Category archive: Jimmie Johnson

NASCAR heads to one of the most sacred grounds in the world of racing this weekend: Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And I, for one, am excited.

Let's break down some of the key storylines for Sunday's race, the 20th running of the Brickyard 400 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The best bet: Jimmie Johnson

With four wins at Indianapolis, all in the past seven races, Johnson is tied with Jeff Gordon for the most in race history. And with one more he'll tie Michael Schumacher for the most career wins at the track; Schumacher won the now-defunct Formula One U.S. Grand Prix five times.

Johnson's win last season was one of the most dominant performances in Brickyard 400 history. In fact, his average running position during the race was a 1.58, the best at the track since NASCAR began tracking it in 2005.

Amazingly, he spent only five laps of the entire race outside the top three.

He also had a perfect 150 driver rating, the only driver to do that at any track the past three seasons.

However, it's been feast or famine at the Brickyard for Johnson. In his first race at the track, he finished ninth. Since then, he has four wins and six finishes of 18th or worse in 10 starts, with three DNFs.

The safe bet: Jeff Gordon

All the history Johnson can make with a fifth Brickyard 400 win, just copy that for Jeff Gordon. While Johnson has been boom or bust, though, Gordon has been consistently solid.

All four of his wins came from 1994-2004, but in 15 of the 19 Brickyard 400s ever run, he's finished ninth or better, including a 2011 runner-up finish that rivaled the strength of Johnson's 2012 win.

In that race, Gordon was the fastest driver on the track on 49 circuits, or one more than Johnson last year. And he finished second behind Paul Menard based on Menard's pit strategy, with Gordon's closing-laps rush to the front coming up one spot short.

Gordon was able to do something in 2011 that is difficult for many in stock cars at Indianapolis -- make passes. He made 83 of them -- three times as many as Johnson needed to win last year.

The fool's bet: Roush Fenway or Penske

In 2002, Bill Elliott won the Brickyard 400 in a Dodge. Since then, Chevrolet has captured 10 straight victories.

To find the last win by a current manufacturer other than Chevy, you have to go back to 1999, when Dale Jarrett won in a Ford. Toyota has never won a Brickyard 400.

So while Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle have shown Indy strength in the past, I wouldn't count on them for a win, since this is one of just three active Cup series tracks where Roush Fenway has never won.

Also, for all the success Penske Racing has had in the Indianapolis 500, with a far-and-away-record 15 victories, the team has never won a Brickyard 400.

The Eliminator: Brickyard edition

For old times' sake, let's break this out.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Eliminator, I'll use this space to pick a winner. But instead of just picking a winner, I'll use stats and historical trends to tell you why all but one driver can't win the race.

1. Fourteen of the past 15 Brickyard 400 winners finished 12th or better in the previous Cup race (34 eliminated, 11 remaining).

2. Seventeen of the 19 Brickyard 400 winners won earlier in the season (five eliminated, six remaining).

3. Seven of the past nine and 12 of the past 15 Indianapolis winners finished eighth or better in the previous Pocono race (four eliminated, two remaining).

4. Chevrolet has won the past 10 Brickyard 400s; a Toyota has never won (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Jimmie Johnson.

There was a time when Denny Hamlin was an absolute lock at Pocono, and just about any flat track for that matter. But, as is often the case with NASCAR, the field has caught up.

Hamlin won his first two career starts at the Tricky Triangle, then was sixth or better in the next three. After two sub-par finishes, he won another two in a row.

Since then though, he hasn't finished better than fifth in four races, with a 15th and 19th sprinkled in there for good measure.

Once again, however, don't let those numbers fool you. Hamlin has led at least 19 laps in each of the past six Pocono races, and has been the fastest car on at least 17 laps in all six of those as well.

Dating back to the start of the 2009 season, Hamlin has been the fastest car on 225 laps at Pocono, 65 more than any other driver. In fact, only one other driver has even put up more than 100 fastest laps in that time.

That would be the hottest driver in NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson, who has been the fastest driver on 160 circuits in that time. Johnson has finished fourth in each of the past three Pocono races, and 13th or better in each of the past 10.

However, don't entirely sign up on Johnson either, even though he just won at one of the most similar track to Pocono, Indianapolis. Despite the fourth-place run, Johnson is coming off one of his worst races at Pocono in recent memory.

