Crunching numbers for Texas

April, 15, 2010
04/15/10
1:08
PM ET

The 2010 NASCAR season has been fun, wild and nothing short of unpredictable. There have been close finishes, controversial run-ins on the track, and just seven races into the season the hot stove is fully aflame, with Kasey Kahne moving to Hendrick Motorsports, as first reported by our good friend Marty Smith.

More evidence of the craziness is right here in my handy little NASCAR bracket.

Let me rehash where I'm coming from. Last year, I thought, why should college hoops have all the fun with March Madness? Let's get NASCAR in on the action with a bracket. I matched up the top 32 drivers in points, with the higher-finishing driver advancing, starting with Bristol and running through Talladega.

Not an original idea by any means, but we're all just having fun here. I hope you filled out your bracket at home, but, much like the basketball version, I doubt your bracket remains squeaky clean. That despite paper never really squeaking in the first place.

No, with another upset, Martin Truex Jr. is the shocker in the Final Four. He upset Brian Vickers in the quarters, to go along with his upset of Tony Stewart in the second round. He'll now face Carl Edwards, who has beaten the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman on his way to the semis. Those two have combined to win four of seven races this season.

The right side of the bracket is a who's who of NASCAR. It's teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon going head-to-head this week. What can you say about these two except simply that they've combined to win over 120 Cup Series races. We're not playing anymore … well, we sort of are.

My picks? I'll take Edwards to end Truex's Cinderella run, and Martin to win the Hendrick battle, and they'll see each other at the final at Talladega. Giddyup.

But for now, let's focus on a statistical preview of this weekend's race in the Lone Star State.

Clutch time

I wrote in my post-Phoenix blog about how important restarts were becoming, and even floated the idea that restart ability was something owners were going to have to start looking at when it comes time to fill seats.

Gee, I sure wish there was a loop data statistic to show restart ability. Oh wait, it does exist! Open your eyes and let the knowledge sink in, brother (or sister).

Yes, NASCAR does track the race-by-race rank of drivers' speed on the first two laps on each restart. And it clearly shows a direct correlation between restart ability and the points.

Restart speed ranks -- 2010 Cup season
Rank -- driver -- points position
1. Jimmie Johnson (1st in points)
2. Matt Kenseth (2nd)
3. Jeff Burton (7th)
4. Juan Pablo Montoya (21st)
5. Kurt Busch (14th)
6. Jeff Gordon (5th)

That's right, the top two in points are the top two in restarts. And despite Gordon's mishap at Phoenix, he remains one of the top restarters in the series.

Takes Juan to know Juan

You might notice the driver at the top of the restart speed list who's lowest in points is perhaps this season's biggest disappointment to date: Juan Pablo Montoya. Well, his spot in the standings is misleading.

Montoya has been running strong, but the finishes haven't been there. Montoya has two top-5s, but also four finishes outside the top 25. Luck will even out in the end, and watch those strong runs come to fruition. I'll be bold and say the 42 team is ready to win a race, and do it soon.

Sifting through the season's worth of numbers, we find that Montoya really has been a top-5 car all season. He ranks second in overall green-flag speed and third in fastest laps run.

Montoya has a handle on stock cars now, and as long as he can shake off the stink of these unlucky finishes, count on seeing the 42 up front soon.

A dark-horse favorite?

It's hard calling him a dark horse for this weekend's race, given that he's a two-time champ and led the points prior to the Chase last season. But Tony Stewart has been fairly quiet this season.

In fact, while Ryan Newman seemingly got scores better as the Phoenix race went on, Tony Stewart was running up front early, but seemingly rode off into the desert sunset about halfway through the race and finished outside the top 20 for the second straight race.

Well, despite this uninspiring couple of races, I still think Stewart will be a big factor in Sunday's race. Newman's win didn't just inspire the 39 team -- I think it might've shocked the entire Stewart-Haas organization out of its sophomore funk.

Why is that, you ask? Well, let me tell you, my fine reader friends. Among the whole Sprint Cup gang, nobody has a better driver rating at Texas than Stewart's mark of 106.1. Stewart also leads the field in average position at Texas since 2005, and also in green-flag speed. Those are pretty key stats in this blogger's mind.

But that's all I've got 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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