Crunching numbers for Richmond

April, 29, 2010
04/29/10
10:31
PM ET

Greetings my friends!

First, allow me to take care of some loose ends coming out of Talladega. Mark Martin defeated Martin Truex Jr. in the finals of the second annual NASCAR Bracket brought to you by (sponsor pending, I'll take like 10 bucks for it). Just like the NCAA basketball tournament, the Cinderella run stops just short of a title, giving way to the old guard.

And I mean that just as an expression. I'm not calling Mark Martin old. Well, not in that reference. I will refer to him as an older gentleman who could run circles around me in or out of a racecar. Martin joins Tony Stewart as NASCAR Bracket champions. Now, feel free to settle your bets.

This week, we're getting ready for Richmond, aka the Action Track. To properly prepare for this, I went to Game 6 of the Bruins-Sabres series in Boston. Not being able to find any Sabres gear in the middle of Connecticut (hey, I'm an upstate New Yorker at heart), I decided to embrace Connecticut and wear some Hartford Whalers gear. I might have stood out from the crowd wearing black and gold jerseys.

Close quarters, lots of hitting, tons of action … sounds like a good prep for a Saturday night at Richmond to me. If you know me -- and through my twice-weekly NASCAR blog, I feel like all my readers have grown close to me -- you know I love me some short-track racing.

By the way, the Sabres lost, and I managed to hide my excitement at a late goal that closed the deficit to one to ensure my safety leaving the Garden. And I caught a puck, instead of letting it cause injury, so an above-average day all around.

But unless you got lost looking for John Buccigross' blog, you probably came here for NASCAR and not the NHL. And NASCAR you shall get!

Call to action

Let me start where many people finish: I really feel strongly that Denny Hamlin will win this race Saturday. He's running strong right now, despite having limited basketball skills.

He's not the only driver I like; you have Jeff Gordon and his six straight top-10s at Richmond, and only Lee Petty has a better average finish at Richmond than Kyle Busch among drivers who have made at least five starts at the track.

But going back to 2005, Denny Hamlin leads in just about everything you can lead at Richmond speed-wise. And although he has just the one win at Richmond, he dominated the spring race the past two seasons, only to see a lug nut and a flat tire ruin his days.

Browsing through the ol' loop data numbers, I noticed that Hamlin had the fastest overall car under green-flag conditions. He also happens to have the fastest car early in runs, the fastest car late in runs. He's the fastest car in traffic, and the fastest on restarts.

Um, sounds like a good enough reason to me to anoint Denny Hamlin as my pick Saturday.

A perfect race

Last fall at Richmond, Denny Hamlin led 299 of 400 laps en route to his first Richmond victory.

Not only that, but Hamlin put up a perfect driver rating of 150 in the win, something that has only happened 10 times going back to 2005, when NASCAR began tracking loop data statistics.

He was one of three drivers, joining Kurt Busch at Atlanta and Jimmie Johnson at Dover, to have a perfect driver rating in a race last season, but it's even more interesting than that.

Hamlin is the first driver to ever put up a perfect driver rating on a short track. That was just in case you needed a little more evidence to back up the pick I made in the previous section.

Put on a happy face

If you're not up to rooting for Hamlin and want me to give you another option, I also like Kevin Harvick as a candidate, coming off a win at Talladega. His past two wins, by the way, were 115 races apart, the 11th-longest streak between wins in series history. They also came by a combined .031 seconds. If you want to stump your friends, and because I like dispersing the knowledge, Bill Elliott holds the record, with 226 races between wins.

Harvick basically ranks second behind Denny Hamlin in some key Richmond categories since 2005: driver rating, average position, laps in the top 15 percentage and laps led. He also has nine top-10s in his past 10 races there.

One thing I noticed this week is that Harvick has been filling the role usually held by Kyle Busch, the driver running up front in the Cup, Nationwide and Truck series week after week. Check out the numbers this season … look at them!

Kevin Harvick: 20 races, five wins, 13 top-5s, 16 top-10s, 7.5 average finish, 2.7 average points position

Kyle Busch: 20 races, four wins, eight top-5s, 11-top 10s, 11.1 average finish, 5.7 average points position

Harvick is the three-series star this season. But neither of these drivers will be in this week's Camping World Truck Series race at Kansas.

That's all I have for you this week. Enjoy that race … in fact, enjoy all the races!

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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