Crunching numbers for Darlington

May, 7, 2009
05/07/09
2:19
PM ET

Usually, I like to think I have my finger pretty well on the pulse of what's going on in NASCAR. This time, however, I have to admit I missed the boat.

After seeing the amount of time and manpower it took teams like Michael Waltrip Racing and Red Bull Racing to get up to speed, I thought it would take a couple of seasons for Stewart-Haas Racing to begin racing at the front of the field.

I was wrong -- they're there now.

And as a bonus, Tony Stewart's making some pretty funny commercials.

Although Smoke's just 10 races into team ownership, I've already started wondering about SHR's future because of its early season success and room to grow under NASCAR's four-team limit.

Since Mark Martin will drive full time for Hendrick Motorsports in 2010 and Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are not going anywhere, could Brad Keselowski get himself a ride with the Hendrick satellite team?

What about a likely hot free agent in Martin Truex Jr.? Rumors swirled around him driving for Stewart-Haas last season before he signed a one-year deal to stay at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

Stewart-Haas still can add two more cars. Those, along with Joe Gibbs Racing's ability to add one more, would be the most desired rides if those teams decide to expand. Sponsorship, obviously, is a concern. But I believe drivers like Keselowski and Truex could bring sponsorship along with them.

And what about me? I wouldn't mind starting a team. Who's got a few million dollars to help me out? Anyone? Bueller?

New kids on the block

Well, you can't really call Stewart-Haas Racing the new team in the garage. That team has existed since 2002 as Haas CNC Racing, but has not delivered near this level of success.

Mike Forde, NASCAR's sultan of stats, hooked me up with some loop data comparing Stewart-Haas Racing's 2009 effort to Haas CNC's team of the previous four seasons.

Average running position for Haas CNC and Stewart-Haas since 2005
2005 -- 24.7
2006 -- 24.6
2007 -- 28.0
2008 -- 30.1
2009 -- 14.7

Now, because I love you, a little more analysis on the switch.

Over those last four seasons, Haas CNC Racing had one top-5 and 10 top-10 finishes. In only 20 starts this season (10 apiece from Stewart and Newman), they have six top-5 and 11 top-10 finishes.

Much like meat, adding a little Smoke flavor goes a long way.

Too tough to tame?

That depends who you ask over at Stewart-Haas Racing. Both are in the top 12 in points, which would make them Chase drivers if they can hold on, although there is plenty of season left to go.

However, the two Stewart-Haas drivers have had far different levels of success at Darlington. Starting with ...

Tony Stewart's worst driver rating by track
Dover -- 65.5
Darlington -- 81.5
Charlotte -- 84.0
Homestead -- 88.1
Kansas -- 91.3

Ryan Newman, on the other hand, could pick up the slack for the team and maybe give Smoke some pointers. Darlington is his third-best track in terms of driver rating.

The young gun

This isn't a loop data note, but you should keep reading anyway. I just didn't have room for it Tuesday.

Kyle Busch got to 50 career NASCAR National Touring Series wins at the age of 24, just the 14th driver in NASCAR history to reach that mark, and by far the youngest.

Youngest drivers to 50 wins in NASCAR National Touring Series
Kyle Busch -- 24 years, 0 days
Jeff Gordon -- 28-11
Richard Petty -- 29-246
Ned Jarrett -- 33-26

Richard Petty's record of 200 Cup Series wins might be untouchable, but Kyle Busch might break Petty's mark of 200 total NASCAR wins.

Thoughts, comments on this bold statement? Give 'em to me. Let me hear what you have to say. In the meantime, I'll be waiting for Saturday night at the track too tough to tame.

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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