Category archive: Marcos Ambrose

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

Since it's my blog, I'm going to imagine that you asked why I thought Brad Keselowski's win on Saturday was so impressive. Let me tell you.

Keselowski has won on a short track, a restrictor-plate track and a superspeedway this season. That's just about all of them.

Let's not forget how down of a season Brad K. had in his first full season with Penske in 2010. He finished 25th in points, with just two top-10 finishes, both 10th. Since then, he's won six races, three last year and now three in 2012.

How can we put Keselowski's performance in perspective and try to find a driver whom he resembles?

Well, let's sort out all the drivers who had a sub-par first season but rebounded nicely who didn't run the full schedule the previous year, or drivers like Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson who won three-plus times each of their first two full seasons.

Five drivers who've pulled that off. Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick and Terry Labonte did it well into their careers -- not early like Keselowski.

That leaves Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch, and the parallels between Keselowski and Busch are uncanny. Busch went winless his first full season, like Keselowski, and then won four races in 2002 and 2003. In 2004, he was the champion.

So, you can call Keselowski "Kurt Busch without the baggage," and I'm sure lots of owners would like a driver with that combo.

Trivia break: Keselowski now has seven career Cup wins. Who is the only driver with exactly eight in his career?

Chase Countdown

This is the time of year when I start thinking Chase. And I'm sure the drivers are, too.

In every year of the Chase, there's been a driver in the field with both nine and 10 races to go to move into the Chase field after being out at that time.

So, who could move in and who could move out? Kasey Kahne moved into the field with his second-place run at Kentucky, taking the second wild-card spot. But that's an obvious one.

Off the radar, watch out for Marcos Ambrose. In the past five races, only five drivers have more points than the Aussie. If he can steal a win at Sonoma, he could be racing for a title.

On the other end is Ryan Newman. Newman's falling out of the second wild-card spot, and since his Martinsville win, he's been terrible without a finish better than 12th in 11 races. That after having a win and three top-10s in the first six races.

Trivia break: Who is the only driver to make the Chase after being outside the top 20 with 10 races to go?

First Time Dominance

Austin Dillon, welcome to the club.

Dillon picked up his first Nationwide Series win Friday night at Kentucky, and it was never really in doubt.

Dillon led all but eight laps in the victory, the fourth-most dominant first win in series history, according to our friends over at Racing Resources.

Ryan Newman led all but six laps in his first win, Morgan Shepherd all but two and Dale Jarrett went wire-to-wire in his first win.

Trivia break: Dillon's victory followed Nelson Piquet Jr.'s first win. Who were the last drivers to get their first Nationwide Series victories back-to-back?

Trivia Break Answers

1. Kyle Petty is the only driver to finish his career with exactly eight Cup wins.

2. Brad Keselowski was 22nd with 10 races to go last year before getting a wild card.

3. Trevor Bayne and Sam Hornish Jr. pulled it off last year.

Let's face it, the Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen had just about everything.

We had a first-time winner, courtesy of a pass in a three-car battle during a green-white-checkered finish. Cars were flipping or on fire, as just about everybody with a stake in the wild-card chase had a rough day. There was even a rain postponement! OK, maybe that part wasn't nearly as good.

Or, as my friend, former researcher and one of the voices of ESPN's "SportsNation" Matt Ketaineck said, "That was the best last lap in NASCAR history."

That being said, there's little questioning how exciting the racing has been this season. And if you think the races are boring, there's a good chance you're never going to like stock car racing, or maybe just anything in general.

There are so many storylines off this race that simply can't be broken down statistically, whether it's if Cup cars should race on rain tires (trust me, you wouldn't want to see it) or if Boris Said should pay a home visit to Greg Biffle.

But what I can break down for you is Marcos Ambrose's winning effort for a much-overdue victory, among other tidbits coming out of my homeland of upstate New York.

From the land Down Under

After three Nationwide Series wins, a blunder last year at Sonoma and three top-3 finishes at Watkins Glen, Ambrose finally got himself in Victory Lane in the Cup series.

In doing so, he became the first Australian-born driver to win a Cup race, and just the fourth foreign-born driver to win in NASCAR's top series. See the ol' accompanying list.

But wait, there's more! The Tasmanian driver now has four wins across the three NASCAR national touring series -- in Cup, Nationwide and Trucks. That's the second most in NASCAR history among foreign-born drivers, which brings me to …

Trivia break! What foreign-born driver holds the record for most NASCAR national series wins?

Feels like the first time

After having no first-time winners in the Cup series last year, Ambrose became the fifth first-time winner this season.

That's the most first-time winners in a season since 2002, when Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray and Johnny Benson each got their first Cup win.

Ambrose also is the fourth driver this year to get his first Cup win after waiting more than 100 races, joining Regan Smith, David Ragan and Paul Menard. This is the first season in Cup history with four such drivers.

Trivia break! Who is the only other driver to get his first career Cup win at Watkins Glen?

Viva variety!

I wrote about this briefly after Menard won at the Brickyard, but we now have 15 different winners this season, with some notables still in the dark.

The Cup record is 19, last done in 2001, but this is the second fastest we've reached 15. In 2003, we had 15 different winners in the first 21 races. This year, we needed a whopping 22.

With drivers such as Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer still looking for a win, expect this note to come up again.

Trivia break! In 2001, there were a record-tying 19 winners. Who won the season finale in New Hampshire to become the 19th winner?

Trivia break answers

1. Canada's Ron Fellows has six wins.
2. Steve Park got his first win at the Glen in 2000.
3. Robby Gordon was the 19th different winner.