Crunching numbers for Talladega

April, 22, 2010
04/22/10
12:04
PM ET

Playing the role of Butler on Thursday night will be Martin Truex Jr.

Yes, that's right, Truex's late-race rally at Texas, coupled with Carl Edwards' involvement in the wreck more famously noted for featuring Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, has put Truex into the final against the Duke of the NASCAR bracket, none other than Mark Martin.

Martin, too, turned a subpar day into a top-10 finish after the late nine-car wreck. Good points days like that lead to Chase berths, or at least that's what's been drilled into my head.

So, shall I gaze into my crystal ball and tell you who I think, no, who I know will win? Of course, I will. It's my blog and I'll do what I please.

Well, the stats make this pretty easy. Truex has 10 career starts at Talladega and has failed to finish eight of those races, including each of the last five. Not that it automatically dooms him, but let's face it, the dude has a bit of a problem avoiding the big wreck.

Do I even need to look at Martin's numbers? I probably should, but I'm not sure it matters. Duke won the NCAA tournament as the favorite, and I'll take Martin in the NASCAR bracket.

Now, let me try to do my best to take a statistical preview of this Sunday's Cup race at Talladega.

Two to tango

Before I start writing anything pretending like I have any idea who's going to win at Talladega, allow me to take a big-picture look at the eight races so far that have comprised the season.

Jeff Gordon had an impressive showing at Texas, as I discussed in Tuesday's blog. (Feel free to go back and give it another read; it almost counts as a history lesson at this point. In fact, check in with your school's admission office and see if you can't get course credit for reading it.)

Well, Texas wasn't an anomaly; Gordon really has been one of the top cars on the track all season. In fact, let's call him the second-best car on the track this season.

As good friend and fellow researcher Tom McKean points out, Gordon ranks second in the series this season in driver rating, average position, fastest laps run and laps run in the top 15.

Of course, he ranks behind Jimmie Johnson in all four of those categories. Those two took their friendship to the next level Monday, if you didn't already know.

Oh, you've heard of him?

I'd say one of the prevalent questions I get asked about NASCAR has to do with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Some of you might be sick of hearing about him, but the demand is there, and this is capitalism, you know.

But I won't take this space to Junior-bash or get all over him for his late fade Monday, after he looked like a strong contender to win midrace.

In fact, Texas was statistically his best race of the season. He had a better finish in the Daytona 500, but according to NASCAR Sultan of Stats Mike Forde, Junior put up season-high marks in driver rating, average position, laps led and fastest laps run at Texas.

And let's not forget that Junior's had a fair share of success at Talladega. He finished second in this race last year and was second in the last restrictor-plate race run, the Daytona 500.

Not that Thursday's blog is for trivia breaks, but feel free to stump your friends with this one: What two drivers have more Talladega wins than Dale Jr.?

It's Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jeff Gordon. Eleven Cup championships between them.

And the winner is ...

Oh, to pick a Talladega winner. Should I just drop 43 names in a hat and select one at random? It can't possibly be done, no?

Well, depends on what stats you like best. Juan Pablo Montoya has the best average position there, while nobody's run more fastest laps at Talladega in the last five years than Michael Waltrip. If he's not in the field, Kyle Busch is second on that list.

Albeit in a small sample size, Brad Keselowski has the best driver rating and second-best green-flag speed behind Michael McDowell, who, let's face it, isn't driving for a team that's of winning quality right now.

Well, I won't officially go on record and make a pick here, but I will say that I maintain that restrictor-plate racing is a skill, and the cream finds a way to rise to the top.

From 2004 to 2008, here's the list of Talladega winners: Gordon, Earnhardt , Dale Jarrett, Jimmie Johnson, Brian Vickers, Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart.

Four of those seven drivers have won Sprint Cup Series titles, and the other three won Nationwide Series titles. Lots of wins, lots of titles.

That's all I've got for you this week. Everybody 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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