Category archive: Martin Truex Jr.

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

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

On Sunday at Kansas Speedway, it was Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. battling for the win -- a race win and a symbolic win.

See, one of the subplots of the season has been the emergence of Michael Waltrip Racing and whether it has surpassed Joe Gibbs Racing as the headline Toyota team in the Sprint Cup Series. Although Truex ranks higher than Hamlin in points, Hamlin has a pair of wins, and he won this head-to-head matchup.

As for the other two cars on each team, the advantage seems to go to Waltrip. The 55 and 15 cars are 11th and 12th in owner points, with JGR's 18 and 20 cars right behind in 13th and 14th.

Kyle Busch has especially been a disappointment, with just one top-5 finish in eight races. Each of the past four seasons, Busch has won at least three races with at least nine top-5 finishes.

The problem? Some might say it's the distraction of his new Nationwide Series team to go with his Trucks team. I don't want to analyze what's going on in Busch's head, but I can analyze his on-the-track performance.

The biggest issue might be that these long green-flag runs NASCAR has had don't work in Busch's favor. Not only is he among the best on restarts in the sport, but he also tends to fall off in long runs.

This season, Busch has the third-fastest average speed early in runs but the 13th-fastest speed late in runs.

What better place to break this slump than Richmond? Dating back to 2005, Busch has had a driver rating over 100 in 12 of the 14 races there, and one of those that he didn't was a 99.2.

This year? Busch has had a driver rating over 100 in just two of eight races.

His teammate Hamlin might also be among the favorites there. Over the past eight races at Richmond, Hamlin has been the fastest car on 305 laps, Busch on 237, both the most in the series. In fact, only two other cars have even 100 fastest laps run, and nobody else is over 200.

Want more evidence that JGR is the team to beat? I got this.

Hamlin already has led 1,188 laps at Richmond, in the top 10 all time there, and his per-race average of 99.0 laps led is the tops of any driver to race at Richmond.

Busch's 5.0 average finish at Richmond is tops among any driver who's made at least 10 starts there. He's at his best in the spring race there, too. Seven races, seven top-5s and a 2.3 average finish. Oh yeah, he's won this race the past three years.

The Eliminator: Richmond

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 don't doubt the system: The Eliminator hit Kyle Busch last spring at Richmond.

1. The past 11 Sprint Cup winners finished 16th or better in the previous race at the track (30 eliminated, 16 remaining).

2. The past 17 Richmond winners had a top-3 finish earlier that season (six eliminated, 10 remaining).

3. The past 13 Richmond winners entered the race in the top 10 in points (four eliminated, six remaining).

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

Your winner: Denny Hamlin

Let me start throwing some numbers at you, since that's sort of my thing.

How about 0-for-18 … well, I guess that's a couple of numbers. But that's Jimmie Johnson's career record at Michigan, with just a pair of top-5 finishes in that time.

Here's another: 524. That's Johnson's career laps led at Michigan; of course, none of those have come on the final lap. However, in 2009, he led each race. In the spring race, he ran out of fuel with two laps to go. In the fall race, he led with three to go and also ran out of gas.

The second-most laps led at Michigan by a driver without a win there is 318 by Terry Labonte, but Labonte has done something Johnson never has at Michigan -- finish second. The third-most laps led there without a win is Donnie Allison's 155.

Being without a top-two finish at a track is even more rare for Johnson. The only two tracks he's run a Cup race at without a top-two are Michigan and Watkins Glen.

Dating back to 2005, Johnson's performance at Michigan is indicative of somebody with a little better winning percentage. Nobody has run more fastest laps or has a better average running position than Johnson, and his 110.3 driver rating is only 0.2 behind the leader, Carl Edwards -- who's won twice at Michigan in that time.

But wait, I have more! Check out his speed ranks since 2005 at Michigan in that chart. Do it!

So, don't let that zero in the wins column fool you. Jimmie Johnson is a man to be reckoned with at Michigan.

The Eliminator: Michigan

Most people just pick winners, some by hunches, some by stats and some by 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.

Oh, and by the way, this little number has picked two winners this year, and six of its past eight picks have finished seventh or better.

1. Since the first Michigan race, 81 of the 82 winners had a previous top-5 at Michigan (25 drivers eliminated, 22 remaining).
2. In 83 all-time Michigan races, there's been only one first-time winner (two eliminated, 20 remaining).
3. There have been 12 different winners in the past 12 spring Michigan races (11 eliminated, nine remaining).
4. The past 11 Michigan winners finished 19th or better in the previous Pocono races (five eliminated, four remaining).
5. Eight of the past nine Michigan winners finished in the top 12 in the previous Darlington race (two eliminated, two remaining).
6. Four of the past five Michigan winners had a top-10 in the previous Michigan races (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Martin Truex Jr.