Category archive: Jeff Gordon

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.

Being a NASCAR statistical blogger is about more than just the numbers, the women and the riches. It's about righting wrongs and informing your loyal fans about any misconceptions.

Today, I'm doing a public service. And I'm doing that by telling you that Jeff Gordon isn't as good on road courses as you think.

His nine road course wins speak for themselves. Yeah, that's an impressive number. But seven of those wins came from 1997-2001, the others came in 2004 and 2006. So that's zero wins in his past 12 road course starts.

And it's even worse at Watkins Glen. In his past 10 starts there, he has just a pair of top-10 finishes, none better than ninth, with a 20.1 average finish.

Over the past five seasons, from 2008-12, there's only one track where Gordon has a worse average driver rating than his 76.5 mark at Watkins Glen, and that's at Talladega, where getting caught up in wrecks can quickly ruin a driver rating.

The 76.5 mark is 18th best in the series among drivers who have made a Watkins Glen start in that time, ranking below drivers who are usually road course afterthoughts, like Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth.

And he hasn't shown raw speed either. In those four races, he's run the fastest lap just four times, tied for the 12th most in the series.

So, who can we look to for road course dominance? How about Marcos Ambrose.

In those same four races, Ambrose has 79 fastest laps run, 35 more than any other driver, and he's finished no worse than third in his Cup career at the Glen.

Looking for Trouble

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

The rate of accidents at Watkins Glen is actually on the way up. Over the past three races at the Glen, there have been 10 accidents involving 23 cars.

Compare that to the eight-race span from 2001-08, when there were 14 accidents involving 33 cars. In an 11-race span from 1990-2000, there were 18 accidents with 26 cars.

The Eliminator: Watkins Glen

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, is my projected race winner.

Don't doubt the system -- it's riding a streak of seven straight top-10 finishes.

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

1. Since 1987, every road course winner had a top-5 finish earlier in the season (24 eliminated, 19 remaining).

2. The past five and 12 of the past 15 Watkins Glen winners had a top-10 finish earlier that year at Sonoma (11 eliminated, eight remaining).

3. The past five Watkins Glen winners finished in the top seven in the previous year's Watkins Glen race (seven eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Joey Logano

NASCAR can be quite fickle. Earlier this season, we saw some races, most notably at Martinsville Speedway, where Jeff Gordon had victory snatched from under his nose.

At Pocono Raceway, the pendulum swung back the other way, as it's apt to do. With the rains moving in, the top four cars got into trouble and Gordon was able to drive from fifth to first, and the green flag never came out again.

But it's not just a race-by-race basis where we see said fickleness. Currently the battle for the second wild-card spot is being decided by who has more fifth-place finishes. There are still five races left until the Chase, but it shows that every position in every race could make a big difference.

Mastering geometry

The win was the 86th of Gordon's career, and his sixth at Pocono, which is more than any other driver in the 70 Cup races held at the "Tricky Triangle."

It also snapped a 31-race winless streak for Gordon, stretching back to last year's race at Atlanta, where he began to look like a Chase favorite. And although he's outside of the top 10 and has just moved into a wild-card spot, you can argue that Gordon is again a title contender, based on how he's been performing.

Over the past seven races, no driver has accumulated more points or top-10 finishes than Gordon, with six top-10s and 275 points.

Trivia break! What driver is second in points over the past seven races?

Hendrick heats up

It wasn't too long ago that my research duties included looking up Hendrick Motorsports' longest winless streaks and stretches to start a season. Now, it's quite the opposite.

Hendrick drivers have been victorious in seven of the past 11 Sprint Cup points races, not to mention wins in the Sprint Showdown and All-Star Race. No other team has more than one win in that time.

For the second time this season, Hendrick has won three straight races. If HMS gets to four in a row, it'll be the first time a team has done that in the Cup series since Hendrick had streaks of four, five and six races in 2007.

Trivia break! Other than Hendrick Motorsports, what was the last team to win four straight races?

The Chase is on?

There might be five races until the Chase, but history says there's a pretty good chance that this is the field.

In three of the five seasons since the Chase expanded to 12 drivers for the 2007 season, the field with five races until the Chase ended up being the final field.

