Crunching numbers from Infineon

June, 22, 2009

I'll have to admit I was impressed with Kasey Kahne's performance Sunday, and I'm sure many others were as well.

When the final caution came out and he lined up alongside six-time road course winner Tony Stewart with Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya in hot pursuit, I was willing to write off Kahne, even though he was the leader. He even picked the opposite lane from what most of the leaders throughout the day preferred.

But Kahne held off all the road racers and became the 41st driver to win a road course race in series history.

I was also impressed by Richard Petty Motorsports. RPM's current drivers won twice last season, both courtesy of Kasey Kahne over a three-race span. This season, RPM put two cars in the top five in the Daytona 500, which is always a crapshoot. But after that, its only other top-5 was Kahne's fifth at Bristol.

But despite RPM's slide this season, look who's just three points out of a Chase position. That's right: Kasey Kahne. But look again to see who's in that 12th spot: Juan Pablo Montoya. Their success is counteracted with the struggles of Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr., all of whom are 15th or lower in points and face an uphill struggle to make the Chase.

The race to the Chase is on, but before we look ahead, let's take some time to look back to Sonoma.

Kahne is able

Kahne was by no means known as a road course driver before this weekend. He had never finished better than 14th in a road course race (twice before at Watkins Glen), and never better than 23rd at Sonoma.

It was his 10th career win, but only his third in the past three seasons after winning a series-high six in 2006. Half of those wins have come on 1.5-mile tracks, where Kahne has usually been at his best. But he's also now won at a road course, short track (Richmond) and Pocono, along with wins at 2-mile ovals Michigan and California.

However, when it comes to Kahne's wins, it all comes down to starting position.

Kasey Kahne's Cup wins by starting position
Staring position -- Wins
First -- 5
Second -- 2
Third -- 1*
Ninth -- 2
* Started 3rd at Sonoma

Trivia break! Kahne has won 10 Cup series races. How many drivers have double-digit career wins?

Dynamic duo

Tony Stewart had another top-two finish at Sonoma, his series-leading fifth of the season. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are tied for second with four.

All five of Smoke's top-two finishes have come over the past nine races -- a span in which only two other drivers have put up multiple top-two finishes, Mark Martin (three) and Johnson (two).

Over those nine races, Stewart has 1,401 points. To give you an idea of how dominating he's been:

Most points, past nine cup races
Tony Stewart -- 1,401
Ryan Newman -- 1,303
Greg Biffle -- 1,217
Jimmie Johnson -- 1,215
Mark Martin -- 1,184

Trivia break! Stewart has finished in the top 10 in six straight road course races, the longest active streak. Who has the second-longest streak?

Follow my lead

A number of cars got unlucky near the end of the race Sunday. A spin or a failed turn resulted in a driver's losing plenty of spots.

The reason the losses were so large was that there were so many cars on the lead lap -- a result of the combination of sturdier cars, the "Lucky Dog" and plenty of cautions that kept the field together, I suspect.

All in all, 36 cars finished on the lead lap, the most in a road course race in series history. That broke the record of 34 (at both Sonoma and Watkins Glen in 2005).

Strangely, at Sonoma in 2005, Kasey Kahne was one of those cars that didn't finish on the lead lap. He joined fellow stars Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick as being out of contention in that race.

Trivia break! Who won those road course races in 2005 that saw a then-record 34 cars finish on the lead lap?

Trivia break answers

1. Kasey Kahne is the 56th driver to win 10 races, tying Donnie Allison and Sterling Marlin for 54th all-time.

2. Juan Pablo Montoya has finished in the top 10 in three straight road course races, the next-longest streak.

3. Tony Stewart swept the road course races in 2005 on his way to a championship.

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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