Crunching numbers: Jeff Gordon due?

May, 5, 2011
05/05/11
11:24
AM ET

There's no doubting Jeff Gordon's accomplishments at Darlington Raceway. In 30 starts at the track, he has seven wins, the third most all time, trailing only David Pearson's 10 (in 47 starts) and Dale Earnhardt's nine (in 44 starts).

Plus, he's riding a streak of seven top-5 finishes at the Lady In Black, which is the fourth-longest streak ever there.

However, it's not even his personal-best streak at the Track Too Tough to Tame. In 1995-99, he had eight straight top-5s. That streak becomes more impressive when you consider all of those top-5s actually were top-3 finishes.

To summarize for the reader on the go, there have been four streaks of seven top-5s all time at Darlington, in 107 races, and Jeff Gordon has two of them.

The others? (You're dying to know, admit it.) Besides Pearson's track-record 10 straight, Jeff Burton had eight in a row in 1997-2000. But Burton hasn't had a top-5 there since.

In terms of the loop data I know you love, dating to the inception of loop data in 2005, no driver has a better driver rating or average running position than Gordon.

Over that time, Gordon's never had a race with a lower driver rating than 111. Anything over 100 is generally considered a very good race. Last year, Gordon hung up a 134.0 and led all drivers with a 3.2 average position and 69 fastest laps run.

But what kind of race Saturday night would favor Gordon? I'm glad you asked.

Gordon's going to need shorter green-flag runs down the stretch to win Saturday. In each of the past four races at Darlington, he's ranked fourth or better in speed early in a run, but no better than sixth in speed late in a run.

He's going to have to avoid falling back in the field, as well. Only once in the six races with loop data information has Gordon ranked better than 10th in speed in traffic.

With seven wins, you know Gordon can get it done, but that's how he can best get it done.

The Eliminator: Darlington Edition

Most people just pick winners -- some by hunches, some by stats, some by just picking names off the top of their heads.

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

1. Since 1961, every Darlington winner has had a previous top-10 at the track (17 eliminated, 30 left).

2. The last 16 Darlington winners had a top-15 finish in the previous Cup series race (16 eliminated, 14 left).

3. The past eight Cup series winners this season had a top-15 finish in the most recent race at that track (eight eliminated, six left).

4. Seven of the last eight Darlington winners had a top-10 in the most recent Texas race (four eliminated, two left).

5. Eleven of the last 12 Darlington winners had at least five career Cup series wins (one eliminated, one left).

Your winner: Carl Edwards.

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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