Crunching numbers: Harvick the closer

May, 31, 2011
05/31/11
7:53
PM ET

I think Jimmie Johnson said it best when he told Kevin Harvick, "Hey Kevin Harvick, can I have my horseshoe back? Please?"

Well, he didn't say it per se, but he did tweet it, which is basically the same thing. (You can follow me at @MattWillisESPN. Do it!)

Anyway, that's in reference to Kevin Harvick saying last year that Jimmie Johnson has a golden horseshoe stuck somewhere uncomfortable. Well, Mr. Harvick, Jimmie's right, and now the horseshoe's in the other … well, you know.

Let's look at the numbers, since that's sort of my specialty. Harvick has won a Cup Series-high three races this season. But in those three wins, he's led only nine laps! And no more than six in any single race.

For the season, he has led 108 laps, the 12th-most in the series. But that's not all that's blowing me away about Harvick's performance.

Out Of Nowhere

Harvick has 17 career Cup Series wins, but he's done his best at making them dramatic. In six of those wins, Harvick led 10 or fewer laps, including in all three of his wins this season.

Well, in the NASCAR Cup Series modern era, which dates back to 1972, that's the second-most wins when leading 10 laps or fewer, behind only Dale Jarrett's eight.

And, when we look at wins in races in which a driver led six laps or fewer, which he did in all three 2011 wins, nobody has more such wins than Kevin Harvick's five.

Trivia break: Who is the only other driver with at least five wins when leading 10 laps or fewer?

Flair For the Dramatic

Looking for more evidence?

In this season and last, there have been five Cup races decided by a last-lap pass. Harvick has won three of those, and finished second in another, last fall at Talladega, when he was passed by teammate Clint Bowyer.

Three of those races actually took place at Talladega, the others were at Charlotte and California, and both of those were won by Harvick.

Trivia break: Besides Harvick and Bowyer, who else has won a race with a last-lap pass in the last two years?

Four Other Guys

In the mad scramble at the end of the race (sorry, Junior fans!), the field was greatly scrambled, leading to a top five with some unfamiliar names.

David Ragan was second, his best career finish. Joey Logano was third, his first top-five finish this year. Kurt Busch was fourth and A.J. Allmendinger fifth, both of their best finishes of the year.

Trivia break: Who is the only other driver to win with a last-lap pass at Charlotte?

Trivia Break Answers

(1) Jimmie Johnson has five wins when leading 10 laps or fewer.
(2) Johnson again, this spring at Talladega.
(3) Rounding out the trifecta, Johnson won the spring 2005 Charlotte race with a last-lap pass on Bobby Labonte.

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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