Crunching numbers for Las Vegas

February, 25, 2010
02/25/10
1:26
PM ET

A Las Vegas race can only mean one thing: It's time to make some not-even-thinly-veiled gambling and Vegas references!

But, given that I'm a stats-based researcher and I assume some people come here for the numbers, and not just the rambling, incoherent messages that I try oh-so-hard to deliver, I'll break this down statistics-style for you, the fans. Because that's why I'm really here. Or am I doing it to impress the ladies? It's so hard to remember what my mission statement is.

So, I know 7-7-7 is the magic combination in Las Vegas, but I don't recommend dropping your bankroll on the duo of Robby Gordon and Sam Hornish Jr. Definitely don't take the exacta there.

I know usually your choices are only betting on red or black, but I recommend going with blue. As in the blue cars of Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson (hey, they've got a lot of blue, work with me here). Remember, the Blue Man Group is huge in Las Vegas.

You usually shoot for 21, but this week, the Wood Brothers aren't in the field. Maybe split those aces, hit a couple 21's for 42, and then you can root for Juan Pablo Montoya.

The turns are usually where a lot of action happens, but if you have trouble in the turns, your hopes will be flushed away. Worst one yet.

Or maybe Mark Martin will rule the desert this season. Then you can call him the five-car stud. Best one yet.

Seriously though, make sure you gamble responsibly if you're heading to Vegas or any of your local gaming establishments. If you have a gambling problem, there are people you can call for help. Unless you're winning, then call me.

Now that I'm through with my normal rambling, it's time to break down Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas with the finest in stats, notes and loop data from NASCAR. Oh yeah, and remember to tip your dealers and pace-car drivers.

The favorite

Jeff Gordon's lone win at Las Vegas came back in 2001, also known as the last season he went on to win a championship. But over the past five seasons, Gordon has finished sixth or better in four of the five Vegas races. And the numbers love him, too.

Going back over those five races, no driver has a better average position or average green-flag speed at Las Vegas than Gordon's mark of just under 167 mph. His driver rating and fastest laps run both also rank second, right behind teammate and three-time Vegas winner Jimmie Johnson (but more on him later).

Don't let the average finish fool you, either. Gordon wrecked hard in 2008 and finished 35th, but that was after starting fourth and leading 19 laps. Oh yeah, Jeff Gordon is getting 8-to-1 odds Sunday, if you're curious.

Not smart money

You might like Jimmie Johnson on Sunday because he's won there more than any other driver, taking three in a row from 2005 to 2007. But I would advise against it.

Johnson did lead the first 50 laps at Vegas last year, but ran into some problems and finished 24th. The year before that, a 29th-place finish. Besides the three wins at the track, Johnson doesn't have another finish at Vegas better than sixth, and that's his only other top-10 finish at the track.

Let's break down his numbers there over the past five seasons, graph-style:

Jimmie Johnson at Las Vegas since 2005
Stat -- 2005-07 -- 2008-09
Avg. finish -- 1.0 -- 26.5
Avg. position -- 5.1 -- 18.1
Pass differential -- +77 -- +15

And to add on to that, from 2005 to '07, Johnson averaged 49.7 fastest laps run per race, meaning he was the fastest car on the track for nearly 20 percent of the total laps run. Over the past two seasons, that number drops to just over 7 percent.

Johnson's 9-to-2 this weekend, if you're curious.

The trifecta

Are you sold on Richard Childress Racing yet? The team's turnaround seems remarkable when compared to its struggles from last season, but it actually started to lay that framework at the very tail end of last season.

Daytona can be a throwaway, but look at RCR's performance on intermediate tracks, the season finale last year at Homestead, as well as last weekend's race at California. In terms of driver rating, here's how Childress drivers Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer ranked in those races:

RCR driver rating ranks in last three Cup races
Track -- Harvick -- Burton -- Bowyer
California -- 4th -- 2nd -- 5th
Daytona -- 1st -- 18th -- 2nd
Homestead -- 1st -- 4th -- 8th

So, of those nine starts, seven of them have ranked among the five best in each race. Harvick had, statistically speaking, the best race at both Homestead and Daytona, and was fourth-best at California. Impressive stuff, and with a ton of momentum heading to Las Vegas.

That reminds me, Harvick is 6-to-1, Burton 15-to-1 and Bowyer 20-to-1 at Las Vegas, if you're curious.

That's all I have for you this week. 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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