Category archive: Mark Martin

Almost three years ago, Joey Logano was mired in a subpar Sprint Cup race in a very mediocre rookie season. Sitting 24th in points, Logano spun after the halfway point at New Hampshire, which allowed him to play pit strategy when the weather began to look threatening.

The rest is history: Logano became the youngest winner in series history, and it looked like the "Sliced Bread" dynasty was about to begin.

Then, a funny thing happened ... it didn't happen. Logano's 2010 started in a very blah fashion, but he was one of the hottest drivers to finish the season. Then 2011 was a letdown, and the beginning of this year didn't look much better.

Sunday, Logano finally picked up a win in which he got to cross the finish line, checkered flag waving, and do the burnout.

Now 182 drivers have won Cup series races, but about a third of those have never won a second race. Logano now is among the fortunate two-thirds who have. And not only does Logano have a more "legitimate" win, he did it by outdueling Mark Martin (more on him later).

We now can fairly ask: Is this Joe Gibbs Racing's best three-car tandem (with Denny Hamlin and Kyle Bush)? If Logano continues to show this strength, you can make a very strong case.

This is the third time Gibbs has had three teams win Cup races in a season, but this is the earliest it has happened, just 14 races into a season. Now Gibbs will try to put all three teams in the Chase for just the second time, after pulling it off in 2008.

Trivia break! Who has the most Cup series wins for Joe Gibbs Racing?

Always a bridesmaid

Martin was 31 years old when Logano was born. Let that one sink in.

Logano got the upper hand on Martin at the end of Sunday's race at Pocono, getting Martin all wiggly with four to go then pulling away from the 55.

That marked the seventh time Martin has finished second at Pocono, a track where he has never won. That's the most second-place finishes a driver has had at a track without a win in Cup series history.

Martin broke a tie with Bobby Allison, who was second six times at Martinsville without a win.

Trivia break! Martin has 40 career wins and 60 second-place finishes for a differential of minus-20. Who is the only driver in Cup history with a worse differential?

Busted

Usually in NASCAR, speed is a good thing. Except when you're on pit road.

Fourteen drivers were busted 22 times for speeding in Sunday's race, which, according to our friends at Racing Resources, is the most that have been recorded since they began documenting infractions in the summer of 2006.

Five drivers were tagged multiple times, and no driver was busted more than Travis Kvapil, who was ticketed four times. I imagine his insurance premiums will go up.

Trivia break! Before Logano, who was the last driver to go more than 100 starts between wins?

Trivia break answers

1. Tony Stewart leads all Gibbs drivers with 33 wins, then Bobby Labonte with 21.

2. Buddy Baker had 19 wins and 42 second-places for a minus-23.

3. Juan Pablo Montoya went 113 starts between wins from 2007-10.

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

Just because there was no Sprint Cup race last weekend doesn't necessarily mean that it was an off weekend.

There was news aplenty, with assurance that Kevin Harvick would be staying with Richard Childress Racing for at least 2010 and Brad Keselowski would be driving for Penske Racing next season in a car that won the 2008 Daytona 500.

Oh, and let's not forget a Nationwide Series race that can only be described as wet and wild. By race's end, it more resembled an obstacle course from Double Dare than a NASCAR race. How is that reference for you? Too early 1990s?

As much as I love the unpredictability of Silly Season, there's still the business (or bidness, if you're so inclined) of the Race to the Chase. We all have our picks and favorites, we've spent the past couple weeks debating them and working the calculator (or adding machine, based on your preference for retro machinery) to figure out every possible scenario.

But we're returning to the track with NASCAR returning to racing on Labor Day weekend in the southeast. Although it's not Darlington, I'll still call it the Southern 500. And that's coming from a guy who hails from upstate New York. Land of the 10-month winter and spiedies. I could go for one of those right now. I'll let you guess which one.

What to look for Sunday night? Well, let me tell you what I'm looking for.

Dominating deuce

The NASCAR season is a long one, I don't think there's any disputing that. I can prove that by the fact that there's often snow on the ground back home from when one season ends to when the next begins.

But reflect back to the Atlanta race earlier in the season, when Kurt Busch flat-out dominated.

Perfect driver ratings don't happen often, but Busch drove the No. 2 car to a perfect 150.0 in the win, 25 points better than Jeff Gordon. Busch's average position in the race was 1.5, and he ran the fastest lap on 81 of the 330 laps. No other driver had more than 33 fastest laps, and that was also Gordon.

That was months ago, and while Busch has almost certainly locked up a Chase spot, he hasn't had a top-5 finish in six races. This could be his chance to reassert himself as a championship contender.

What's the Roush?

When my NASCAR fantasy league had its auction draft before the season, the top target on my list was Carl Edwards, since our points system rewards wins handsomely. I managed to get him, but spent a fair share of my salary cap on him.

Yet, here I sit at the beginning of September in the middle of the standings, getting more wins out of my other drivers -- Brian Vickers and Joey Logano -- than Edwards (who broke his right foot Wednesday but is expected to drive this weekend).

