Category archive: Kevin Harvick

When a usually dominant superpower slows down from its normal winning ways, we as sports fans want to know, "What's wrong with X?"

Whether it's the Yankees, Patriots, Lakers or Hendrick Motorsports, domination is the norm, and anything less leaves us begging for an explanation.

Sometimes, it's not so easy to answer the question. In the case of Hendrick, the team has had strong runs, races it should've won and cases of bad luck.

Still, through it all, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been the most consistent driver in the series this year and is third in the standings. Jimmie Johnson is solidly within the top 10 in eighth place. Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne have had glimpses of strength negated by bad breaks.

But NASCAR is built on wins, and Hendrick hasn't done that since last October, the team's longest streak since a 17-race winless run over the 2001-02 seasons. The last time Hendrick went this long into the season without a win was 1993, aka Jeff Gordon's rookie season.

But Darlington could turn that around.

Dating back to 2005, when NASCAR began tracking loop data, all four current Hendrick Motorsports drivers rank among the top eight in driver rating at the Lady in Black, including Gordon, who's way out in front. No other team has more than one driver represented in the top eight.

However, which Jeff Gordon will show up? In 2010, Gordon had a career-best 134 driver rating, with his 69 fastest laps run in the race being twice as many as any other driver.

Last year, Gordon slipped to a still-respectable 107.3, the sixth-highest in the field.

Kasey Kahne is just as badly in need of a win as Gordon is, and last year, Kahne had the race's dominant car, all while driving for now-defunct Red Bull Racing. Kahne started from the pole and finished fourth, snapping a five-race Darlington stretch of finishes of 20th or worse.

But expect Kahne to start near the front. In nine career Darlington starts, he's won four poles.

Looking For Trouble

Every week, our friends over at ESPN Stats & Information crunch the numbers and tell us where the trouble zones might be this weekend.

After nearly 1,600 miles of Sprint Cup Series racing without an accident, we saw four, including a pair of nine-car pileups, at Talladega.

At Darlington, the sun might be the biggest obstacle. The sun is scheduled to set at Darlington around 8:13 p.m., during the first quarter of the race.

Since 2005, we've had at least one accident in the first quarter of the race in every Darlington night race, with 14 accidents total. Over the final 75 percent of the race, there have been a total of 20 accidents, with no more than eight in any other quarter.

The Eliminator: Darlington

For those of you who are new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to make a pick.

It's pretty simple, instead of telling you somebody will win, I'll point out why everybody else has to lose. The driver remaining, by process of elimination, is the race winner.

And last year, I had Carl Edwards at Darlington, who finished second behind upset winner Regan Smith.

1. The last 13 Sprint Cup Series winners finished 16th or better in the last race at the track (30 drivers eliminated, 16 remaining).

2. The last 17 Darlington winners finished 17th or better in the previous week's race (nine eliminated, seven remaining).

3. Seven of the last nine Darlington winners had a top-10 finish in the last Texas race (four eliminated, three remaining).

4. Two of the last three Southern 500s have been won by drivers entering 15th or lower in points (two eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Kasey Kahne

Here we are at the quarter-pole mark of the season, and this space is usually reserved for me telling you what I think you should watch for in Sunday's race.

But the truth is, it's my blog, my rules, and I feel like looking back over the first nine races of the season and pointing out some things I've noticed that are worth learning.

How about Jimmie Johnson? Despite being winless this year, Johnson leads the series in pass differential with a plus-94 mark. He has led more laps than any other driver and has been the fastest on the track far more often than any other driver.

Johnson has paced the field on 334 laps this season; the next-highest mark is Matt Kenseth's 166. Plus, Johnson is the fastest car in the second, third and fourth quarters of the race, so his key to victory might be getting off to a faster start.

Now let's go lightning style on three other drivers who have caught my eye:

• Mark Martin -- People are waiting for him to win a race and are wondering if he'd be a Chase contender if he were running full time. I'd say contender, yes, lock, no.

The issue? Falling off late in races. Martin is about 0.75 mph faster than the average green-flag speed in the first quarter of races he runs this season, but that mark drops every quarter of the race.

• Kevin Harvick -- While Hendrick Motorsports has garnered attention this year for not winning, Richard Childress Racing is also winless this season. Harvick is the most notable of those drivers to be winless.

His problem, like Martin's, has been adjusting as the race goes. No car is faster than Harvick on average in the first quarter of the race, 1.3 mph quicker than the average speed. But his speed drops even lower than Martin's, down to just 0.35 mph faster than the average car in the final quarter, which puts him about 14th in the series.

