Crunching numbers after Talladega

November, 2, 2010
11/02/10
11:05
AM ET

If I just used the phrase "Only at Talladega," I think everybody coming to a NASCAR page looking for top-notch entertainment would know exactly what I was talking about.

Such as: Only at Talladega can a driver begin his burnouts without confirmation that he's actually won the race. Seriously though, first or second, who doesn't like to do a good burnout? Sounds like a good way to leave the ESPN parking lot today, now that I think about it.

Only at Talladega can a handsome researcher like yours truly have to send out version after version of a race recap to the whole research department since the finishing order kept changing. I was surprised I didn't end up getting up in the wee hours to send out another one. First Denny Hamlin was seventh, then he was eighth, then he was ninth.

What makes that even worse for Hamlin is that the drivers who moved in front of him were Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Still, it's only 14 points between him and Johnson. A mere pittance that is enough to make me speak in Dickensian-era terms. Is that my nerdiest reference yet?

Or, how about: Only at Talladega can a driver like AJ Allmendinger take a last-lap flip, and we find ourselves barely talking it about it that night or the next day. Glad to see you're OK, AJ. Unfortunately, due to the financial situation at Richard Petty Motorsports, you will have to drive that car in the final three races, and also back and forth from home.

Now that I've gotten that cheap shot out of the way, let's give out the finest in Talladega postrace notes.

A lot on his plate

There's no telling who might've won Sunday's race had it not been for that ill-timed caution. It might've been Kevin Harvick, giving him that little extra boost in the points. It could've been one of the pushers, Juan Pablo Montoya or David Reutimann. Or could another duo have teamed up and pushed their way to the front, perhaps taking advantage of some aggressive racing up front?

Let's not play the what-if game, sticking instead to Hungry, Hungry Hippos. Or let's just stick with reality, and point out that Harvick finished seventh or better in all four restrictor-plate races this year, with two wins in there. The last driver to do that in a single season was Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2004.

And the only other driver to do it period was Dale Earnhardt, who did it three times. In two of those seasons, the Intimidator went on to win the Cup series title. So Harvick gets the distinction of being the first non-Earnhardt with two wins and all top-seven finishes in plate races in a single season.

Trivia break! Who is the only driver to win three plate races in a season?

Spook-tacular

What did you go as for Halloween? I went as a researcher going to work, but I was excited to see a student in my niece's class went as Waldo. I found him pretty easily though.

Well, no matter what you dressed up as, your Halloween probably wasn't as good as Clint Bowyer's. Bowyer got his first career multi-win season in the Cup series, two of his four wins coming this year, and now three of his four career wins have come in the Chase. Dude knows how to turn it on, but alas for that 150-point penalty.

Also important is that the win put Richard Childress Racing back on top as the winningest Cup series team all time at Talladega. RCR has 11 wins there now, breaking a tie with Hendrick Motorsports. Strangely, a single team has now swept at Talladega in four of the past five years.

Trivia break! Give me just one of the four drivers to previously win a Cup race on Halloween. A hint! Two are still active.

And the rest ...

Remember on the old "Gilligan's Island" where the Professor and Mary Ann were lumped together in the theme song with all the rest? Despite the fact that I'm still in my 20s, at least I've studied my TV history.

Hey, they were important characters, central to many episodes. Well, I have the rest of my notes here, but that doesn't make them any less important.

Anyways, we had 26 leaders, tied for the third-most all time in the Cup series, and 87 leaders, just one off the record set earlier this season, also at Talladega.

The top-finishing driver who didn't lead a lap was Regan Smith back in 12th. And let's give one more shout-out to Brad Keselowski, who after not having a top-10 in the first 31 races of the year now has a top-10 in two straight.

Trivia break! With 38 points separating the top three, what driver made up the biggest deficit with three to go (49 points)?

Trivia break answers

1. Dale Earnhardt won three of four in 1990, and was a last-lap flat tire in the Daytona 500 from the perfecto.

2. Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Darrell Waltrip and Curtis Turner have all previously won on Halloween.

3. In 1990, Dale Earnhardt made up a 49-point deficit on Mark Martin in the last three races.

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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