Crunching numbers after New Hampshire

September, 21, 2010
09/21/10
1:30
PM ET

Déjà vu is the sense that you're seeing something you've seen before.

Déjà vu is the sense that you're seeing something you've seen before.

I'm sorry, I can never resist an easy joke. Mostly because they're easy. Seriously, though, if you're getting flashbacks to 2007, it's with good cause.

Three years ago, Clint Bowyer also entered the Chase winless and as the last seed. He qualified on the front row and went on to win the playoff opener at New Hampshire on his way to career-best third-place finish in points. That win and Sunday's victory at New Hampshire account for two of his three career Cup series wins, with the third coming at Richmond.

So, it begs the question: Can we now consider Bowyer a championship contender? He managed to stick around the top part of the points through the 10 races with consistency and avoiding disaster, a strength of all of the Richard Childress Racing drivers. However, it might take more than the one win to capture the title, and Bowyer's never won more than once in a year.

Another question the win brings up, and one the "NASCAR Now" crew discussed at length: What would a mixture of Cheerios and Hamburger Helper, Bowyer's main two sponsors, taste like? I'll let you debate if Cheerios Helper sounds like something you'd eat. I've just been putting milk on mine.

Oh, Bowyer!

We don't see Bowyer win too many Sprint Cup races, but we should be used to him running up front. As Bowyer was chasing down the final Chase spot, he was putting up some of the most consistent runs in the series.

We've been talking a lot about how Carl Edwards has put up the most points over the past nine races, about the run he was on entering the Chase, but the man with the second-most points in that span is Bowyer. Bowyer also has the most points over the past four races, three points more than Kyle Busch. The next closest to Bowyer is Edwards, but he's 85 points back of Bowyer in the four-race span. And no other Chaser is within 100 of Bowyer in those races.

Can Bowyer maintain that momentum over the next nine races? Time will tell.

Trivia break! What non-Chaser has the third-most points over the past nine races?

Good to the last drop

What a difference a little bit of fuel makes.

Tony Stewart ran out of fuel heading to the white flag while leading, and falling from first to 24th in the final running order cost him 97 points. Jeff Burton also ran out of fuel, but he fell from fifth to only 15th, costing him more than 30 points in the Chase standings.

On the final fuel run, Bowyer ran 92 laps to win, while Stewart could muster only 91 laps. Gee, if only we had a former champion crew chief on the payroll to help us out with it. Oh, wait, we have Ray Evernham. And he let the "NASCAR Now" crew know that the difference between Bowyer making it and Stewart not was a mere quart of fuel.

It's Chase time, and it's not just the crew chiefs and drivers who are important, it's every last member of the crew. Let's hope Bowyer's gas and catch can team got themselves a little bonus this week.

Trivia break! Who took advantage last year at Michigan when Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle ran out of fuel with two laps and one lap to go?

Second chances

It's always nice when you go look something up and find that another NASCAR researcher already has gotten there. So thanks to Chris Lees for his help on this one.

Jimmie Johnson had a busy day at New Hampshire, and not in a good way, finishing 25th after a spin and later a flat tire. So, can you win a title with a finish such as that one on your Chase résumé?

History tells us yes, but you get only one shot. In 2006, Johnson finished 39th in the opener at New Hampshire, and later finished 24th in another Chase race. And he remains the only driver to win a Chase with two finishes outside the top 20 during the 10 Chase races.

In three other Chases, the eventual winner had one finish outside the top 20 on his way to a title, including last year. However, in 2007 and 2008, Johnson didn't have a single finish outside the top 20 on his way to titles Nos. 2 and 3.

So Johnson's 25th might be his only chance at a hiccup through the rest of the season.

Trivia break! What is the worst Chase race finish for an eventual Chase champion?

Trivia break answers

1. Jamie McMurray has put up 1,275 points in the past nine races, behind only Edwards and Bowyer.

2. Mark Martin led the final lap only, taking advantage of fuel mileage for the win.

3. Kurt Busch finished 42nd, next to last, at Atlanta on his way to a title.

Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.

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