• Carl Edwards -- Edwards has been a disappointment early on in the season, but the truth is that his points position has been better than his performance. He's 14th in the series in average position and driver rating this year but ninth in series points.

The key to his success are late-race runs. He leads the series in pass differential in the final 10 percent of races with a plus-31. Second place is just at plus-19.

Looking for Trouble

The past few races have been noteworthy for their lack of accidents and overall cautions. But this week we go to Talladega, where it doesn't take much to trigger a 15-car pileup. This is what the bright minds over at ESPN Stats & Information have to say:

Since 1990, when we began compiling complete data, this is by far the longest the Sprint Cup Series has gone without an accident -- not counting a spin or brush with the wall that brings out a debris caution.

But at Talladega, it's not over 'til it's over.

Since 1990, we've had six last-lap wrecks at Talladega, twice as many as any other track in that time.

The Eliminator: Talladega

For those of you new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to make a pick.

It's pretty simple: Instead of telling you somebody will win, I'll point out why everybody else has to lose. The driver remaining, by process of elimination, is the projected race winner.

And even though it's Talladega, I'll still try my best here.

1. The past 12 Sprint Cup Series winners finished 16th or better in the previous race at the track (29 eliminated, 15 remaining).

2. Eleven of the past 12 spring Talladega winners finished in the top 12 in the most recent Sprint Cup Series race (nine eliminated, six remaining).

3. The past six spring Talladega winners finished 15th or worse in the previous year's spring Talladega race (two eliminated, four remaining).

4. Six of the past seven Talladega winners were winless on the season entering the race (three eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Kasey Kahne

Looking straight up at the Sprint Cup winners at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, two teams have dominated Victory Lane -- Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing, combining to win 12 of the 14 races at the track.

And although Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards have both won there recently, I want to analyze two Hendrick drivers for my little blog this week. And I can, because it's my blog.

Jimmie Johnson has won four of the past seven Las Vegas races, but in true Sin City fashion, it's been all or nothing for the 48.

Besides those four wins, Johnson has never had a top-5 finish at Las Vegas, and he's finished 16th or worse in three of the past four races. His race here last season was especially a letdown.

In that race, Johnson was passed 84 times under green flag, the most he's been passed in a Vegas race since NASCAR began tracking loop data in 2005. He also failed to lead a lap and spent just 37 percent of his laps in the top 15, so a 16th-place finish might've been better than he ran.

Jeff Gordon is another story. He has one Vegas win, coming back in his last championship season, 2001. But Gordon has been overdue for a win at Vegas, as he's had five top-5 finishes in his past seven races.

So what's his problem?

Plain and simple, Gordon has to run a clean race. His only two non-top-5 finishes in the past seven events there were races he wrecked out of, including a hard crash in 2008 that was scary to watch. Last year, Gordon finished 36th after wrecking out. Over the past four Vegas races, he's the only driver with multiple crash-related DNFs.

In fact, Gordon has been involved in four accidents at Vegas since the track opened, the only driver involved in that many.

Looking for Trouble

Every week, our stats and analysis team sends out a breakdown of the wrecks at a track. I'm going to call this weekly entry Looking for Trouble. Here's this week's takeaway:

Watch out for Turn 2 at Las Vegas. Statistically, the second turn is usually the most dangerous, as six of the past seven most-wrecked areas of all tracks are the second turn. But Vegas' second turn is especially treacherous.

At Vegas, 46.8 percent of all wrecks take place in the second turn. That's the highest percentage of any track's accidents in a single area dating back to 1999.

The Eliminator: Las Vegas

For those of you new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to make my race pick. It's pretty simple: Instead of telling you why one guy will win, I'll point out why everybody else has to lose. The driver remaining, by process of elimination, is the race winner.

1. The past eight Las Vegas winners finished 16th or better in both of the previous season's Charlotte races (32 eliminated, 11 remaining).

2. Every Las Vegas winner finished in the top 15 in the most recent Chicagoland race since that track opened (five eliminated, six remaining).

3. Every Las Vegas winner had a top-4 finish in one of the first two races of the season (five eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Kevin Harvick.

Before I get to my usual rambling and weekly preview, a quick thought: A Saturday night race this week at Charlotte Motor Speedway means no competition with the NFL and limited competition with college football.

If NASCAR were to start holding races on, say, Thursday or Friday nights during the Chase, would you be more likely to watch than on Sunday afternoons, when there's the NFL to be had?

