Crunching numbers after Martinsville

March, 30, 2010
03/30/10
12:03
PM ET

Martinsville was certainly worth waiting for. As I've often said, I love me some short-track racing, and I enjoy the beating and banging that comes with hard-nosed racing to the finish.

This race had it all: pit strategy, the subplot of the possibility of foul weather shortening the race that led to constant on-track jockeying for position and, of course, on-track action that leaves the body shop guys cursing at the television. Hey, I didn't say there weren't any victims here -- it's part of my take-no-prisoners approach to NASCAR fandom.

(Firing up my inner car salesman local commercial voice ...)

But I've done it, I've gone too far. I have too much inventory, and I'm passing along the savings to you. A wealth of historic NASCAR notes taking place this weekend at Martinsville left me overflowing with statistics and nuggets, and I need to get rid of these now. Instead of waiting, I'm going to give you some winner's notes right in the opening blurb!

That's right, Denny Hamlin won the race, upping his career average finish at the Paper Clip to 6.6, moving past Jeff Gordon into the fourth-best mark in the track's history among drivers who have made at least five starts at the track. Jimmie Johnson's dropped slightly to 5.4 after his ninth-place run, but that's still good enough for the second-best all time.

But who's the best with the minimum five starts? None other than the somewhat unknown Dick Hutcherson, whose Cup series career lasted only four seasons. He won nine races in 1952, finishing second to Ned Jarrett.

Let's go streaking

Who's coming with me? Anybody? Come on, blog nation. I should come up with a nickname for my readers. In fact, e-mail me your best suggestions, or leave them in the comments section below.

Several notable streaks were extended at Martinsville, but let's start with the track-specific ones, just for my own amusement.

Jeff Gordon didn't win, even though he looked like he was in great position until the final restart, but he did come home in third, a quality finish. That's his 11th straight top-5 at Martinsville, the longest streak at a single track dating back to 1980.

What about his teammate, some guy named Jimmie Johnson? Anything less than a win for Johnson at Martinsville is surprising, but a ninth is downright unfathomable. But that's where he finished, but it is a top 10.

That extends Johnson's streak of Martinsville top-10 finishes to 16, the third-longest at any track in NASCAR Cup Series history, behind only Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, both of whom had 18 straight top-10s at North Wilkesboro.

Trivia break! Gordon's Martinsville streak stands at 11. What two drivers share the record for most consecutive top-5 finishes at a single track?

Ten is the lucky number

When working on ESPN.com's NASCAR Live! during the race, I would occasionally get requests from fans on where their drivers were running, Greg Biffle among them. It seemed that Biffle was buried at the tail end of the lead lap all race, running in the high 20s or so.

When the smoke settled, however, the Biff found himself with a 10th-place finish -- his sixth top-10 finish in six races this season.

He's just the second driver since 2000, joining Jimmie Johnson in 2005, to start the season with six straight top-10s. His teammate, Matt Kenseth, could've joined him, and looked primed to do so, but that late-race bumping sent Kenseth back to 18th. Here are the guys to do it since 1990 -- that's right, list time!

Most consecutive top-10s to start season since 1990
• Morgan Shepherd, 11, 1990
• Terry Labonte, eight, 1992
• Jimmie Johnson, seven, 2005
• Greg Biffle, six, 2010
• Ricky Rudd, six, 1991

What do the four drivers other than Biffle on this list have in common? None went on to win the title, but that brings me to my ...

Trivia break! Who was the last driver, and only one since 1980, to start the season with six straight top-10 finishes and go on to win the title?

Playing Jumble

I enjoy playing the Jumble in the local newspaper from time to time; I consider it to be one of my more useless skills. However, it has a long way to go before it becomes my MOST useless skill, that being my ability to recite the numbers, in order, on the Big Wheel from "The Price is Right."

Well, NASCAR played its own version of Jumble on Monday, with some of those who had been running up front all day fading back due to assorted issues, while those who barely managed to stay on the lead lap were suddenly running in the top 10.

One such example was Marcos Ambrose, who was involved in what seemed like most of the day's cautions, but came back to finish 11th. Some of the notable drivers' average running position in Monday's race, along with their finishing position:

• Martin Truex Jr. -- finished fifth (ARP of 12.0)
• Brian Vickers -- sixth (ARP of 14.3)
• Jeff Burton -- 20th (led all drivers with ARP of 3.4)
• Mark Martin -- 21st (ARP of 7.8)

But that's why these races are scheduled for 500 laps.

Trivia break! It seems obvious that Jimmie Johnson is the series leader in average running position, but who's second?

Trivia break answers

1. David Pearson (Michigan) and Darrell Waltrip (Bristol) both had 14 consecutive top-10s at their respective tracks.

2. Much like last week, Dale Earnhardt had six straight top-10 finishes to start his 1980 championship season.

3. Jeff Gordon is second this season with an ARP of 9.8.

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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