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Thursday, October 14, 2010
Crunching numbers for Charlotte


Watching last Sunday's Cup race at California, a thought popped into my head. Is Jimmie Johnson winning the Chase, or did several other drivers just lose it?

Johnson has left the door more open in the past, an opinion I shared in my last blog. If you want the details, please just go ahead and glance at my last entry -- I won't go anywhere. In fact, I'll stop typing for a bit, grab a drink, maybe a quick 10-minute nap, let you catch up. Of course, you'll never know that -- it'll seem instantaneous to you.

It's not just the drivers who have crashed out or blown engines -- the drivers directly behind Johnson and within shouting distance have given up some points, too. Tony Stewart ran out of gas while leading the Chase opener. Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick both got speeding penalties on pit road this week, leaving some points on the table.

Second-place Denny Hamlin hasn't had a bad finish but went into the past few races with an attitude of just trying to survive and advance. Going in with that mindset can cost you, and it did. After dominating Richmond in the regular-season finale, Hamlin has not led a lap in the Chase, leaving 20 possible bonus points on the table.

Now we're heading to a track where Johnson is tied for the most career wins, but is he as good there as labeled? This is where my numbers come into play, because here come my favorite loop data stats previewing the weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway:

Seamless transition

Usually I use those section titles to preview the note, but I thought that was funnier.

Like I was saying, Johnson's numbers in 2002-06 at Charlotte were just unreal. In 10 races, he had five wins and no finish worse than seventh. Since 2007 he has just one win in seven races, and that's his only top-5 finish in that span.

NASCAR's loop data numbers go to 2005, and time and lack of raw data prevent me from getting specific numbers since 2007, but the figures speak for themselves. Johnson still leads all drivers in that time in driver rating, fastest laps run, speed in traffic and overall green-flag speed.

And despite some bad finishes, Johnson's shown an ability to get to the front, leading in each of his past 17 Charlotte starts.

Other than the 48

In the three previous Chases, we've had only one race winner come from outside the Chase. That was Jamie McMurray last year at Talladega, but it wouldn't surprise me if a non-Chaser won at Charlotte, and it might come from out of nowhere.

Joey Logano has only seven top-5 finishes in his young career -- one of those last year in the fall race at Charlotte -- and he comes in with momentum, as two others have been in the past four races.

Charlotte is Logano's best track in terms of driver rating, and he leads all drivers since 2005 in quality passes (green-flag passes in the top 15) per race and in speed in traffic. So don't be surprised if Logano plays spoiler Saturday night.

Charlotte sweep?

No driver has won both points races and the All-Star Race at Charlotte in the same year. Well, it could happen this year (why else would I bring that up?), courtesy Kurt Busch, who might have something to prove after a little run-in with David Ragan at California.

Busch dominated at Charlotte in the spring, putting up a near-perfect driver rating of 147.8. A perfect rating is 150 and has been done only 10 times since 2005, and not this year. He led 252 of the 400 laps in the 600-miler at Charlotte in the spring, running all but one lap in the top 15. He also ran the fastest lap on 77 circuits. No other driver ran more than 39.

Could this be Busch's opportunity to get himself back in the Chase? Let's wait and see.

That's all I have for this week. Enjoy the race!