Let's start a conversation in the comments section and let me know your thoughts!

Now, as for Charlotte ...

Earlier this season, we saw Carl Edwards dominate the Sprint All-Star Race and Kevin Harvick come out of nowhere to win the Coke 600 when a certain fan favorite (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) ran out of fuel in the final turn.

But despite their recent success at Charlotte, both drivers have struggled at the track since 2005.

Edwards ranks between 11th and 14th in the biggest of the loop-data categories: average running position, fastest laps run, green-flag speed and overall driver rating.

Harvick is in even rougher shape, ranking outside the top 20 in all of those categories.

So, who could take advantage? The easy answer is Jimmie Johnson, who leads the series in all those categories. But from 2005-09, Johnson's average driver rating was a 118.9. In the three races since, it's a pedestrian 92.7. Still good, but certainly not dominating, and not the best in the series.

So, let's say the numbers hold true, and those three struggle Saturday night. Who could take advantage?

How about the man who led the field in driver rating, laps led, fastest laps run and quality passes (green-flag passes inside the top 15) in the spring race at Charlotte?

If you like those numbers, you'd like Matt Kenseth. Kenseth finished 14th in that race but appeared to be the class of the field.

My prediction: the usual unpredictability.

The Eliminator: Charlotte

Most people just pick winners -- some by hunches, some by stats and some by just picking names off the top of their heads. I don't pick winners; I pick losers. I'll make my race pick by telling you why all but one driver in the field just can't win.

1. Sixteen of the past 17 Charlotte winners had a previous top-10 finish at the track (11 eliminated, 37 remaining).

2. The past eight fall Charlotte winners had a win earlier in the season (23 eliminated, 14 remaining).

3. Eight of the past nine Charlotte winners finished 11th or better in the previous Kansas race (eight eliminated, six remaining).

4. The past four and six of the past seven Charlotte winners finished in the top 13 of the most recent Charlotte race (four eliminated, two remaining).

5. The past four Charlotte winners and the past four fall Charlotte winners had top-20 finishes in their past three races overall (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Kevin Harvick.

It should be pretty widely accepted that this is the best sports time of the year. We have the Chase, the start of college and pro football, baseball pennant races, and so on.

But, I'm here to talk Chase, since that's probably why you clicked on me. (Thanks for clicking on me.)

Let's talk about how juicy this Chase is. I'm talking nicely-seared, but still moist on the inside. Who wants to join me for a steak?

First, you have Jimmie Johnson. Formerly known as vanilla, Johnson suddenly has himself a heated rivalry with another champ, 2004 title winner Kurt Busch.

I'd say something about Kurt Busch here, but I haven't quite finished this article yet, and I'm worried he might tear it up before I can send it in, like he did here.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back in the Chase after a two-year absence. Junior's not showing the speed of his teammates right now, but, like Lloyd Christmas said in "Dumb and Dumber," "So you're telling me there's a chance? Yeah!"

And while five-time's going to try to become six-time, there's another driver looking to join Johnson, Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty as drivers with at least five Cup titles, and that's Jeff Gordon.

Let me break it down for you -- numbers style.

Stay Away From the Top

The No. 1 seed for this year's Chase will be Kyle Busch, and his history from that slot isn't great.

Think back to 2008, when Busch came in looking like the man to beat, already having won eight races.

But his Chase started with finishes of 34th, 43rd and 28th, making him an afterthought.

This year, the talk is of the new Kyle Busch. Hopefully, he has a short memory.

Trivia break: Who is the only driver to win the Chase after starting outside the top three in points?

Feels Like the First Time

Brad Keselowski is the only first-time Chaser in this year's field, and like Busch, that hasn't been a good slot to be in.

In 2010, there were no first-time Chasers, but in the previous year, we had two, Juan Pablo Montoya and Brian Vickers. Montoya finished the Chase eighth in points, while Vickers was 12th.

Trivia break: Since the Chase expanded to 12 drivers in 2007, who has the best finish by a first-time Chaser?

What it Takes

So, having analyzed the numbers, here's what I think it'll take to win the Chase.

It might not take wins, four of the past seven Chases have been won by a driver winning one or fewer Chase races.

Over the past four years, Jimmie Johnson has averaged 6.5 top-5s and 8.5 top-10s en route to the title. His average finish was a 5.9 and he didn't record a single DNF.

It's a tall task, but one driver has to be up to it.

Trivia break: Who is the only driver to win a Chase without winning a Chase race that same season?

Chase Power Rankings

I wanted to come up with something to rank the strength of the Chase drivers on a race-by-race basis.

