Crunching numbers for California

October, 7, 2010

You know, I consider myself (and therefore you should, too) a thoughtful, logical person. My arguments are sensible, my points sound. With that established, I have something to tell the NASCAR legions who want to complicate the Chase with ideas of eliminations and a separate scoring system for Chasers and non-Chasers:

You're wrong! You're all wrong!

Phew. It felt good to get that out.

Now you're all entitled to your own opinions, but I'm the one with the blog here. I'll visit your blogs later -- I'm just not saying how much later. So allow me to plead my case.

Eight points separate Chase leader Jimmie Johnson from second-place Denny Hamlin. But it's just 85 points back to eighth-place Greg Biffle. It's the first time in Chase history that fewer than 100 points separate first from eighth this far in. And we've almost got one more sneaking in there, with Jeff Burton 101 points back in ninth.

What would eliminations do to the Chase if it remained this close, or, with luck, got even closer? Do we really want to limit the competition as the Chase goes on? Is it really appealing to have only two of the 43 cars on the track going for the championship in the season finale?

And what about this alternate scoring system? Let me tell you, if one driver has a Chase that could be described as gangbusters, he'll run away with the Chase title regardless of what scoring system you use. We don't want to fabricate competition here -- sometimes it's not going to be tight. But in the years it is incredibly tight, we don't want to limit it.

Now, for this week's research notes heading to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.:

California kid

The list of active drivers to average better than a sixth-place finish or better at a track, with a minimum of five starts, goes five deep. Three of those five are Jimmie Johnson -- at Phoenix, Martinsville and California. In terms of average finish, California is Johnson's third-best track, but a 5.5 average finish is still pretty exceptional.

But it's not just the average finish that makes Johnson so impressive. Here are his leading numbers dating back to 2005 at California, with the second-best mark in parentheses:

Average position: 5.3 (9.2)
Fastest laps run: 413 (213)
Percent of laps in top 15: 95.2 (81.2)
Driver rating: 124.0 (108.3)

The separation is there, folks. I guess it's my way of picking Johnson.

Chasing Jimmie

OK, there are still seven races left, and the common knowledge is that Johnson tends to pick things up in the second half of the Chase. I like when stats either confirm or deny a trend, because either way there's closure. Well, take a look at these driver ratings going back to 2005 at the remaining seven tracks in the Chase:

Jimmie Johnson: 110.2
Jeff Gordon: 98.4
Tony Stewart: 96.2
Denny Hamlin: 94.9
Kyle Busch: 94.3

Logging on the World Wide Web tonight, I bet you didn't think you'd be getting a double dose of list time today. What a bargain!

And then there were two

Maybe I won't commit to picking just Johnson, especially when I haven't seen practice times yet. I always reserve the right to change my pick up to race time.

How about this: Let it be a Hendrick or Roush Fenway driver. They've combined to win 16 of the 20 all-time races at Auto Club Speedway. On the flip side, Joe Gibbs Racing has never won a race at California, the only active track it's never won at.

Getting away from the loop data numbers and looking purely at average finish for the Roush Fenway guys, we find the impressive runs they've had. In terms of the average finish, this is Matt Kenseth's best track, David Ragan's second-best and Carl Edwards third-best. It's a little further down Biffle's list, but he does have a win at California and is riding a wave of momentum.

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



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