Three Men and Five-Time at Michigan

June, 14, 2012
06/14/12
1:34
PM ET

Greetings to all my NASCAR stat-loving, knowledge-seeking friends. You know who you are.

Today, let's talk a little Michigan, since that's the next race on the schedule and all. It's a repaved Michigan, which means speeds on an already-fast track are going to be up. And Pocono was pretty pacey last week with its fresh asphalt.

In this race, if the numbers are any indication (they usually are), I like a little combination I call Three Men and Five-Time at the front: Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson.

Since 2005, when Edwards became a full-time Cup driver, those four drivers are atop just about every loop-data category at Michigan International Speedway. They're the only four with a driver rating over 100, they rank 1-4 in fastest laps, average running position, and speed both early and late in runs (not to mention overall green-flag speed).

But let's take a look at those results. Let's say, in theory, that anything outside the top 15 is a "subpar" finish, especially for those four. In those 14 races since 2005, Kenseth and Edwards each have a pair of subpar finishes, while Biffle and Johnson have six apiece.

Those stats can be backed up by looking at the green-flag pass differential for those four drivers. Edwards is plus-261 and Kenseth plus-159, while Biffle is just a plus-38 and Johnson is a minus-36.

And what makes that even more damaging is that the bulk of Biffle's and Johnson's losses have taken place at the end of the race. In the final 10 percent of races since 2005, Johnson is minus-71 in pass differential, while Biffle is a minus-64, by far the worst two totals. The third-worst mark is a minus-33.

So Biffle and Johnson might join the other two Roush Fenway Racing drivers up front Sunday at Michigan, but let's see if they stay there.

The Eliminator: Michigan

For those of you new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to predict a winner.

It's pretty simple: Instead of telling you somebody will win, I'll point out why everybody else has to lose. The driver remaining, by process of elimination, will be the race winner.

And if you want to see who was eliminated in each step, I'll post the info on my Twitter account (@MattWillisESPN).

1. Eighty-three of the past 84 Michigan winners had a previous top-5 finish at the track (22 eliminated, 23 remaining).

2. The past eight Michigan winners had a top-20 finish in the previous Michigan race (eight eliminated, 15 remaining).

3. Nine of the past 10 spring Michigan race winners finished eighth or better in the most recent Darlington race (nine eliminated, six remaining).

4. Each of the past seven Michigan winners finished 19th or better in each of the previous three Sprint Cup Series races (four eliminated, two remaining).

5. Four of the past five spring Michigan race winners had a top-5 finish in the previous year's spring Michigan race (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Matt Kenseth

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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