So I came up with my own little nerdy formula, using recent performance this season, along with recent performance at the track.

Remember, this isn't for the rest of the Chase, only heading into Chicago.

1. Jeff Gordon
2. Jimmie Johnson
3. Carl Edwards
4. Tony Stewart
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Kyle Busch
7. Matt Kenseth
8. Denny Hamlin
9. Brad Keselowski
10. Ryan Newman
11. Kurt Busch
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Trivia Break Answers

1) Kurt Busch started the 2004 Chase seventh but won the title.
2) Clint Bowyer was third in 2007.
3 Tony Stewart won the 2005 title without winning a Chase race.

OK, I'm willing to admit when I am beat. This is one of those times.

There's not a whole lot I can do to preview the Kentucky race specifically. You know, that whole thing about their not having previously run there.

I could use Nationwide Series stats, maybe throw some Trucks in there, but we're talking completely different cars and levels of competition. And I respect you, my beloved readers, far too much to jerk you around like that.

So, wouldn't this be a nice time to take a look ahead at the rest of the season, both leading up to the Chase and the Chase itself? That's two things for the price of one. However, that price, as always, is free.

I know there are quite a few Tony Stewart fans out there, and he's been surlier than normal lately, talking of spinning all those who dare block "Smoke." Well, he does find himself squarely on the bubble heading down the stretch.

But, stress not, Smoke fans. This is the time of year when he tends to make a charge, so I think he can make a run to get back into the top 10.

Let's talk title picture. Kevin Harvick is the new points leader following Daytona, but I'm not going to give him the favorite label. Harvick ranks seventh in both driver rating and overall green-flag speed. His consistency and ability to pop up late in the race might have earned him a few wins, but given the raw numbers of his performance throughout the year, I expect that pace to fall off shortly.

What about the previous leader, Carl Edwards? Edwards has had the best car late in green-flag runs this year, but there's a driver who bests him in just about every other category.

That man is Kyle Busch.

He's a quiet third in points, but digging deeper shows his strength. He leads the series in average speed in traffic, on restarts, early in runs and overall.

His driver rating is a 109.9; only one other driver has a rating better than 100 on the year. It's a 9.2-point drop to second-place Edwards, more than the spread from the second- to seventh-place drivers.

Average running position is the most dominant indicator of strength. Busch's average position this season on a lap-by-lap basis is a 9.24, and from there it's 3.33 down to second-place Kurt Busch.

The 3.33 spread is more than the spread from second to 15th-place Paul Menard. Impressive stuff, if you ask me.

Eliminator: Kentucky Edition

Most people just pick winners, some by hunches, some by stats, and some by just picking a name off the top of their head.

I don't pick winners; I pick losers. I'll make my race pick by telling you why all but one driver in the field just can't win.

1) The past 20 winners on 1.5-mile tracks all had a previous Sprint Cup Series win (18 eliminated, 30 remaining).
2)The past seven and 10 of the past 11 winners on 1.5-mile tracks had a top-20 finish in the previous 1.5-mile race (11 eliminated, 19 remaining).
3) The past four winners this season had a previous top-two finish on the season (six eliminated, 13 remaining).
4) In five of the past six inaugural races at a track, the winner had a top-5 finish in the previous Cup race (10 eliminated, three remaining).
5) The past five and eight of the past nine winners this season came from outside the top five in points (two eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: David Ragan

For us NASCAR statistical bloggers, of which I believe I'm the only one, there are certain nightmare situations.

Like having all your notes written, and then an engine failure or a late-race caution completely destroys your race recap. Or when your calculator overheats, since I don't keep an abacus at my desk anymore.

But, the ones that keep popping up are these darn restrictor-plate races.

Don't get me wrong, I love the wildness and the anyone-can-win style of racing. It's just that trying to break down these races and giving you, my adoring fans, some fine statistical preview is just a lot more difficult than the typical week.

But I've done my best, combing through the numbers, and while I might not know what's going to happen Saturday night at Daytona, there are a number of things that I think I know.

First of all, there's a pretty level playing field. At the Daytona 500, out of the 43-car starting field, 40 drivers ran the fastest lap on at least one circuit. At Talladega, 37 of the 43 drivers had at least one fastest lap run.

The only driver who ran both races but didn't run a fastest lap in either one was Joe Nemechek. So if Front Row Joe makes the field, don't expect great things out of him.

