Crunching numbers after Pocono

June, 9, 2009

There were a lot of stories coming out of Pocono: The first points win for Stewart-Haas Racing. The first win by an owner/driver since 1998 (more on that later). The beginning of double-file restarts, which I enjoyed for their craziness.

But, since it's me, let's talk about where my head was at.

When Stewart won, it took me back to when Ricky Rudd was the last owner/driver to win a Cup race, back at Martinsville in 1998. And I said to myself, "Self, that was one awesome-looking car."

Now, NASCAR has some iconic paint schemes: the Petty blue and red, the intimidating black No. 3, Jeff Gordon's Rainbow Warrior.

But, when it comes to just pure favorite paint schemes, I've always had to put Rudd's Tide Ride on the top of my list.

Other cars that rank right up there:

• Chad Little's green John Deere machine
• Jerry Nadeau's Cartoon Network car (the only way to top it was if he actually raced The Mystery Machine from "Scooby Doo")
• Lake Speed's Spam car
• Jimmy Spencer's Sirius car (especially the Three Stooges one)
• Steve Park's all-silver Pennzoil car

So, let's start a discussion down in the comments section: What're your favorite NASCAR paint schemes of all time?

Owning the field

It had been more than a decade since an owner/driver won a Cup series race. Many had assumed owner/drivers had gone the way of single-car teams (of which we also saw a race winner this season) and Pontiacs.

But Tony Stewart may have set a precedent with his win Sunday: A driver -- if he hires the right people, puts the work and time into it and sets everything up correctly -- can compete for wins as an owner/driver.

Stewart's win was just the 20th by an owner/driver over the past 20 Cup Series seasons.

Owner/driver wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since 1990:

Driver -- Wins
Ricky Rudd -- 6
Darrell Waltrip -- 5
Geoffrey Bodine -- 4
Alan Kulwicki -- 4
Tony Stewart -- 1

Where could this go next? Is Kevin Harvick ready to bring KHI up to the big time? Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. eventually bring up JR Motorsports for Brad Keselowski, and will he join him on the team? We didn't see Stewart's move coming, so who knows where the next power team will come from.

Trivia break! I already told you that Rudd had the last win by an owner/driver before Stewart. Who was the last driver before Rudd to have one?

Smoke on track

The smoke on the track Saturday was rising from Tony Stewart's car. The splitter from his car might actually still be buried somewhere in the Pocono infield mud.

Stewart went to a backup car, but that's not necessarily a bad move this season. Four of this season's 14 races have been won by drivers who had to start at the rear of the field after either going to a backup car or getting an engine change.

It started with Matt Kenseth in the Daytona 500, a race where the second-place driver, Kevin Harvick, also started in the rear. Kyle Busch (Las Vegas) and Brad Keselowski (Talladega) joined Stewart as drivers to win in backup cars this season.

It may not be cost-efficient, but a fresh car may be the way to get into Victory Lane.

Trivia break! How many drivers won races last season after dropping to the rear of the field before the race?

Rush-hour hero

How often have you seen a driver who's fast up front but can't race when he's in traffic? Either he's loose with a car right up behind him, or develops a push with a car in front of him.

Sunday, obviously, Tony Stewart was the quickest with a car within a car length, running an average speed of 158.476 mph. The driver in second might surprise you, but then again it might not.

As the running order got shuffled at the end, drivers who ran strong all day were relegated to middle-of-the-pack finishes as the fuel-mileage and pit-strategy bugs bit them.

The second-fastest driver with a car within a car length? Mark Martin, who finished 19th after running in the middle of the top 10 all day and setting himself up for a strong run in the end.

Highest speed with a driver within a car length under the green flag at Pocono:

Driver -- Speed -- Finish
Tony Stewart -- 158.476 -- First
Mark Martin -- 158.446 -- 19th
Jeff Burton -- 157.804 -- Ninth
Carl Edwards -- 157.608 -- second

Trivia break! Denny Hamlin went into Pocono with the highest career average finish of any driver who had made multiple starts there. Who now has the best career average finish at the triangle among drivers with multiple starts?

Trivia break answers

1. The last owner/driver to win before Rudd was Geoffrey Bodine at Watkins Glen in 1996.

2. No driver won a race last season after dropping to the rear of the field for the start of the race.

3. Jimmie Johnson may have run out of gas, but his seventh-place run was enough to give him a 9.6 career average finish, best of all time.

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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