In the other two seasons, only one driver each year raced his way into the field after being outside with five to go: Matt Kenseth in 2008 and Brian Vickers in 2009.

Trivia break! The only season that had two drivers race their way into the Chase field after being outside with five to go was 2004. Who were the two drivers?

Trivia break answers

1. Brad Keselowski is second with 264 points. No other driver has more than 243.

2. Roush Fenway Racing won four straight in 1993, the last team other than Hendrick to pull it off.

3. Mark Martin and Jeremy Mayfield raced their way into the field.

We're at Pocono Raceway, and this is the point of the year when I usually have two main points to make:

1. Triangle racing is more interesting than it's given credit.
2. Denny Hamlin flat owns this place.

Don't let last year's lackluster finishes fool you; Hamlin's still the man there. Despite two finishes outside the top 10, Hamlin still had the second-most fastest laps run (behind the absent Kurt Busch), and he averaged a top-5 running position.

It's easy to go on about Hamlin, but I wanted to take some time, words and Internet space to analyze the curious case of Jeff Gordon.

Gordon is 21st in points, but doesn't deserve to be. I wrote in Tuesday's blog that he's second in fastest laps run this season, but it doesn't stop there. He's also fifth in overall green-flag speed, much faster than your average 21st-place driver.

This slow start is actually reminiscent to last year, when he was 13th in points after 13 races. Check out the chart!

The good news for 24 fans is that in the next 13 races of last season, nobody was better than Gordon. He had 508 points, 43 more than any other driver, with 10 top-10s in 13 races.

He also was much improved on those loop-data numbers, with a 108.1 driver rating, nearly 20 points higher, and 335 fastest laps run, compared to 184 in the first 13 races.

Looking for Trouble

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

Pocono is called the "Tricky Triangle" due to its three distinct turns, making it almost like a road course.

Some believe that the "Tunnel Turn" (aka Turn 2) is the trickiest of the three, but with the highest banking coming in Turn 1 (14 degrees) and drivers hitting 200-mph plus on the frontstretch, that area of the track leads to the most accidents.

Since 1990, there's been 48 accidents in Turn 1, compared to 31 in Turn 2 and 30 in Turn 3.

The Eliminator: Pocono

For those of you new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to forecast 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 16 Sprint Cup Series winners finished 16th or better in the previous race at the track (29 eliminated, 15 remaining).

2. The past seven Pocono winners had a top-20 finish in the most recent Sonoma race (five eliminated, 10 remaining).

3. The past seven Pocono winners had a top-10 finish in the most recent Watkins Glen race (five eliminated, five remaining).

4. Fourteen of the past 15 Pocono winners did not finish better than 15th in the previous year's running of that Pocono race (four eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Brad Keselowski

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

Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway had a little something for everyone. It had long green-flag runs, slam-and-bang racing, heated tempers, controversial cautions and even a beacon of light for the conspiracy theorists out there in David Reutimann's late-race caution.

But regardless of what you enjoyed best, the checkered flag and grandfather clock now belong to Ryan Newman, who picked up the unlikely win.

That makes it eight wins in the past 16 races for Stewart-Haas Racing, but the focus of this race is going to be on the wreck during the first green-white-checkered that took out the top three cars, driven by Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer.

According to the ESPN Stats & Information crew, that was just the third wreck involving the cars running 1-2-3 in the past 150 Cup points races.

The other two took place in the Daytona 500. In 2009, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were involved. In 2011, Regan Smith, Kurt Busch and Bowyer tangled.

Bowyer, remember, also was a victim (or the perpetrator, depending who you ask) of Sunday's wreck.

Trivia break! Besides Stewart-Haas Racing, what other teams have multiple wins in the past 16 races?

Gordon's heartbreak

Gordon was going for all sorts of history Sunday. Not only would a win have been his eighth at Martinsville, good for third all time, it would've given Hendrick Motorsports its long-awaited 200th victory.

Gordon led 328 laps but finished 14th. In Martinsville history, that's the seventh-most laps led by a driver in a non-win and the most since Rusty Wallace led 343 in April 2000 but finished 10th.