I do know one thing, in both of the prior restrictor-plate races this year, Clint Bowyer topped the field in average running position (just the driver's average position by lap) in both races. He finished 17th at Daytona and second at Talladega.

In fact, expect the whole Richard Childress Racing team to run up front and be in the mix. Jeff Burton was second in average running position at Talladega, and Paul Menard fourth in both prior restrictor-plate races. On top of that, Childress-powered Regan Smith was fifth-highest in both races, and he showed he was among the best pushers in February at Daytona.

Two more? Kurt Busch was third in that category in both races, and nobody ran more fastest laps in the two races combined than Kyle Busch. He had 18; nobody else had more than 14.

But, that's just what I think I know.

The Eliminator: Daytona

Most people just pick winners, some by hunches, some by stats, and some by just picking a name off the top of their head.

I don't pick winners, I pick losers. I'll make my race pick by telling you why all but one driver in the field just can't win.

Last week, my pick was Jeff Gordon, and he finished second. I'm just saying.

1) The last 14 and 25 of the last 26 Daytona winners who had raced there before had a previous top-5 finish there (17 drivers eliminated, 28 left).
2) The last three July Daytona winners had a previous win at Talladega (17 eliminated, 11 left).
3) Six of the last seven July Daytona winners finished eighth or better in that year's Daytona 500 (nine out, two left).
4) The last five Sprint Cup Series winners this season finished in the top 20 in each of the previous three races (one out, one left).

Your winner: Kyle Busch

If there's been one prevailing theme to this season so far, it has to be the semisuccessful return of my weekly Eliminator pick.

Wait, no, that isn't it, but if that's what you've taken out of this season so far, then bless you.

No, what I'll remember, at least from the first 15 races, is the "out of nowhere" winners. I'm talking way beyond the unpredictable wins from Trevor Bayne, Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski.

No, it's a matter of drivers coming out of nowhere during the course of the race, the beneficiary of late-race shuffling due to accidents, pit stops, natural disasters or some sort of alien invasion.

It's a developing trend. In the first nine races of the season, the winner ranked among the top three in the race in overall green-flag speed. There were only two exceptions. The first was when Jimmie Johnson won at Talladega, a race where you can usually throw out the stats, since everyone's on a level playing field, more or less.

The other was Kevin Harvick's Martinsville win, when he was 13th in the field in overall speed. Harvick's victory was also the only race where the winner did not have a "top-10" car, meaning that the driver's average running position in the race was among the top 10 in that race.

But lately, the only criteria for a winner has just been an ability to stay on the lead lap. In half of the last six races, the winner has not been among the top 10 for a race in either green-flag speed or average running position. Take a look at that chart.

In five of the first nine races of the year, the winner had the top overall green-flag speed in the race. But it hasn't happened in any of the last six races.

Could we see the same late-race unpredictability at Sonoma? It sure does keep me glued to my TV.

The Eliminator -- Sonoma Edition

Most people just pick winners -- some by hunches, some by stats and some by just picking a name off the top of their head.

I don't pick winners, I pick losers. I'll make my race pick by telling you why all but one driver in the field just can't win.

And if you doubt the mighty Eliminator power, check out the U.S. Open Golf Eliminator I did early last week before the tournament. McIlroy!!!

1) Since 1987, every road course winner had a top-5 finish earlier that season. (18 drivers eliminated, 26 remaining).
2) There's only been one first-time race winner in 22 all time Sonoma races. (Five eliminated, 21 remaining).
3) Of the last 13 Sonoma winners, 12 who had previously raced at Watkins Glen finished in the top 14 in the last race there. (12 eliminated, nine remaining).
4) Of the last 18 Sonoma winners, 16 who had previously raced there had a top-15 finish in the last race (five eliminated, four remaining).
5) Each of the last four Sprint Cup Series race winners finished in the top 20 in each of the last three races (two eliminated, two remaining).
6) Of the last 12 Sonoma winners, 11 entered the race fifth or worse in the points. (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Jeff Gordon

I think Jimmie Johnson said it best when he told Kevin Harvick, "Hey Kevin Harvick, can I have my horseshoe back? Please?"

Well, he didn't say it per se, but he did tweet it, which is basically the same thing. (You can follow me at @MattWillisESPN. Do it!)

Anyway, that's in reference to Kevin Harvick saying last year that Jimmie Johnson has a golden horseshoe stuck somewhere uncomfortable. Well, Mr. Harvick, Jimmie's right, and now the horseshoe's in the other … well, you know.

Let's look at the numbers, since that's sort of my specialty. Harvick has won a Cup Series-high three races this season. But in those three wins, he's led only nine laps! And no more than six in any single race.

