Crunching numbers: No stopping Hamlin?

March, 31, 2011

Your NCAA tournament bracket might be shot, but hey, that's why I gave you the option to fill out a little NASCAR Bracket. Unless you didn't fill one out, like some sort of jerk.

Much like basketball's version of my NASCAR tournament, we've had some wild matchups in the first couple rounds. In the second round at California, Ryan Newman finished fifth and Carl Edwards sixth, but those weren't good enough to move on, as Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch knocked both of them out with their top-three finishes.

Meanwhile, to the envy of Newman and Edwards, four of the final eight drivers moved on to the quarterfinals despite finishing outside the top 10, although none finished worse than 17th.

Here's some previews to make your picks to move onto the Fast Four (clever, I know).

Earnhardt Bracket
(16) Matt Kenseth vs. (9) AJ Allmendinger
This is a matchup of a pair of drivers who don't have a great history at Martinsville. Dinger's 26th-place average finish and just one top-10 in seven starts is enough for me to pick Kenseth.

Allison Bracket
(20) Kevin Harvick vs. (12) Jimmie Johnson
Although Harvick was third in his most recent Martinsville race, that remains his only top-5 in 19 career starts. I like Johnson and his streak of 17-straight Martinsville top-10s.

France Bracket
(2) Kurt Busch vs. (10) Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Busch's record here isn't as good as you'd think, with 10-straight finishes outside the top 10. Meanwhile, Earnhardt's my pick because of his four top-10s in the past six races.

Petty Bracket
(14) Kyle Busch vs. (6) Paul Menard
Menard's still looking for his first Martinsville top-10. I think Kyle Busch is the man to end his Cinderella run.

Now, on with the loop-data goodness!

A Two-Man Show

No disrespect to Jeff Gordon and his seven Martinsville wins, but the fact of the matter is that Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin have combined to win each of the past nine Martinsville races, and that's sort of unreal.

But the pendulum has swung heavily in favor of Hamlin over the past few years, as he's won three in a row and has shown the strength at the "Paper Clip" once reserved for Johnson and Johnson alone.

I'll illustrate this using the fastest lap run, literally measuring which driver laid down the fastest lap on every lap of the Martinsville races.

From 2006-08, Johnson had the fastest lap at Martinsville on 424 of 3,010 circuits, or about 14 percent. Hamlin had just 131, or 4 percent.

In 2009, in 1,001 laps, Johnson had 128 and Hamlin had 112.

In 2010, the swap was completed, as Hamlin had 111 (11 percent), and Johnson had just 17, under 2 percent.

The Eliminator: Martinsville Edition

Most people just pick winners, some by hunches, some by stats, some by just picking a name off the top of their head.

I don't pick winners, I pick losers. I'll make my race pick by telling you why all but one driver in the field just can't win.

1) The past 16 Martinsville winners had a previous top-two finish at the track (31 eliminated, 14 left).
2) The last 13 Martinsville winners finished ninth or better in the last Martinsville race (eight eliminated, six remaining).
3) The last five Martinsville winners also won the last Richmond race (five eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Denny Hamlin



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