Category archive: NASCAR

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.

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.

Let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we? All the way back to two weeks ago (wavy lines indicating flashback).

Yes, Denny Hamlin was dominating at New Hampshire, but came up just short of the win, as Kasey Kahne was hoisting the trophy that Hamlin coveted so.

If you look at the drivers to run the highest percentage of fastest laps in a race this season, nobody was more dominant in a race than Hamlin. He was the fastest car on nearly 30 percent of the laps, the highest percentage of any driver in a race this season.

The "not winning with a dominant car" isn't an oddity. Four times this season a driver was the fastest car on at least a quarter of a race's laps. In three of those, the driver didn't end up winning. Jimmie Johnson at Dover was the only exception. List time!

Let's flash back a little further, to about a year ago, for last year's Brickyard 400.

Jeff Gordon was dominant, leading the field in average position, fastest laps run, green-flag speed, as well as speed early/late/on restarts. But again, as it often does, pit strategy got the better of Gordon, as he made a late charge through the field, but came up just short of Paul Menard for the win.

Gordon was the fastest car on 49 circuits last year at Indy, the second-most fastest laps run at the Brickyard since they started tracking the stat in 2005. Once again, not an unusual occurrence at Indy.

Of the five highest totals of fastest laps run in a Brickyard 400 since 2005, the fastest driver in four of those didn't go on to kiss the bricks. The record -- and only number higher than Gordon's 49 -- is held by Juan Pablo Montoya (2010), who had 54 before a pit road strategy call (what else?) set him back in the field. Montoya would later crash trying to get back to the front.

Despite these examples, an elite car does tend to win, unless there are serious issues. Since 2006, 11 of the 13 highest totals in percentage of fastest laps run in a race have been by winning cars. The others were Montoya at the 2010 Brickyard (covered earlier) and Johnson at Michigan in 2009, who ran out of gas with two laps to go.

The Eliminator: Indianapolis

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

1. Nine straight Brickyard 400s have been won by Chevrolets (30 eliminated, 17 remaining).

2. Thirteen of the past 14 Brickyard winners were coming off a top-12 finish in the previous race (10 eliminated, seven remaining).

3. Thirteen of the past 14 Brickyard winners finished 14th or better in the the most recent Pocono race (two eliminated, five remaining).

4. The past four, and six of the past seven, Sprint Cup winners finished in the top 11 in the previous year's running of that race (three eliminated, two remaining).

5. Six of the past seven Brickyard winners finished in the top 13 in the most recent Darlington race (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Tony Stewart

As is my custom when I'm not traveling the Eastern seaboard, gallivanting about on vacation, I was participating in the ESPN.com chat during Sunday's Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire.

When asked what I thought about Denny Hamlin's chances to win when he was putting a straight-up whuppin' on the field, I said he had the dominant car but that the dominant car often does not end up in Victory Lane.

Not exactly a dead-on prognostication, but I'm a bit of a soothsayer.

It's unfortunate to see a race decided on poor communication, but it did provide some drama watching Hamlin move through the field in hunt of Kasey Kahne and the lead, a fun reminder on how interesting racing can be when tires force more in-race strategy.

According to AccuScore computer simulations on NASCAR.com, Kahne is essentially a lock to make the Chase. The big question: Is he on the short list of title contenders?

After his molasses-slow start, Kahne has put up the fourth-most points in the Cup series over the past 13 races, trailing only Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

Kahne is now third for the season in fastest laps run, trailing teammates Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

Trivia break! How many drivers were ahead of Kahne on points after six races?

Hendrick power

Hendrick Motorsports started the season with an unforeseen 10 races without a win, the longest the team has gone without a victory to start a season since 1993.

Since then, Hendrick has returned to superpower status with five wins in the past nine races. Those five wins are the most by any team this season.

Not only has the team won more, but it also has been more consistent. In the first 10 races, the team had an average finish of 15.3 and a 52.5 top-10 percentage. In the past nine, it had an average finish of 10.3 and 66.7 top-10 percentage.

Trivia break! Which driver has led the most laps in a single New Hampshire race that he didn't win?

