 241
Kasey Kahne -- 155
Carl Edwards -- 141
Jimmie Johnson -- 119
What makes that more impressive is that Hamlin's run only nine of the 11 races in that time. Imagine where he'd be with two more races.
OK, Hamlim's clearly number one at Pocono. But there's a clear number two as well, looking at the numbers, which is sort of my thing.
Kurt Busch's average finish numbers are dragged down by a couple of bad breaks at Pocono, but if you look at the time he was on the track, Busch has been solid. Since 2005, Busch has the second-fastest car late in runs, on restarts, in traffic and overall.
And let's not forget that Busch has put up a perfect driver rating, not a common feat, twice in that time in winning at the Triangle.
I've talked about points leader Kevin Harvick often in this little column. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to do it again.
Mike Forde, NASCAR's Sultan of Stats, had a fun Harvick nugget in his prerace notes this week. He's really starting to hit a solid stride heading into the last few races before the Chase. Harvick, not Forde. Forde's always doing good.
Over his last five races, Harvick's had a driver rating nearing 110. But what really impresses me is that he has an average running position of 8.8 and an average finish of 2.8.
So, not only is Harvick running well, he's finding a way to move up through the field late in races.
That's all I have for you this week. Enjoy the race!