Only one driver has ever led more than 300 laps in a Martinsville race and finished worse than Gordon. In 1971, Donnie Allison led 367 laps but finished 15th.

Trivia break! After Gordon and Johnson, what driver has the most wins for Hendrick Motorsports?

Best of the worst

NASCAR releases a stat called driver rating, which closely mirrors the NFL's passer rating. Anything over 100 is good, and it maxes out at 150. The stat involves many of NASCAR's loop-data numbers and is a good indicator of overall performance above just finishing position.

Well, Gordon's was a 133.0 on Sunday, despite the 14th-place finish.

Going back to the start of the 2007 season, Gordon's mark is the best single-race rating for a driver not to finish in the top 10. The previous best mark was Kyle Busch's 132.7 in the 2009 Chase race at Texas, where he finished 11th.

Sunday also was Gordon's first race this season with a driver rating of over 100.

Trivia break! Who are the only two drivers with more Martinsville wins than Gordon?

Trivia break answers

1. Penske Racing and Roush Fenway Racing have two wins apiece in the past 16 races.

2. Terry Labonte won 12 races with Hendrick, third-most with the team.

3. Richard Petty has 15 Martinsville wins. Darrell Waltrip has 11.

The men's and women's college basketball tournaments are down to just four teams each, but here in my NASCAR Bracket of Massive Significance, I'm not ready for that yet. Our quarterfinals have left us with some very intriguing matchups:

Earnhardt Bracket

Greg Biffle versus Martin Truex Jr.: Biffle's numbers at Martinsville are less than stellar. He's never had a top-5 finish there. Truex just has one top-5 but was eighth there last fall, so he's my pick.

Allison Bracket

Dale Earnhardt Jr. versus Matt Kenseth: These two have a history dating back to the Nationwide Series before it was the Nationwide Series. Junior has been excellent at Martinsville lately; I like him to reach the semis.

France Bracket

Kevin Harvick versus Tony Stewart: Fun matchup between last year's Martinsville winners. Stewart won his last start, but his three before that were all 24th or worse. Harvick has three straight top-5s at the Paper Clip, so he's my man.

Petty Bracket

Clint Bowyer versus Paul Menard: The only non-1-versus-2 matchup in the bracket. Bowyer's Martinsville numbers aren't great, but Menard has never had a top-10 there.

Three-man show?

In the previous 10 races at Martinsville, three drivers have separated themselves from the pack: Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson.

Those three all have an average finish of 5.1 or better in that time. No other driver has a mark better than 10th.

So, looking inside the numbers, who's the man to beat? Or who's the guy to pick up if you can have only one on your fantasy team? That depends on how you look at it.

In terms of how many times these drivers have been passed the previous 10 races, Johnson has been passed the fewest at 292. And he does the best of staying up front with an average position of 5.4. The other two each have been passed more than 300 times in those races, with average positions between sixth and seventh.

But if you look at pure speed, Gordon has been the fastest driver on the track most often. He's run the fastest lap on 559 circuits over the 10 races. Johnson's at 491, and Hamlin 420.

At the end of the race, a tight finish also favors Gordon. Over the final 10 percent in each of those 10 races, Gordon has a plus-2 pass differential, while Johnson and Hamlin have put up negative numbers.

However, not much separates these drivers, and all three will be heavy threats up front all day Sunday.

Looking for trouble

Every week, our stats and analysis team compiles a breakdown of the wrecks at the next track on the schedule. Here's this week's takeaway:

For everybody who missed the slam-banging action at Bristol two weeks ago, you might be in luck.

Since 2004, when Martinsville was repaved, no track has featured more accidents than Martinsville with 154. The next highest is Charlotte with 108, then Bristol at 103.

And when deciding what end of the track to focus on, pick Turns 3 and 4. Since 1990, there've been 130 accidents in Turns 3 and 4, opposed to 86 in Turns 1 and 2.

The Eliminator: Martinsville

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. Eleven of the past 12 Martinsville winners finished in the top 20 in the previous week's race ( 26 eliminated, 19 remaining).

2. The past seven spring Martinsville winners finished ninth or better in the previous Martinsville race (12 eliminated, seven remaining).