Loudon clear

Hamlin had the fastest car at New Hampshire. He ran the fastest lap 85 times out of the 301 circuits. The next-highest total was 44 from Kahne, followed by Johnson with 31.

Furthermore, those 85 fastest laps run were the second-highest total at New Hampshire dating to 2005, when NASCAR began tracking the stat. The only driver with a higher total was Clint Bowyer in 2010 with 89. Oh, Bowyer won that race. Hamlin didn't.

Trivia break! Who are the only drivers this season to lead more laps than Hamlin?

Trivia break answers

1. Thirty drivers were ahead of Kahne, as he was 31st, 133 points out of the lead.

2. Gordon led 257 laps in November 2001 but finished 15th.

3. Johnson and Greg Biffle are the only drivers to lead more laps than Hamlin this year.

Gather around, y'all, and let me tell you a tale of a pair of NASCAR legends as the sport heads to jolly New England this weekend. One of them is in dire need of a win; the other doesn't need the win, but it'd be the icing on the cake, and icing is delicious.

I'm talking about Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, who have made themselves drivers to beat at New Hampshire. Each has won three times at the Magic Mile, just one behind Jeff Burton for the track record.

Their advanced stats also back up their performance. Since 2005, the two rank 1-2 in average position, fastest laps run and overall driver rating. Not to mention being 1-2 in overall green-flag speed (Gordon is first), along with speed early in runs, on restarts and in traffic (Stewart leads all three).

Stewart has the advantage in driver rating, including a couple of spectacular marks: 149.2 and 143.0, but both of those came back in 2005.

Stewart won the last Loudon race, with his teammate, Ryan Newman, taking the 2011 spring race, but Stewart's win was one of the least dominant of last season, leading just two laps and being the fastest car on the track for five laps, or 1.8 percent of the total green-flag laps.

Gordon, on the other hand, has been incredibly consistent at New Hampshire, but he doesn't simply need a quality run. If he's going to make the Chase, he needs a win. Judging by his performance this past fall at Loudon, he could get one.

Gordon is coming off arguably his best New Hampshire race since NASCAR began tracking loop data stats in 2005. He put up personal bests in driver rating and fastest laps run, and he led the field in those two categories, along with laps led and average position.

Plus, if Gordon wins, New Hampshire will be the 14th track where Gordon has won at least four times.

Looking for trouble

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

Daytona runner-up Jeff Burton is coming off his best finish of the season, but heads to a track where he has a win-or-spin history.

Burton has four victories at New Hampshire, but he also has been in the most wrecks of any active driver.

Kyle Busch is another past winner who has a dicey history there.

The Eliminator: New Hampshire

For those of you new to my little blog, I use a device called The Eliminator to predict a winner every week. 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 for those of you looking for more details, I'll post the step-by-step eliminations on my Twitter account (@MattWillisESPN).

1. The past seven New Hampshire winners had a top-20 finish in the previous Richmond race (26 drivers eliminated, 18 remaining).

2. The past five New Hampshire winners had a top-nine finish in the previous Phoenix race (12 eliminated, six remaining).

3. The past four New Hampshire winners had finished eighth or better in the previous race there (four eliminated, two remaining).

4. The past five New Hampshire winners were coming off a top-eight finish in the previous Sprint Cup race (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Brad Keselowski

There are a lot of great Fourth of July traditions: the Daytona race, barbecues and my annual vacation from work included. But that doesn't stop me from writing these blogs and doing my top-notch research that gets me all the ladies.

Some actual history was made at Daytona on Saturday. First, Tony Stewart picked up his 18th career Daytona win -- his fourth in a Sprint Cup Series points race. The only driver with more? Some guy named Dale Earnhardt, who won 34 races at Daytona.

But Stewart is still waiting for that pesky Daytona 500 win, much like that guy above him was before his landmark 1998 victory.

Even more impressive is that Stewart won after starting 42nd, becoming the third driver in series history to win after starting 40th or worse. Fonty Flock won at Raleigh in 1953 starting 43rd, and Johnny Mantz won the first Southern 500, also starting 43rd.

