Kyle Busch, Showdown favorite
After Saturday night's race at Bristol, our field for the Sprint Summer Showdown finale at Atlanta will be set, with a driver joining previous winners Paul Menard, Brad Keselowski, Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Busch.
The catch is I don't think there'll be a new face to join them. Four is a crowd, after all.
Kyle Busch's recent dominance at Bristol is clear enough to see by just judging the results. He's won four of the past five Bristol races and has finished first, first and second in the past three August races there.
He's also done it in simply dominant fashion. In those races, he's led 1,297 of a possible 3,003 laps, or a little over 43 percent. He's also come close to the magical perfect 150 driver rating in four of those races, putting up marks of 149.2, 145.0, 139.8 and 132.6.
Busch's five wins at Bristol are already tied for the fifth most in track history, and those have come in just 13 starts. Any drivers with more Bristol wins have made at least 29 starts at the track.
Busch has led 105.5 laps per Bristol start, which ranks third among drivers with at least 10 starts there. His average finish of 8.7 is second-best behind Benny Parsons, and he's finished in the top 10 in 76.9 percent of his starts there, the all-time leader among drivers with at least 10 starts.
Who could challenge Busch, or perhaps step up if he eats some bad sushi or gets lost on his way to the track?
Carl Edwards has won twice in the August Bristol race (2007, 2008). But in the past two summer races there, he finished 16th and 12th. Plus, he's led in just one of the past five Bristol races.
Kurt Busch, like his younger brother, has also won at Bristol five times, but none of those have come in the past 10 races. In fact, Kurt Busch has led in just one of the past seven Bristol races.
The biggest challenge could come from ol' five-time, Jimmie Johnson. Despite his poor finish in last year's Bristol race, Johnson has shown some strength there. Throw out that race, and Johnson's average finish at Bristol over the past three seasons is a 3.8.
But, judging by the numbers, Johnson and the 41 other drivers in Saturday night's field will all be fighting for second behind our points leader, Kyle Busch.
And with the roll he's been on, I hope Sprint has its checkbook ready at Atlanta.
Matt Willis has been a researcher with the ESPN Stats & Information Group since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. You can reach Matt at ESPNMattWillis@yahoo.com for any NASCAR-related questions or comments.