For the season, he has led 108 laps, the 12th-most in the series. But that's not all that's blowing me away about Harvick's performance.

Out Of Nowhere

Harvick has 17 career Cup Series wins, but he's done his best at making them dramatic. In six of those wins, Harvick led 10 or fewer laps, including in all three of his wins this season.

Well, in the NASCAR Cup Series modern era, which dates back to 1972, that's the second-most wins when leading 10 laps or fewer, behind only Dale Jarrett's eight.

And, when we look at wins in races in which a driver led six laps or fewer, which he did in all three 2011 wins, nobody has more such wins than Kevin Harvick's five.

Trivia break: Who is the only other driver with at least five wins when leading 10 laps or fewer?

Flair For the Dramatic

Looking for more evidence?

In this season and last, there have been five Cup races decided by a last-lap pass. Harvick has won three of those, and finished second in another, last fall at Talladega, when he was passed by teammate Clint Bowyer.

Three of those races actually took place at Talladega, the others were at Charlotte and California, and both of those were won by Harvick.

Trivia break: Besides Harvick and Bowyer, who else has won a race with a last-lap pass in the last two years?

Four Other Guys

In the mad scramble at the end of the race (sorry, Junior fans!), the field was greatly scrambled, leading to a top five with some unfamiliar names.

David Ragan was second, his best career finish. Joey Logano was third, his first top-five finish this year. Kurt Busch was fourth and A.J. Allmendinger fifth, both of their best finishes of the year.

Trivia break: Who is the only other driver to win with a last-lap pass at Charlotte?

Trivia Break Answers

(1) Jimmie Johnson has five wins when leading 10 laps or fewer.
(2) Johnson again, this spring at Talladega.
(3) Rounding out the trifecta, Johnson won the spring 2005 Charlotte race with a last-lap pass on Bobby Labonte.

An interesting and completely meaningless thought popped into my head the other day, as they're apt to do.

If I were to run around Martinsville Speedway, just over a half-mile in length and fairly flat, how long would it take me?

I can't remember the last time I ran a mile straight, but there was a point in my life when I could run a mile in seven minutes or a little less. I couldn't put up those numbers now, but I feel like with a little training, I'm in. So, I'm setting my over/under at four minutes. I feel like the fatigue wouldn't kick my butt to the maximum until after the half-mile mark.

That, of course, led me to think about what drivers would put up the best time taking a lap around Martinsville on foot. Obviously Carl Edwards would be right there, and what about fitness nut Mark Martin? So, weigh in on the conversation section on who wins a half-mile foot race among the Sprint Cup drivers.

Now, on to the actual postrace Martinsville discussion …

It only takes one …

Kevin Harvick now has won two straight Cup races for just the second time in his career. But he's done so in impressive and unusual fashion, leading only seven laps combined in those two races.

Since NASCAR began fully tracking laps led in the Cup series in 1963, no driver had ever won back-to-back races leading that few laps, according to our friends over at Racing Resources.

The previous record was 18 by Jimmie Johnson in 2007; before that, it was 45 by Jeff Gordon in 1999. Those are the only three drivers to lead fewer than 50 laps in winning back-to-back races.

Trivia break! Which two active drivers did Harvick tie on the all-time wins list with 16?

… But you need that one

On the flip side is Kyle Busch, who has now led the most laps in the last two races but has only two third-place finishes to show for it.

That's a pretty unusual occurrence. Those same friends at Racing Resources tell me that the last driver to lead the most laps in back-to-back races but not win either was Sterling Marlin in 2003. Marlin finished sixth in both of those races.

Trivia break! Who is the only other driver since 2000 to lead the most laps in back-to-back races but not win? Hint: He did it three times in 2001.

Streak busters

Martinsville was a bad track for all of us researchers who crave the sweet statistical note.

Denny Hamlin failed in his bid to be the second driver to win four in a row at Martinsville and join Fred Lorenzen in NASCAR's early days.

Meanwhile, Johnson finished 11th, just barely missing his 18th straight top-10 finish at Martinsville, which would've tied two other drivers for the Cup record for consecutive top-10s at a track.

Trivia break! Which two drivers are tied for the most consecutive top-10s at a track? Hint: They both had 18 in a row at North Wilkesboro.

Trivia break answers

1. Harvick tied Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle.

2. Jeff Gordon did it three times in 2001 and went on to win the title.

3. Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty each had 18 straight top-10s at North Wilkesboro.