The previous modern-era record was 39th, done by Bobby Labonte at Atlanta in 2001 and Matt Kenseth in the 2009 Daytona 500.

Trivia break! Prior to Stewart, what 2012 Cup series winner had the worst starting position?

One cool CAT

Jeff Burton came home second at Daytona, making it through the last-lap wreck -- and all the other wrecks -- to pick up his best finish of the season.

In fact, Burton had just one other top-5 finish this season, in the Daytona 500.

Combined with his 10th-place run at Talladega, Burton has put up the second-most points in restrictor-plate races this season, trailing only Matt Kenseth, who has been third or better in all three plate races.

Over the past two seasons, Burton has four top-5 finishes, three of them coming in plate races. He also has four of his nine top-10s in plate races in that time.

Trivia break! Besides Burton and Kenseth, who are the only three other drivers with lead-lap finishes in all three plate races this season?

Classic Daytona

Daytona races are known for many things: surprise winners, close finishes and tight quarters. Oh, yeah, don't forget the wrecking.

The wrecks at Daytona on Saturday night collected 43 cars combined, some drivers being involved more than once. It was the highest total in a race dating back to 1990, when we started collecting complete data.

Thirty-two drivers were involved in at least one wreck. Six more started and parked, and one, Landon Cassill, had issues of his own.

That leaves just four drivers who ran the distance and didn't get involved in a wreck: Stewart, Burton, Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski. All finished in the top eight.

Trivia break! Who was the last driver to sweep the two races at Daytona in a season?

Trivia break answers

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the previous worst starting spot for a winner, starting 17th at Michigan.

2. Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Paul Menard also have lead-lap finishes in all three.

3. Bobby Allison was the last to do so in 1982.

"The race may not always be to the swift nor the victory to the strong, but that's how you bet."

That's right, we're going to start today's blog with a literary quote, thanks to Damon Runyon.

I'm with Mr. Runyon in that this week's race isn't likely to go to the swift. That's because NASCAR is going back to Daytona, where victory depends less on raw speed -- since everybody will have roughly the same speed -- and more on strategy, bold moves and, yes, even a little bit of luck.

Since the start of the 2006 season, 22 drivers have run the fastest laps (simply a count of who was the fastest driver on every lap) into the double digits in a Cup race at Daytona. Of those 22, not a single one ended up with a top-5 finish.

In fact, we've had more of those drivers finish off the lead lap (seven) than in the top 10 (six). None finished better than seventh.

And with the elimination of tandem drafting at Daytona this year, I'd say the pendulum has swung back in favor of skill and strategy over pure luck. Example: Matt Kenseth led the final 38 laps this year at Daytona to win the 500.

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.

Last year's July Daytona race saw historic mayhem. Thirty different drivers were involved in wrecks (41 total cars were involved in wrecks -- some more than once). The 41 cars damaged were the most in a single Cup race, going back to 1990.

That was under the old drafting rules, but the elephant in the room is always waiting for the "big one." In the past four July Daytona races, we've had an average of 30 cars involved in wrecks.

But while drivers can see their days ruined by wrecks, others can take advantage.

Example: Tony Stewart last year. Stewart was involved in two 15-car wrecks at Daytona on a pair of green-white-checkered finishes but actually improved his position in them, moving up from 25th to 17th, then to 11th.

On the flip side, the driver most victimized by wrecks over the past four July Daytona races is his teammate/employee, Ryan Newman.

Newman has lost 65 positions due to accidents over those four races, the most of any driver.

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.

1. Sixteen of the past 17 and 27 of the past 29 Daytona winners had a previous top-5 finish at Daytona (17 eliminated, 27 remaining).

2. Eight of the past nine Daytona winners finished 14th or better in the previous Daytona race (17 eliminated, 10 remaining).

3. The past five Sprint Cup race winners had a top-11 finish in that same race the previous year (seven eliminated, three remaining).

4. Three of the past four July Daytona winners came off of a top-10 finish in their previous race (two eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Matt Kenseth