Yes, Edwards and his teammate Greg Biffle, both preseason championship contenders based on how they closed out the 2008 season, are winless, but that doesn't mean they aren't running well. And Atlanta could be the place for them to get in the win column, based on these numbers.

Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle ranks at Atlanta since 2005
Stat -- Edwards -- Biffle
Fastest laps run -- first -- third
Green-flag speed -- first -- fifth
Avg. position -- second -- fifth
Driver rating -- second -- sixth

Setting the pace

Since I'm a dork, and I have the excuse of having a NASCAR statistics blog to write, I was sifting through the loop data statistics for the season and went down the list of the fastest laps run.

This stat basically tells you who're the drivers to beat out there, who is laying down the hot laps time after time. To me, it's one of the clearest indicators of who are the drivers to beat in the championship race. So I can't say I was surprised about the name at the top, but I was surprised at the spread between him and the field. Accompanying list!

Most fastest laps run, 2009 Cup season
Jimmie Johnson -- 709
Mark Martin -- 422
Jeff Gordon -- 407
Greg Biffle -- 387
Kurt Busch -- 356

Three Hendrick drivers at the top, and don't forget about Jeff Gordon, who few are talking about as a threat to Jimmie Johnson's run at four in a row. If you were looking for Tony Stewart, he's eighth on this list, behind Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

That's all I've got for you this week, enjoy Atlanta. Or is it Hot-lanta? (Checks papers.) No, it was Atlanta, I was right the first time.

I don't remember too many races to the Chase that were quite as exciting and uncertain as this one is shaping up to be.

Well, this is just the sixth year of the Chase, so there's not a whole lot of history there, but still, you'll be hard-pressed to find a closer race for the last few spots in the Chase.

And because I'm a researcher, and it's sort of my job, I'd like to clear things up for my loyal readers. Unmurky the Chase waters, if you will.

Ding, ding, ding. Ladies and gentlemen, as far as I know, it's a first in Internet history. I am now the first person to ever use the word "unmurky." But that's beside the point, unimpressive as it is.

Oh, let's just get on with a special off-week edition of the blog, where I give you some scenarios down the stretch, with just two races left. All these scenarios take into account that the drivers will start the Chase cutoff race at Richmond.

The in

Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are already in the field, nine titles between them, and nobody can take that away from them. Unless something unforeseen happens like a rules violation or some sort of drug scandal is revealed.

And we all know that never happens in NASCAR. Um … moving on.

Oh-so-close

Three drivers can clinch a Chase spot in Atlanta regardless of what those further down in the standings do, provided they simply start the race at Richmond.

The first is fourth-place Denny Hamlin. The dark-horse championship contender doesn't even need a top-10 at Atlanta, which is good since he has only two of those in eight career starts at the track. Hamlin needs to just finish 12th, or 13th if he leads a lap, to officially punch his Chase ticket.

One spot below him in the standings is Carl Edwards. Edwards was getting a lot of preseason love for his championship chances, but that's cooled as he's been unable to find Victory Lane in the Cup Series this season. Despite that, Edwards can wrap up another Chase berth by finishing fourth at Atlanta, or fifth if he leads a lap. He's won there three times in 10 starts, including his first career win.

The other driver who controls his own destiny at Atlanta is the driver who won the first Chase, Kurt Busch. Busch needs to do just slightly better than Edwards, finish third or better, or fourth if he leads a lap. That seems doable for Busch, who won the spring race at Atlanta in dominant fashion.

Not so clear

Here's where things get interesting. Oh, who am I kidding? They were always interesting.

Seventh to 12th in the points are separated by just 50 points and none are more than 84 points behind of 13th-place Kyle Busch. Six drivers -- Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth -- cannot clinch at Atlanta based on what they do themselves, but that doesn't mean they can't give themselves some breathing room.

Of these six, only Martin and Kahne have won at Atlanta. But Martin's wins came in 1991 and 1994, while Kahne won slightly more recently, in 2006.

Outside looking in

Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers have had their differences, but they find themselves in similar positions with two to go before the Chase field is set. Meanwhile, Clint Bowyer and David Reutimann are a little farther back, but they, along with Vickers and Busch, could get back into the top 12 with a good run and some degree of fortune at Atlanta.

Those four are also in a position where if they win, they cannot be eliminated.

Meanwhile, things aren't looking so good for Jeff Burton and Marcos Ambrose. These drivers aren't eliminated quite yet, but they have some ground to make up, and have to do so in a hurry. Any driver 162 points or more behind 12th after Atlanta will be eliminated.

And I'd like to take this space at the bottom of the column to send my regards to drivers such as Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick. They're among the drivers, everyone 19th or lower in points, who are officially eliminated from Chase contention. Maybe next year, fellas.

So, those are the numbers; I'll leave it at that for now. Who do you think is in or out? Leave your comment below, and it's time-stamped, so you can throw it in everybody's face if you were correct. I'll vouch for you.