His average position in the race was 15th, his second-worst mark in the past 10 races. He finished with just seven fastest laps, and a 101.4 driver rating, while impressive, was his lowest mark at Pocono since the spring 2007 race.

So, what did we learn today? Hopefully some sort of life lesson like don't go near downed power lines or don't wear socks with sandals. But also that Hamlin and Johnson have been the class at Pocono recently, but they are far from sure things.

Looking For Trouble

Every week, my fellow members in ESPN Stats & Information crunch the numbers and tell us what to watch for the following weekend. Here's what they found:

While some cautions at Pocono are caused by chicken, deer, people on the track or the ever-exciting unidentifiable debris, some are also caused by accidents.

Look for wrecks to be multi-car incidents in Turn 1. In the June Pocono race, we saw a streak of 15 straight wrecks with two or more cars snapped. That was the second-longest at any track since 1990.

Also dating back to 1990, there has been 48 accidents in Turn 1, opposed to 33 in Turn 2 and 32 in Turn 3. The extra speed carried down the superstretch being the favorite among the culprits.

The Eliminator: Pocono

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

And for those of you looking for more details, I'll post the step-by-step eliminations on my Twitter account (@MattWillisESPN).

1. Sixteen of the past 17 Pocono winners did not finish in the top 10 in the most recent Pocono race (10 drivers eliminated, 34 remaining.)

2. The past eight Pocono winners finished in the top 10 in the most recent Sonoma race (30 eliminated, four remaining).

3. Seven of the past eight Pocono winners finished in the top 10 in the last Watkins Glen race (three eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Marcos Ambrose

There are few venues across all of sports that are more historic than Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Which makes me, a fan of NASCAR's legacy, a happy man.

That being said, I'm well aware that Indianapolis doesn't provide the most thrilling race. That's understandable. The track wasn't built for stock cars, but it's important for the series to visit that venue and it's huge for a driver to pick up a victory there.

It's even bigger when a driver wins four races there, as Jimmie Johnson has after he won on Sunday, tying teammate Jeff Gordon for the most Brickyard 400 wins.

In the major races that have been held at Indianapolis (Indianapolis 500, Brickyard 400 and U.S. Grand Prix), only six drivers have come away with four or more wins, and they are all legends across all of motorsports (check out the sweet chart).

Venue aside, Johnson picked up his third win of the season, tied for the most in the series; it's the 10th time in his career that he's had at least three wins in a season.

In Cup series history, only seven other drivers have had at least 10 three-win seasons, and it reads like a Hall of Fame roll call: Richard Petty (20), Bobby Allison (13), Jeff Gordon (13), Cale Yarborough (13), Dale Earnhardt (12), Darrell Waltrip (12) and David Pearson (11).

Trivia break! Johnson has had 11 straight multiwin seasons. What's the record for consecutive multiwin seasons?

Johnson's domination

Johnson was dominant in the win, crossing the finish line 4.758 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch, a Brickyard 400 record.

He also put up a perfect 150 driver rating, something that hadn't been done since the 2010 season finale by Carl Edwards at Homestead.

Johnson has shown this year that he has the highest ceiling in races. Not only does he have the best driver rating of the season, he also put up the second-highest number in his Dover win.

Johnson was the fastest driver on more than 35 percent of green-flag laps at Indy, the best mark this season. Johnson actually holds three of the five highest marks of fastest laps run percentage, also doing it at Dover and Phoenix.

Trivia break! There have been 12 perfect driver ratings since the stat was introduced in 2005. Johnson has three, but who is the only driver with more?

Your new leader

Tom Carnegie was famous at Indianapolis for his call, "It's a new track record!" Well, this week, we'll pay homage by saying, "It's a new points leader!"

Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the points lead with his top-5 finish at the Brickyard, passing Matt Kenseth, who got into a wreck. It's the first time Junior's been atop the points since September 2004, after the first Chase race … ever.

He's also finished on the lead lap in every race this year, the longest streak to start a season in series history, and now is just one off the overall record, set by Jeff Gordon in 1998-99, according to our friends at Racing Resources.

Trivia break! Before his wreck Sunday, Kenseth had run all but one lap this season. Now who is second behind Earnhardt in laps completed this year?

Trivia break answers

1. Richard Petty won multiple races for 18 straight seasons from 1960 to 1977.

2. Kurt Busch has four perfect driver ratings.

3. Greg Biffle has completed all but two laps this year.

Here we are this weekend at Kentucky Speedway, a track where the key statistic coming into the race may be the number of parking spots added (PSA) since last year's debacle.

