Crunching numbers: Kevin Harvick's turn?

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
11:41
AM ET

And here we are, just one race to go. Which means this is my last loop data-style stats preview for the year.

As much as I'd like to wax poetic (my favorite means of waxing) about the season as a whole and some of my favorite moments, I'd love to let you reflect on some of your favorite blog posts of the year (I won't make you choose, as long it's one of mine). There are a number of topics we have to hit on this week, and these tired fingers only have so many words left in them, despite their muscularity.

But we're in a time crunch here, and I wanted to throw a few thoughts out there before ESPN.com freezes and stores me for the offseason. I imagine it's the same process they use for the "Baseball Tonight" anchors -- I just hope my storage chamber has a nice view, unobstructed and all.

It's my last chance to throw a few nuggets out there, so if you're up for a change of pace from the Chase (yay rhyming!), here are a couple of thoughts:

First of all, let's talk about the Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year award, which I assume they'll still give. It'll be Kevin Conway -- not to ruin the surprise. He'll finish the year 35th in points, barring a minor miracle. But that's not even the worst a rookie of the year's finished in points, although it'll be the third worst. Why not a little offseason adjustment in rules so Brad Keselowski -- who wasn't eligible because of his part-time Cup schedule in 2009 -- could've won it? Just saying.

After a very quiet year, two Roush Fenway drivers -- Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth -- have put themselves in the top five in points, and another -- Greg Biffle -- has won a pair of races. All of the wins were with the new FR9 Ford engine, and with a better handle on that next year, I expect big things from the RFR camp.

Paul Menard's Cup career has been the subject of a lot of jokes to this point, but I think next year he puts those to rest by getting himself in the Chase picture at Richard Childress Racing. Over the past eight races, Menard has more points than Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Jeff Burton and Juan Pablo Montoya.

And to finish, we might see some short fields next year, but it won't be the end of the world. However, I'm not sure NASCAR will allow that to happen. So keep an eye out there for yours truly, driving my first car, a 1988 Chevy Celebrity. Let's go racing, boys!

Without further ado, here are my loop-data notes, with some help from NASCAR's sultan of stats, Mike Forde:

Beginnings and ends

Kevin Harvick said that Homestead might be his best track on the schedule, despite having never previously won there. He's got a point: It is his best track in terms of average finish, and Happy could pull off the comeback this weekend if the caution flags fly early and often.

That's because dating back to 2005, no driver has a better speed early in runs than Harvick, while Jimmie Johnson ranks fifth in that category and Denny Hamlin 12th. Harvick comes crashing back to earth on the long runs, though, falling to the 13th-best average speed, while Johnson is 10th and Hamlin remains 12th.

But all the chips are on the table now, and we might be able to throw all the past stats out as they'll leave nothing on the table Sunday.

Advantage: Hamlin?

OK, so maybe Hamlin didn't look so impressive in that previous blog entry, but he does have the fourth-fastest speed in traffic at Homestead dating back to 2005, and his ability to pass cars shows up glowingly.

Since 2005, Hamlin's pass differential at Homestead is a plus-119, by far the best among the Cup boys. Do you smell a list time?

Best green-flag pass differential at Homestead (since 2005)
• Denny Hamlin, plus-119
• Tony Stewart, plus-79
• Jimmie Johnson, plus-60
• Dale Earnhardt Jr., plus-57

And since you're curious (why else would you be reading this?), Harvick ranks seventh, with a plus-42.

Young and restless

Besides the top three in points, no driver has accumulated more points in the Chase this year than Joey Logano. Logano has finished seventh, sixth, fifth, fourth and then third, in that order. And compared to his first 31 races this year, Logano's past five have been a huge step in the right direction.

Logano's average finish in the first 31 races was a 18.0, with a 77.5 driver rating, 17.7 average running position and a negative-77 pass differential. And he averaged only 4.3 fastest laps per race.

In the past five, however, he had a 5.0 average finish, a 103.0 driver rating, a 9.9 average running position and plus-66 pass differential. Not to mention 8.8 fastest laps run per race.

Hamlin might be joined in a title hunt next year by the man in the orange car.

That's all I have for you this week -- enjoy the final race of the year!

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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