3. The past nine Martinsville winners had a top-10 in the most recent Richmond race (three eliminated, four remaining).

4. The past seven Martinsville winners had a top-5 finish in the previous New Hampshire race (three eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Tony Stewart

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.

I'm going to call it like I see it. As a stats guy, I love it when I'm right. Who doesn't?

But, sometimes, I like being proved wrong when it means somebody has thrown past evidence aside to succeed, and that's why I'm digging Brad Keselowski after he finished second at New Hampshire.

It's a little strange that Keselowski struggled to the degree he did last season. I mean, he was winning a Nationwide Series championship while simultaneously putting up no top-5s and two top-10s on the Sprint Cup side. And none of those top-10s came in the first 31 races, and he didn't finish better than 10th all year.

Maybe something just clicked, and maybe it was the addition of crew chief Paul Wolfe on the Cup side that got him the rest of the way there. Either way, Keselowski's improvement has been impressive.

Let's take a look at his driver rating, a figure that measures a driver's total performance on a scale from 0-150. From last year, his driver rating is up 22.2 points, the biggest jump by a full-time driver this season.

To compare, last year, only one driver had a jump that big, Kevin Harvick, whose rating jumped 22.3 points as he finished third in the points.

Keselowski's driver rating this year is a solid 87.3, 11th best in the series. But that's not a fair look at it, since Keselowski did struggle somewhat early in the year.

After the July Daytona race, Keselowski's driver rating on the season was a 76.6, ranking 20th among the full-time Cup drivers. Since then, his driver rating per race averages out to 103.7. If he put up that mark for the entire season, he'd rank second in the series behind Kyle Busch.

I was among the many who were just waiting for Keselowski's Cinderella run to end. Now, I'm starting to think it just might not.

The Eliminator: Dover 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 12 Dover winners had a top-20 finish in the previous Phoenix race (25 drivers eliminated, 20 remaining).
2) The past eight fall Dover winners finished in the top 11 of the previous year's fall Dover race (12 eliminated, eight remaining).
3) The past six race winners this season all finished seventh or better in the previous week's race (seven eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Jeff Gordon

Color me intrigued by the Chase so far (or for our international friends, colour me intrigued)

Chicago provided a wild start, with fuel-mileage issues and penalties resulting in a shuffled Chase field in a year with a new points system in which poor finishes are punished even more and consistency is even more valuable.

New Hampshire marks the start of an interesting stretch of the schedule. First of all, it starts a stretch of distinctive tracks, after the flat magic mile, we get the high banks of Dover and then a couple of intermediates before heading to Talladega.

But it's also the stretch of eight straight tracks that the series has already visited this year. So it's time to use what we've learned. I hope you've been studying.

At New Hampshire, I like one driver near the top of the Chase to stay near the top, while I like a guy near the bottom to start making his way back up.

Earlier this year, it was Ryan Newman getting the win at New Hampshire in a race in which he had the most laps led and best driver rating. But I like his owner and teammate, Tony Stewart, to excel Sunday.

Dating back to 2005, Stewart leads the field in fastest laps run, and has the fastest average speed early in runs and in traffic. Plus, despite finishing second to Newman, Stewart has the best overall speed, plus the most fastest laps run.

And in the category that appeared to be Smoke's great weakness, speed late in runs (in which he ranks sixth since 2005), he was the strongest in the field earlier this year.

But don't rule out Mr. Four-Time, Jeff Gordon. Despite a ho-hum 11th-place finish at Loudon earlier this year, Gordon was running fourth with 10 percent of the race left.

Since 2005, Gordon ranks in the top four in all speed categories at New Hampshire, including first in overall speed and second in speed in traffic.

With six championships among them, I expect one of those two to come out on top Sunday (and hopefully not Monday again).

The Eliminator: New Hampshire

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 last nine fall New Hampshire winners had a top-15 finish in the last Richmond race (31 drivers eliminated, 15 remaining).

2. The last five New Hampshire winners had a top-seven finish in the previous Sprint Cup race (10 eliminated, five remaining).

3. The last four New Hampshire winners finished 14th or better in the previous two New Hampshire races (three eliminated, two remaining).

4. The last four New Hampshire winners had a top-10 in the last Phoenix race (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Kurt Busch