But let's stick to the quality of the racing, and not whether the parking was ample. Of course, it's hard to analyze the racing at a track where there's been one race. However, in that race, Kyle Busch was dominant, finishing with a 145.6 driver rating, the third-highest mark he has had in any of his 24 career Sprint Cup wins.

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Kyle Busch
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesKyle Busch celebrates after winning the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway in July 2011.

But Busch goes into this race struggling in his past four races -- all finishes of 17th or worse -- as well as on 1.5-mile tracks like Kentucky, with two top-5s in his past nine races.

That's the best way to project what will happen at Kentucky -- to take a look at performance at those other 1.5-mile tracks. Those tracks are different, yes, but definitely have similarities.

Problem is, we've had four races on such tracks this year, with four drivers from four teams coming out victorious. There was Tony Stewart at Las Vegas, Greg Biffle at Texas, Denny Hamlin at Kansas and Kasey Kahne at Charlotte.

This is when you call on a guy like me to crunch the numbers.

One driver's performance does stand above the others, and that's Biffle's. He's the only driver with a top-5 in all four of those races. He also has put up three of the top eight marks in driver rating on 1.5-milers this season.

Want a sleeper? I'll give you a sleeper. Although he has been slipping down the points and his Sonoma finish was a disappointment, keep an eye on Martin Truex Jr., who has the highest individual driver rating on a 1.5-mile track this season, a 142.6 in a second-place finish at Kansas.

We've seen Joey Logano and some guy named Dale Earnhardt Jr. snap long winless streaks this season, but Truex could top both of their droughts at Kentucky.

Looking for Trouble

Every week, my fellow members in ESPN Stats & Information crunch the crash numbers and tell us what to watch for that weekend. Here's what they found.

If Kentucky is like any of the other 1.5-mile tracks, the middle of the pack is the wrong place to be. Since 2008, 182 of 506 accidents (36 percent) on intermediate tracks have occurred to drivers running in positions 15-25.

The Eliminator: Kentucky

For those of you new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to predict a winner. 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, will be the race winner.

And if you want to see who was eliminated in each step, I'll post the info on my Twitter account (@MattWillisESPN).

Don't overlook that I nailed Clint Bowyer at Sonoma.

1. The past 21 Sprint Cup winners on 1.5-mile tracks had previously won a Sprint Cup race (16 eliminated, 30 remaining).

2. The past eight and 11 of the past 12 winners on 1.5-mile tracks had a top-20 finish in the previous 1.5-mile race (12 eliminated, 18 remaining).

3. Each of the past four winners this year finished 11th or better in the previous year's race (10 eliminated, eight remaining).

4. The past two Sprint Cup winners were coming off a stretch of three straight finishes of eighth or better (seven eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Jimmie Johnson

Greetings to all my NASCAR stat-loving, knowledge-seeking friends. You know who you are.

Today, let's talk a little Michigan, since that's the next race on the schedule and all. It's a repaved Michigan, which means speeds on an already-fast track are going to be up. And Pocono was pretty pacey last week with its fresh asphalt.

In this race, if the numbers are any indication (they usually are), I like a little combination I call Three Men and Five-Time at the front: Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson.

Since 2005, when Edwards became a full-time Cup driver, those four drivers are atop just about every loop-data category at Michigan International Speedway. They're the only four with a driver rating over 100, they rank 1-4 in fastest laps, average running position, and speed both early and late in runs (not to mention overall green-flag speed).

But let's take a look at those results. Let's say, in theory, that anything outside the top 15 is a "subpar" finish, especially for those four. In those 14 races since 2005, Kenseth and Edwards each have a pair of subpar finishes, while Biffle and Johnson have six apiece.

Those stats can be backed up by looking at the green-flag pass differential for those four drivers. Edwards is plus-261 and Kenseth plus-159, while Biffle is just a plus-38 and Johnson is a minus-36.

And what makes that even more damaging is that the bulk of Biffle's and Johnson's losses have taken place at the end of the race. In the final 10 percent of races since 2005, Johnson is minus-71 in pass differential, while Biffle is a minus-64, by far the worst two totals. The third-worst mark is a minus-33.

