Crunching numbers for Kansas

September, 30, 2010
09/30/10
1:19
PM ET

Now we find out who's really ready to make a run to the Sprint Cup title.

I say that, despite the fact that we're already 20 percent into the Chase. Yes, I'm well aware those races happened. I was at work for them. It was a good time.

No, I bring up my educated, well-thought-out point because Kansas is the first 1.5-mile track on the Chase schedule after stops at the 1-mile tracks of New Hampshire and Dover.

Coming up on the schedule? Kansas, Charlotte, Texas, Homestead. Although each track has its own individual characteristics that make it special, they all share the common traits of the intermediate tracks. And California -- a 2-mile oval -- isn't much different.

A driver whose team catches fire and finds something special in the setup (keep it legal, boys), perhaps pulling off three wins in these five races, could come out of nowhere to win a title. But don't fret -- Talladega, Martinsville and Phoenix will give the Chase a little different flavor.

Now, teams won't be able to kick back and bring a single setup to all five of these races. However, one little trick found at the right time could lead a team to a championship. Recently that team has been Jimmie Johnson's, but let's leave the door open for another team to get hot.

And it all starts Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Sounds like an excuse for me to crack into the loop data notes for the week.

Fast and a little furious

Who knows? Maybe Johnson is a little furious with the late-night wake-up calls for feedings and diaper changes. And while he might not show any on-track anger at Kansas, he will bring a little furor.

When we were preparing for our final segment Sunday on "NASCAR Now," I was sorting through some speed numbers looking ahead to Kansas, and I noticed a fun trend. Johnson was first in speed early in runs and late in runs, on restarts and in traffic. And if you haven't figured it out, overall speed too.

There's no need to delve further into those facts. They speak for themselves.

On JJ's heels at Kansas

It's not just Johnson who has separated himself from the pack. either. Greg Biffle has been excellent at Kansas in recent memory.

The last five years at Kansas, Johnson paced the field with a 122.6 driver rating. Greg Biffle ranked second at 119.6. The third-best rating on that list was way back at 104.7.

How about average position? Johnson averaged 6.33 at Kansas, Biffle 6.34. The third-best ranking was 9.5. And fastest laps run is more of the same: Johnson ran the fastest lap on 204 circuits, Biffle on 117, and the third-highest ranking was a mere 73.

So don't limit yourself to just Johnson when making picks for this weekend.

Who wants to go home?

OK, you know I like to stay positive, but when there are negative notes out there worth reporting, I must run with them.

The series runs at Kansas once a year, but over five years, there's enough evidence to separate the contenders from the pretenders. And several Chase drivers have been less than stellar at Kansas over that time.

Take Matt Kenseth, for example. He's shown a steady downtrend at Kansas. His average starting position there the past five races was 7.4. His average midrace position was a 16.6, and the average finish was 21.4

Take these average running positions of notable Chasers into consideration, too: Kevin Harvick (16.4), Denny Hamlin (18.4), Jeff Burton (21.1) and Kyle Busch (21.9). Those four drivers all ranked between 10th and 21st in green-flag speed as well.

That's all I have for you this week. Enjoy the race!

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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