Crunching numbers after the Pennsylvania 500

August, 4, 2009

I really enjoyed having some Monday racing this week. Nothing brightens up a day with an early wake-up call and spreading poison oak-related blisters quite like weekday racing.

And the racing wasn't bad either. Although the race started a little slowly, when those guys decided to drop the hammer and run all-out, it showed me that those new cars could be racier than I thought at Pocono.

And it was great for Denny Hamlin, somebody who was getting the reputation of being able to run up front but not being able to close the deal. I like it when drivers wear their emotions on their sleeve too, whether it be grieving a lost relative or frustration over a 50-race winless streak.

I'm sure you feel the emotion and passion I put into every one of my NASCAR statistical blogs. Hey, wake up!

But I haven't been able to get the bad taste out of my mouth over one topic. Jimmie Johnson had a mechanical problem and was handed a virtual get-out-of-jail-free-card after being three laps down midrace. The 48 was a fast car when all those parts were lined up straight, but the current NASCAR system allows too many freebies at the big tracks where it takes a long green-flag run to see cars being lapped.

Of course, the only drawback of the double-file restarts is that it doesn't allow drivers to try to race their way back on the lead lap. Although it might be a positive that the lap-down cars aren't interfering with racing for position.

You know me. I'm solution-oriented. I'm here to help … after a healthy amount of complaining, of course. The simple answer is to only allow the Lucky Dog to be a driver who's down just one lap.

I'll even let NASCAR use my idea without my usual consulting fee. Not that I'd turn down any sweet cash offer. No? Well, let's just look back at Pocono.

Hamming it up

Denny Hamlin's Pocono win gave him three there in his short career, good for a tie for sixth-most all-time. The all-time leader in wins at Pocono is Bill Elliott, who has five.

What's striking -- especially given how often Hamlin runs up front and how good he is on the short tracks -- is he only has two other wins in his Sprint Cup Series career.

So, to recap, that's three wins in eight races at Pocono and two wins in 128 tries at any other Sprint Cup Series track. The numbers are staggering, as you can see, but let me break it down.

Denny Hamlin Cup career, Pocono vs. everywhere else
Category -- Pocono -- Others
Races -- 8 -- 128
Wins -- 3 -- 2
Top 10 pct. -- 75.0 -- 48.4
Avg. finish -- 9.5 -- 14.4

Trivia break: Hamlin came into the race with six top-5 finishes this season, tied for the most among any driver without a win. Who was he tied with?

A lock in the Keystone State

We know Denny Hamlin is good at Pocono. Just look at the above note.

But even though he isn't the all-time wins leader at the triangle, Denny Hamlin is now the best all-time at Pocono in one of the most important categories: average finish.

Best average finish at Pocono, Cup Series history
Denny Hamlin: 9.5
Davey Allison: 9.8
Jimmie Johnson: 9.8
Tim Richmond: 9.9
Jeff Gordon: 10.0

If you were curious about how Monday's run affected the list, coming into the race Johnson was the all-time leader in average finish at Pocono, but took a hit with his 13th-place finish.

Trivia break: Joe Gibbs Racing now has seven Pocono wins. What's the only team with more?

Signs of life

One of the forgotten nuggets of Monday's race was the performance of Clint Bowyer. With a little pit strategy and a fairly good car, Bowyer wasn't far from pulling off what would have been an upset win.

And after the first few races of the season, when Bowyer was sitting second in points, I would have been shocked if you had called a Bowyer win an upset, but that's what has become of Richard Childress Racing in general.

Would you believe Bowyer's third-place finish at Pocono was RCR's first top-5 finish in 11 races? Well, it's true. The most recent top-5 they had was Jeff Burton's third at Richmond in May.

Trivia break: What was the best RCR finish this season? Who had it and where was it? Hint: There are two.

Trivia break answers

1. Greg Biffle also had six top-5 finishes, but none of them is a win.

2. Not surprisingly, JGR is behind Hendrick Motorsports, which has 11 Pocono wins.

3. RCR has a pair of second-place finishes: Kevin Harvick in the Daytona 500 and Clint Bowyer at Las Vegas, the third race of the season.

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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