So Biffle and Johnson might join the other two Roush Fenway Racing drivers up front Sunday at Michigan, but let's see if they stay there.

The Eliminator: Michigan

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

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, will be the race winner.

And if you want to see who was eliminated in each step, I'll post the info on my Twitter account (@MattWillisESPN).

1. Eighty-three of the past 84 Michigan winners had a previous top-5 finish at the track (22 eliminated, 23 remaining).

2. The past eight Michigan winners had a top-20 finish in the previous Michigan race (eight eliminated, 15 remaining).

3. Nine of the past 10 spring Michigan race winners finished eighth or better in the most recent Darlington race (nine eliminated, six remaining).

4. Each of the past seven Michigan winners finished 19th or better in each of the previous three Sprint Cup Series races (four eliminated, two remaining).

5. Four of the past five spring Michigan race winners had a top-5 finish in the previous year's spring Michigan race (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Matt Kenseth

This weekend at Dover, it looks like the stars are aligning for a classic, dominant Jimmie Johnson kind of day.

His team, Hendrick Motorsports, has won the past four events: two points races (Johnson at Darlington and Kasey Kahne at Charlotte) to go with Johnson's All-Star win and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Sprint Showdown victory.

This week, the Cup series heads to Dover International Speedway, where Johnson has won six times, just one off the track record shared by Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.

Sure, Johnson has won six times at other tracks. But going back to the start of 2009, Dover hasn't been just his dominant track, it's been the best track for any Sprint Cup Series driver.

Let's start with a basic number: laps led. Johnson has 1,349 in those six races, over half the total laps run and 1,000 more than any other driver. In fact, only four other drivers even have 100 laps led at Dover in that time.

Johnson has been the fastest car on the track on nearly a quarter of the total laps run at Dover -- 24.7 percent to be exact -- since the start of 2009. That's the second-highest mark of any driver in that time, behind road course specialist Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen.

Going back to driver rating (an overall statistic incorporating many of NASCAR's loop data stats), Johnson gets back to the top of the charts with a 139.4 average in that span, the best of any driver with at least two starts at a track.

The next-best mark is more than 10 points behind, Johnson's 126.7 at California.

Count me in the camp looking for great things out of the 48 on Sunday.

Looking for Trouble

Every week, my fellow members in ESPN Stats & Information crunch the numbers and tell us what to watch for the following weekend. Here's what they found:

Dover used to be the site of some early-race mayhem, but that's not the case anymore. In four of the past six races, there hasn't been a wreck in the opening 100 laps. And in the past seven races, there have been multiple wrecks in the first 100 laps once.

That's a stark difference from 1993-2004 at Dover, when there were multiple wrecks in the first 100 laps in 10 of the 12 races.

But if there is a wreck, don't be surprised if last week's winner, Kahne, is in it. Since Kahne's first race at Dover, no active driver has been involved in more wrecks there than him.

The Eliminator: Darlington

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

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, will be the race winner.

And if you want to see who was eliminated in each step, I'll post the info on my Twitter account (@MattWillisESPN).

1. The past 15 Sprint Cup Series winners finished 16th or better in the previous race at the track (31 eliminated, 15 remaining).

2. The past nine Dover winners had a top-12 finish in the most recent Phoenix race (11 eliminated, four remaining).

3. Six of the past seven Dover winners finished in the top seven in the previous year's race (three eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Kyle Busch

I'll be the first to admit that numbers can be misleading.

Of course, except mine. My statistics have only good intentions, looking to guide you and me together on a path of enlightenment.

But other numbers can be misleading, especially when it comes to drivers at Charlotte. So let's break down three drivers, one who is worse than you thought, one who's better and a third who's a bit of both.

Jimmie Johnson: Charlotte is sometimes referred to as "Johnsonville." There was a period of time when the dude owned the place, at one point winning four in a row. But that time has passed.

Johnson's driver rating has slipped at Charlotte over each of the past six seasons (see accompanying chart), except a rebound in 2009.

Johnson looked like he was making a comeback at Charlotte in 2009, when he ran a race-high 71 fastest laps in a win. After that, though, the drop continued.

Over the past four Charlotte races, Johnson has run 88 fastest laps, a still-respectable number at sixth-best in the series but certainly not worthy of track ownership.

Kyle Busch: Busch's career at Charlotte was rocky at the start of his Cup career. In his first seven races there, he finished 25th or worse six times. But in his past nine starts, he's finished eighth or better in all but one.

