Crunching numbers after Cali

February, 24, 2009

Working at ESPN during the day, we can run low on live sporting events, so I've been watching some of the NFL Scouting Combine. Because nothing says excitement like watching Drew Willy in the broad jump.

However, as things often do, it got me thinking about who would pace a NASCAR drivers scouting combine. Several NASCAR drivers do have a background in sports. Elliott Sadler, for example, was offered a scholarship to play basketball at James Madison before a knee injury derailed those plans.

We probably won't ever get to see the NASCAR Sprint Cup Combine, despite my insistence. But it won't stop me from making my picks, with pointless analysis, in a few notable areas.

40-yard dash -- Jimmie Johnson: Nobody at California was faster on restarts, NASCAR's version of the 40-yard dash, than Johnson.

Bench press -- Tony Stewart: Have you seen those Old Spice commercials? Dude can just dab on a little cologne and then put up 225 about 25 times.

Vertical jump -- Elliott Sadler: Knee injury or no knee injury, Sadler's still my pick here. Maybe he picked himself up a Wii Fit with his Best Buy sponsorship.

20-yard shuttle -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.: I don't think anybody is better at maneuvering through autograph seekers and random groupies than Junior.

No. 17 wins his 18th

Wisconsin native and Cheesehead Matt Kenseth has already matched the Green Bay Packers' longest win streak from last season, taking two in a row.

In 2003, when Kenseth won the Cup Series championship, he won just one race. He already has doubled that total two races into the season, and his crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer (pause to let spell check recover), still is undefeated as a Sprint Cup crew chief.

Kenseth did something Sunday that hasn't been done much in Cup Series history -- visit Victory Lane the week after winning The Great American Race. In fact, only three previous drivers, all NASCAR legends, have done the double.

Won Daytona 500 and next NASCAR Cup Series race

Year -- Driver -- Track -- Final Points
2009 -- Matt Kenseth -- California -- ?
1997 -- Jeff Gordon -- Rockingham -- 1st
1977 -- Cale Yarborough -- Richmond -- 1st
1973 -- Richard Petty -- Richmond -- 5th

Richard Petty didn't win the championship in 1973, but he won a few others, so you don't have to feel bad for him.

As for drivers who have won the first two races of the season, Kenseth is the fifth to do it -- and the first since Gordon in 1997. But Gordon is the only one of those drivers to go on to win the series championship. David Pearson (1976), Bob Welborn (1959) and Marvin Panch (1957) each came up short.

Trivia break! With Kenseth having won this season's first two for Roush Fenway Racing, which team last won the first two races in a Sprint Cup season?

Getting rowdy

On Saturday, I went out to lunch with my mom and visited my alma mater (proud Ithaca College Bomber).

What did Kyle Busch do Saturday? Just make NASCAR history.

Busch became the first driver to win two NASCAR National Touring Series races in a single day, and did so in dominating fashion, leading 238 of a possible 250 laps in the two races.

Busch had come close before to winning two races in a day. At Daytona in July 2007, he won the rain-delayed Nationwide Series event before losing a thrilling finish to Jamie McMurray in the Cup event. Of the six occurrences of a driver finishing in the top five in two races in a day, Busch is responsible for half of them.

Top-5s in two NASCAR National races in a day

Year -- Driver -- Track -- NSCS -- NNS -- NCWTS
2009 -- Kyle Busch -- California -- NA -- 1st -- 1st
2008 -- Denny Hamlin -- Richmond -- 3rd -- 4th -- NA
2008 -- Carl Edwards -- California -- 1st -- 5th -- NA
2008 -- Kyle Busch -- California -- 4th -- 2nd -- NA
2007 -- Kyle Busch -- Daytona -- 2nd -- 1st -- NA
1983 -- Morgan Shepherd -- Bristol -- 3rd -- 1st -- NA

It was the third time in Busch's brief NASCAR career that he has finished among the top five in all three events in a weekend, and seventh time he's had a top-10 in all three races. Which begs the question …

Trivia break! Busch has finished in the top five in Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series races in a weekend three times. It's only been done by one other driver in NASCAR history. Who, when and where?

Put on a happy face

The only caution that wasn't for rain Sunday night came when Kevin Harvick blew an engine and hit the wall, ending his day.

That wreck was more notable than it seemed for one big reason: Harvick had finished his previous 81 races, a Cup Series record for most consecutive races finished.

However, it came up just three races short of the most consecutive starts (not races) finished, set by none other than "The Turtle" Herman Beam from 1961 to 1963.

The Turtle was aptly nicknamed due to his safe-over-fast approach, and he lived up to that, never finishing higher than fourth in a race and putting up just three top-5 finishes in nearly 200 career races. Beam, however, did finish fourth in the 1959 season standings.

Harvick's previous DNF came at Dover in 2006, his only DNF of that season, also due to an engine failure. Harvick has ranked consistently among the leaders in points during his career, mostly due to his ability to keep his car in one piece and put together strings of good, consistent finishes.

Kevin Harvick NSCS career

Year -- DNF -- Final Points
2009 -- 1 -- 16th
2008 -- 0 -- 4th
2007 -- 0 -- 10th
2006 -- 1 -- 4th
2005 -- 1 -- 14th
2004 -- 4 -- 14th
2003 -- 0 -- 5th
2002 -- 6 -- 21st
2001 -- 1 -- 9th

Harvick has had multiple DNFs in a season only twice, and in those seasons he finished 14th and 21st in points. His California DNF matched the number of races he failed to finish in the last three seasons combined.

Trivia break! Now that Harvick's streak is over, which driver has the longest streak of races running at the finish?

Trivia break answers

1. Dale Earnhardt Inc., now known as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, won the first two races of 2001, with Michael Waltrip winning at Daytona and Steve Park winning at Rockingham.

2. Terry Labonte finished second in the Cup race, fifth in the Nationwide race and won the Truck Series races at Richmond in 1995.

3. Harvick's teammate Clint Bowyer has now been running at the end of 75 consecutive races, only six off Harvick's streak.

Matt Willis is a studio researcher at ESPN.



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