Numbers favor Tony Stewart at Atlanta

September, 1, 2011
09/01/11
3:32
PM ET

We're just two races before the Chase, and while wins are important, let's think big picture: the drivers fighting for a spot in the playoff and a shot at the championship.

Although some haven't officially locked up Chase spots, I'll call the top eight drivers in the standings locks. And Brad Keselowski's three wins also put him in, although he might still race his way into the top 10 and get the bonus points for those wins.

Where does that leave us? I think drivers ninth to 23rd in points have a realistic shot to make the Chase -- or fall out. If Keselowski races his way into the top 10, it might come down to several drivers with a single win for the final spots.

How should we judge? With this weekend's race at Atlanta, I'll look at the 1.5-mile tracks we've visited this year. Not all are equal, but it's a good starting point.

Among the group mentioned above, Tony Stewart could take a big step forward toward clinching. He's the defending race winner, and his average driver rating in the five 1.5-mile tracks this season is tops among those ranked ninth to 23 in points.

Who else? How about Greg Biffle? The Biff has just one top-5 finish this year, but in three of the five 1.5-mile races this season, he's had a driver rating in the top seven, and in the other two, never worse than 15th.

David Ragan could surprise, too. Even though he's just outside the top 20 in points, he had a top-5 driver rating earlier this year at Texas and Charlotte.

Let's flip it and talk about who could struggle. No driver between ninth and 23rd in points had a worse average driver rating this season in the 1.5-mile races than Mark Martin, with a 63.4. To compare, Stewart's leading mark was a 100.4. Martin's driver rating never ranked in the top 20 in any of those five races.

Clint Bowyer has Chase experience, but he might have to lean on Richmond. In four of the five 1.5-mile races this season, his driver rating was under 80, each time ranking outside the top 15 in the field.

Phew, that was a lot of info. Sit back, digest it, prepare yourself for Atlanta, and enjoy my Eliminator!

The Eliminator: Atlanta edition

Most people just pick winners -- some by hunches, some by stats and some by just picking names off the top of their heads. 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 last 19 Atlanta winners entered the race 19th or higher in points (28 eliminated, 19 remaining).

2. The last five and eight of the last nine Atlanta winners had at least 10 previous career wins (five eliminated, 14 remaining).

3. The last eight and 11 of the last 12 Atlanta winners finished in the top 12 in the most recent California race (five eliminated, nine remaining).

4. The last six fall Atlanta winners finished in the top 11 in the most recent Michigan race (five eliminated, four remaining).

5. The last five fall Atlanta winners finished in the top 11 in the most recent Las Vegas race (one eliminated, three remaining).

6. The last five and eight of the last nine Atlanta winners had a previous Atlanta win. (two eliminated, one remaining).

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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