Crunching numbers for Texas

November, 4, 2009
11/04/09
8:11
PM ET

Jimmie Johnson just took the points lead!

No, you're not reading an old blog entry. I just noticed something interesting over at www.racing-reference.info. It turns out that Johnson rallying to a top-10 finish and Tony Stewart getting swept up in the wreck that'll be known as "Ryan Newman's Wild Ride, Part II" (click here for Part I) would've been enough to give Johnson a slim, seven-point lead over Smoke under the old-school points system.

This is the second straight season in which the "classic" points system would've been more exciting than the Chase points race. Last year, Carl Edwards would've edged Jimmie Johnson by a 16-point margin, highlighted by a victory in the season finale at Homestead.

Disclaimer No. 1: I'm well aware that things might've happened far differently had there not been a Chase points system. Jimmie and Chad would've thrown the switch well before the final 10 races. But, let's just play the alternate realities game, because it's fun. I'm all about fun.

Disclaimer No. 2: Despite my remarks about how much closer the points system would've been under the Jurassic system, I still prefer the Chase, and I'll tell you why.

We need to reward the drivers who are running well at the end of the season, and we can't go overboard rewarding the drivers who caught fire midseason. In other sports, we don't really care who was at their finest in the middle of the season, when the pressure's not really on. I like my champion to be the team that figured it all out at season's end, and went out and proclaimed its authority over the field.

Over the past few weeks, I've been asked how we can even out the points and make it so the same guy doesn't seemingly win every season. I say, why do we need to?

I want to find the best team (driver, crew chief, pit crew, engine shop, etc.) at the end of the season, and it seems to one well-liked blogger that the team over the last four seasons has been the 48 Lowe's Chevrolet.

But there are still three more races to enjoy this season, and here's what I'm looking at:

Sweet Texas tea

At this point last year, you would've called me nuts had I told you that 33 races into the 2009 season, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray would be the only Roush Fenway drivers to win a race. I would've sounded like nuts, but I would've been correct.

And although it's a new year for the RFR team, it is heading to one of its best tracks, Texas Motor Speedway. It's won there a whopping seven times, while no other team has won there more than thrice, that being Hendrick Motorsports.

Take a look at the loop-data ranks at TMS since 2005 for three notable Roush Fenway drivers:

Matt Kenseth
Average position: second
Fastest laps: sixth
Green-flag speed: third
Speed in traffic: second

Carl Edwards
Average position: fifth
Fastest laps: second
Green-flag speed: fifth
Speed in traffic: third

Greg Biffle
Average position: 14th
Fastest laps: first
Green-flag speed: fourth
Speed in traffic: fourth

Chase domination

I really wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't give you a cool little statistical nugget about how good Jimmie Johnson has been, and trust me, there's no shortage of them.

This time, however, we're going to look at the Chase drivers who have laid down the fastest lap on the track so far in the seven Chase races. Of course Johnson's out in front, but look at the lead. LOOK AT IT!!!

(Shakes fist)

The highest percentage of fastest laps run among the 2009 Chase drivers:

Jimmie Johnson, 25.1
Juan Pablo Montoya, 10.8
Mark Martin, 7.1
Denny Hamlin, 6.8

Go ahead, make your pick

Let me break out a couple of new names when I start talking about drivers to watch this weekend. One cursed, and one due.

When you look at quality passes at Texas over the past 4 1/2 seasons, two names jump out because they have such a dominating lead over the rest of the field. To summarize, quality passes are green-flag passes in the top 15, the best getting by the best in the field.

The most quality passes per race at TMS since 2005:

Juan Pablo Montoya, 41.6
Dale Earnhardt Jr., 41.4
Denny Hamlin, 36.0
Matt Kenseth, 35.0
Carl Edwards, 34.8

Yes, I'm going to take the driver who's due for a win. No, not that guy, I'm liking the No. 42 to get his second career win this weekend. Write it down, and enjoy the race!

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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