Crunching numbers for Martinsville

March, 25, 2010
03/25/10
2:06
PM ET

Work out at the gym, check. Nice dinner, complete with a little snack, check. "NASCAR Now" cued up on the DVR, check.

Let's get writing.

That ringing you're hearing isn't just your hearing going, although it might be, because I'm not a doctor. It's the bell signifying the end of Round 1 in the NASCAR bracket. Surprisingly, we didn't have a ton of upsets at Bristol, unlike in a certain NCAA tournament in which a certain Matt Willis-predicted champion was knocked out, but we're just getting started.

(On a side note, I went to Ithaca College, just across town from Cornell. So I'll wish luck to the boys from the second-best school in Ithaca, N.Y. After all, without Cornell, we wouldn't have cabbage, at least not modern cabbage.)

Is your NASCAR bracket thriving? If you're not on board yet, feel free to get on now, for entertainment purposes only, of course. This week, we're at the "Paper Clip," certain to provide some contact and fun moments, especially from those drivers looking to advance to the quarterfinals. Or win a race or accumulate some points, either way. Let me give you some thoughts on each of the second-round matchups.

Petty Bracket
1 Kevin Harvick vs. 4 Brian Vickers
6 Paul Menard vs. 2 Tony Stewart

Stewart is a Martinsville ace (more on that below), so you have to take him over the upstart Menard. I also like Harvick to move on, given Vickers' relatively poor record on short tracks.

France Bracket
1 Jimmie Johnson vs. 5 Carl Edwards
6 Juan Pablo Montoya vs. 7 Marcos Ambrose

Even against Edwards, I take Johnson, a six-time Martinsville winner. In the international matchup, I like Montoya, who's never finished worse than 16th in six Martinsville races.

Earnhardt Bracket
1 Matt Kenseth vs. 4 Kyle Busch
3 Kurt Busch vs. 2 Mark Martin

I'll take an all-Busch quarterfinal matchup. Kenseth's record at Martinsville is less than ideal, and Kurt Busch is mad fast at the Paper Clip.

Allison Bracket
1 Greg Biffle vs. 5 Jamie McMurray
3 Jeff Gordon vs. 2 Jeff Burton

Biffle's record at Martinsville is worse than Kenseth's, and Jeff Gordon laughs at Johnson's six Martinsville wins with seven of his own. So I'll take a McMurray-Gordon quarterfinal.

Now, let's move on to the stats.

Clip art

Let's face it: Jimmie Johnson is good at Martinsville. Six wins and 15 consecutive top-10 finishes -- tied for the third-longest streak at a single track in NASCAR Cup Series history. That's a long stretch.

And the 48 has been fast all this season, ranking third or better in all major speed categories: first early in a run, second late in a run, first in overall speed and third in traffic. So who can challenge the Lowe's car from making it a seventh trip to Victory Lane?

How about a little Old Spice? (Cue Old Spice song, which is awesome.) Since driver rating started getting tracked in 2005, Johnson has the first- and third-highest single-race driver rating at Martinsville. But Tony Stewart has the second- and fourth-highest ratings in that time.

So all you Johnson-haters (or fans of variety), perhaps I've given you a glimmer of hope.

High five

Mike Forde, sultan of stats at NASCAR, hooked me up with this nugget, also concerning driver rating: Since 2005, every race winner at Martinsville ranked in the top five in driver rating going into the race.

So, not to ruin Sunday's race for you, but if you come looking for the stats, prepare for the spoilers. Here are your top five, containing Sunday's race winner:

1. Jimmie Johnson -- 125.5
2. Jeff Gordon -- 123.0
3. Tony Stewart -- 112.5
4. Denny Hamlin -- 109.1
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- 98.8

Junior Nation, rejoice -- I've given you a chance!

Fast facts

It's early in the season, so the point standings might be a little misleading. Example: Jimmie Johnson has won three races so far, and he's third in points. One bad finish can cost you a few positions, something that will even out over the course of a season.

But we've run on a wide variety of tracks so far, so a better indicator of success could be looking at the overall green-flag speed ranks for the season so far. This looks at the average ranks per race, not the overall speed for the five races combined, otherwise Daytona and Atlanta would count far more than Bristol. Well, look who moves to the top of the charts!

1. Jimmie Johnson (third in points)
2. Kurt Busch (sixth)
3. Greg Biffle (fourth)
4. Juan Pablo Montoya (22nd)
5. Jeff Gordon (11th)

So look for Montoya's and Gordon's results to start catching up with their speeds.

That's all I've got for you this week. Enjoy the race! And don't forget to e-mail me at ESPNMattWillis@yahoo.com.

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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