Crunching numbers after Chicagoland

July, 14, 2009
07/14/09
11:06
AM ET

Not a bad show at Chicago, and the ending was surely worth staying up for. But that's quickly becoming the norm in the wild ride that is the 2009 Sprint Cup Series season. Look at the last five races:

• Michigan: Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle both run out of gas on the final lap, leading to a win for Mark Martin, who managed to conserve enough fuel in the final run.
• Sonoma: Kasey Kahne holds off road course ace Tony Stewart on a series of late restarts.
• New Hampshire: Joey Logano manages to stretch his fuel, after Ryan Newman runs out, and waits out the rain to become the first teenager winner in series history.
• Daytona: Stewart refuses to lift, or pulls down on Kyle Busch, depending on who you ask, causing a wild chain-reaction wreck just shy of the finish line.
• Chicago: Martin dominates most of the race, but falls back after a wild battle for the lead late in the race.

Who knows what's next, but at Indianapolis everything is magnified because of the importance of the race.

But at least we get an off week of deep contemplation and self-reflection before Indy. Just enough time to get a nap in, and maybe play a nice board game with the family.

My advice: Grab yourself a hammock, an excellent summer napping site, but make sure to have a beverage within reach, because when you finally get comfortable in that hammock, you're not getting out.

The board game: Anything but Mouse Trap. That game always seems to take 20 minutes to set up before you realize something went wrong in the middle. It's like one of my dates in college.

The old and the beautiful

Age is just a number … and all those other generic, clichéd sayings that make you aware that Martin is old but kicking butt in his golden years.

But it's true, Martin continues to win races. His four wins are the most in the series this year. To put that in perspective, Martin came into this season having won four races since the turn of the century. That's four wins in 298 races from 2000-08 versus four wins in 19 races this season.

He is now the third-oldest driver, at the time of his last Cup win, in series history. Of course, with each win, Martin's total goes up.

The oldest drivers at the time of their last Cup series wins:

Driver -- Age (years-months-days)
Harry Gant -- 52-7-6
Morgan Shepherd -- 51-5-8
Martin -- 50-6-2

Trivia break! Martin's 195 laps led is a single-race high at Chicago. Who had previously led the most laps in a Chicago race?

Right on the Mark

If you're reading this, you're probably wondering how those four wins after turning 50 ranks on the all-time list. Well, only one other driver has won multiple races after turning 50.

That's Gant, who won eight times after hitting the half-century mark. The only other two drivers to win after turning 50 were Bobby Allison and Shepherd, both won only once.

Is Martin's run unprecedented? Not exactly, but it's certainly unusual and worth paying attention to. You know what else you should be paying attention to?

Trivia break! How many wins did Gant have before turning 50?

Looking ahead

Let's look all the way ahead to November. If Martin finishes the season with the outright series lead in wins, meaning not tied with anybody, he'll also be the oldest to pull off that feat. Accompanying chart? Always …

The oldest drivers in Cup history to outright lead the series in wins:

Year -- Driver -- age
1959 -- Lee Petty -- 45
1958 -- Petty -- 44
1980 -- Cale Yarborough -- 41
1976 -- David Pearson -- 41
1962 -- Joe Weatherly -- 40

Trivia break! Who was the oldest driver to tie for the series lead in wins?

Trivia break answers

1. Matt Kenseth led 176 laps at Chicago in 2005, but finished second.

2. Gant won only 10 races before turning 50, but then pulled off eight after his 50th birthday.

3. You might be able to guess this, but Gant's five wins in 1991 were enough to tie Davey Allison for the series lead.

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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