Hamlin stepping up again

April, 24, 2012
04/24/12
12:19
PM ET

Working on ESPN2's "NASCAR Now" has a certain number of perks that come with it. One is the chance to talk NASCAR, and other assorted random topics, with our reporters and analysts. Monday, Ricky Craven was in house and on the show.

The main topic was Denny Hamlin and his comeback season, as well as his place in history so far.

In 2010, he had a series-leading eight wins. Last year, just a single win as he just snuck into the Chase via the brand-spanking-new wild card.

This year, he has not only the two wins, but four top-10 finishes. In 2010 through eight races, he had two wins, but no other top-10s, leaving him 11th in points. That year, he went on a tear through May and June that netted him three additional victories.

Hamlin has 19 Sprint Cup wins, making him one of 40 drivers to reach that mark. That's it.

Those wins have come in 231 starts. If Hamlin wins one of his next two starts, he will have reached 20 wins faster than Cale Yarborough. If he gets there in 12 more starts, he'll be faster than Dale Earnhardt.

Trivia break! Who are the two drivers who reached 20 wins in less than 100 starts? Hint: Hop in the Wayback Machine.

Kansas Know-How

It looked like Martin Truex Jr.'s day. Mired in a 174-race winless streak, he led more than half the race before being passed by Hamlin with 31 to go.

But Truex still had one of the more dominating performances in recent memory.

Truex's average position throughout the race was a 1.685, the second-best in a race over the past two seasons by any driver at any track.

In a strange twist, any driver with an average position of second or better in a race over the past two seasons didn't go on to win that race.

But Truex's driver rating for the race was a 142.6, within sniffing distance of a perfect 150.

Over the past six seasons, only Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon have had a better driver rating in a race that they didn't go on to win. Busch did it three times, while Gordon did it once.

Trivia break! Who had the best average position in a race over the past two seasons?

Wreckless Racing

We had track records for fewest cautions and caution laps and highest average speed for the second straight race.

Whether you like the long green-flag stretches we saw first at Texas and then Kansas or not, cautions are at a historic low this season.

Through eight races, we've had only 43 cautions, 25 in the first three races. That's the fewest cautions over the first eight races of the season since 1979, when there were just 37.

Trivia break! Let's see how close you get with a guess. What's the mark for the most cautions in the first eight races of the year since 1980?

Trivia Break Answers

1. Herb Thomas got to 20 wins in 98 races; Fred Lorenzen in 99.

2. Kyle Busch had a 1.515 average position last year at California.

3. In 2005, there were 86 cautions in the first eight races, twice as many as this 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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