Despite not having won there, his numbers are among the best. In the past 10 races at Charlotte, Busch has put up two of the three highest single-race driver ratings, but finished second and sixth in those races.

Tony Stewart: Early in Stewart's career, he was a regular front-runner at Charlotte, with six top-5s and nine top-10s in his first dozen races there. In his past 14? Not a single top-5.

But there's hope, Smoke fans. Last fall at Charlotte, Stewart put up a 121.2 driver rating, his best in his past 14 races there.

Looking for trouble

Every week, my fellow members in ESPN Stats & Information crunch the numbers and tell us what to watch for this weekend.

Since 1990, more drivers have recovered from accidents and gone on to post top-10 finishes at Charlotte than any other intermediate track.

Carl Edwards (three times), Jeff Gordon (twice) and Martin Truex Jr. (twice) are among those with multiple "saves" at the track. Edwards has more such recoveries at Charlotte than all other tracks combined (two).

The Eliminator: Charlotte

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 race winner.

And if you want to see who was eliminated in each step, I'll post the info Friday on my Twitter account (@MattWillisESPN).

1. The past 14 Sprint Cup Series winners finished 16th or better in the last race at the track. (31 drivers eliminated, 16 remaining).

2. Nine of the past 10 Charlotte winners were 11th or better in the last Kansas race (eight eliminated, eight remaining).

3. Eight of the past nine Charlotte winners had a previous top-two finish at the track (three eliminated, five remaining).

4. There have been 10 different winners in the past 10 Charlotte races (three eliminated, two remaining).

5. The past three Charlotte winners finished 17th or better in each of the past three races (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Kyle Busch

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

We're here at the finale of my annual NASCAR Bracket of Massive Significance (patent pending), and the final matchup might surprise you: Martin Truex Jr. versus Clint Bowyer.

Truex has been here before, losing in the 2010 final to Mark Martin. Bowyer was eliminated in the first round in each of the previous two years.

My official, rock-solid pick is Bowyer, but it's more a pick against Truex, who has never had a top-10 finish at Kansas Speedway.

Carry on, Jimmie Johnson

First of all, special thanks to Trevor Ebaugh, Eric Soderburg and the rest of the Stats & Information group's NASCAR team, who help me come up with incredible notes like this every week.

Lately, we've seen long green-flag runs dominating races, and if we get them at Kansas it could benefit some more than others:

• Carl Edwards -- Edwards improves markedly as runs continue at Kansas. He's the 15th-fastest driver early in runs (the first 25 percent of laps after pit stops) but third-fastest late in the run (final 25 percent). That's the most spots improved from early to late since 2005, when NASCAR began tracking loop data.

• Greg Biffle -- Biffle's the second-fastest driver late in runs and has a fifth-place average finish at Kansas since 2005. Biffle's also carrying some serious momentum after his win last Saturday at another 1.5-mile track, Texas.

• Jimmie Johnson -- Johnson is just flat-out fast at Kansas -- it doesn't matter if it's long or short runs.

Over the past eight Kansas races, Johnson has been faster than the average field speed in every stage of the race, and the differential only gets better as the race goes on.

Might be time for Hendrick to dust off those 200th win caps.

Looking for Trouble

Every week, our Stats & Info team compiles a breakdown of the wrecks at the next track on the schedule. Here's this week's takeaway:

Recent races have been notable for their lack of cautions, but if some come out at Kansas, keep an eye on Turn 2.

Since the track opened in 2001, 22 of the 51 accidents at the track have occurred on Turn 2, partly because of a 10-degree drop from Turn 2 to the backstretch.

The second-most common wreck site has been Turn 4, with just nine accidents.

The Eliminator: Kansas

For those of you new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to make my 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, will be the race winner.

And don't doubt the system -- The Eliminator hit Jimmie Johnson last October at Kansas.

1. There's never been a first-time winner at Kansas (17 eliminated, 29 remaining).

2. Every Kansas winner had a top-20 finish in the previous Texas race (11 eliminated, 18 remaining).

3. Every winner this season had finished 13th or better in the previous race at the track (eight eliminated, 10 remaining).

4. The past eight Kansas winners finished 19th or worse in the most recent Charlotte race (seven eliminated, three remaining).

5. Both of last year's Kansas winners snapped winless streaks of over 20 races (two eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Mark Martin