Category archive: Regan Smith

For us NASCAR statistical bloggers, of which I believe I'm the only one, there are certain nightmare situations.

Like having all your notes written, and then an engine failure or a late-race caution completely destroys your race recap. Or when your calculator overheats, since I don't keep an abacus at my desk anymore.

But, the ones that keep popping up are these darn restrictor-plate races.

Don't get me wrong, I love the wildness and the anyone-can-win style of racing. It's just that trying to break down these races and giving you, my adoring fans, some fine statistical preview is just a lot more difficult than the typical week.

But I've done my best, combing through the numbers, and while I might not know what's going to happen Saturday night at Daytona, there are a number of things that I think I know.

First of all, there's a pretty level playing field. At the Daytona 500, out of the 43-car starting field, 40 drivers ran the fastest lap on at least one circuit. At Talladega, 37 of the 43 drivers had at least one fastest lap run.

The only driver who ran both races but didn't run a fastest lap in either one was Joe Nemechek. So if Front Row Joe makes the field, don't expect great things out of him.

I do know one thing, in both of the prior restrictor-plate races this year, Clint Bowyer topped the field in average running position (just the driver's average position by lap) in both races. He finished 17th at Daytona and second at Talladega.

In fact, expect the whole Richard Childress Racing team to run up front and be in the mix. Jeff Burton was second in average running position at Talladega, and Paul Menard fourth in both prior restrictor-plate races. On top of that, Childress-powered Regan Smith was fifth-highest in both races, and he showed he was among the best pushers in February at Daytona.

Two more? Kurt Busch was third in that category in both races, and nobody ran more fastest laps in the two races combined than Kyle Busch. He had 18; nobody else had more than 14.

But, that's just what I think I know.

The Eliminator: Daytona

Most people just pick winners, some by hunches, some by stats, and some by just picking a name off the top of their head.

I don't pick winners, I pick losers. I'll make my race pick by telling you why all but one driver in the field just can't win.

Last week, my pick was Jeff Gordon, and he finished second. I'm just saying.

1) The last 14 and 25 of the last 26 Daytona winners who had raced there before had a previous top-5 finish there (17 drivers eliminated, 28 left).
2) The last three July Daytona winners had a previous win at Talladega (17 eliminated, 11 left).
3) Six of the last seven July Daytona winners finished eighth or better in that year's Daytona 500 (nine out, two left).
4) The last five Sprint Cup Series winners this season finished in the top 20 in each of the previous three races (one out, one left).

Your winner: Kyle Busch

If there's been one prevailing theme to this season so far, it has to be the semisuccessful return of my weekly Eliminator pick.

Wait, no, that isn't it, but if that's what you've taken out of this season so far, then bless you.

No, what I'll remember, at least from the first 15 races, is the "out of nowhere" winners. I'm talking way beyond the unpredictable wins from Trevor Bayne, Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski.

No, it's a matter of drivers coming out of nowhere during the course of the race, the beneficiary of late-race shuffling due to accidents, pit stops, natural disasters or some sort of alien invasion.

It's a developing trend. In the first nine races of the season, the winner ranked among the top three in the race in overall green-flag speed. There were only two exceptions. The first was when Jimmie Johnson won at Talladega, a race where you can usually throw out the stats, since everyone's on a level playing field, more or less.

The other was Kevin Harvick's Martinsville win, when he was 13th in the field in overall speed. Harvick's victory was also the only race where the winner did not have a "top-10" car, meaning that the driver's average running position in the race was among the top 10 in that race.

But lately, the only criteria for a winner has just been an ability to stay on the lead lap. In half of the last six races, the winner has not been among the top 10 for a race in either green-flag speed or average running position. Take a look at that chart.

In five of the first nine races of the year, the winner had the top overall green-flag speed in the race. But it hasn't happened in any of the last six races.

Could we see the same late-race unpredictability at Sonoma? It sure does keep me glued to my TV.

The Eliminator -- Sonoma Edition

Most people just pick winners -- some by hunches, some by stats and some by just picking a name off the top of their head.

I don't pick winners, I pick losers. I'll make my race pick by telling you why all but one driver in the field just can't win.

And if you doubt the mighty Eliminator power, check out the U.S. Open Golf Eliminator I did early last week before the tournament. McIlroy!!!

1) Since 1987, every road course winner had a top-5 finish earlier that season. (18 drivers eliminated, 26 remaining).
2) There's only been one first-time race winner in 22 all time Sonoma races. (Five eliminated, 21 remaining).
3) Of the last 13 Sonoma winners, 12 who had previously raced at Watkins Glen finished in the top 14 in the last race there. (12 eliminated, nine remaining).
4) Of the last 18 Sonoma winners, 16 who had previously raced there had a top-15 finish in the last race (five eliminated, four remaining).
5) Each of the last four Sprint Cup Series race winners finished in the top 20 in each of the last three races (two eliminated, two remaining).
6) Of the last 12 Sonoma winners, 11 entered the race fifth or worse in the points. (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Jeff Gordon

Sometimes, the circumstances dictate that I switch things up in my little blog here. Don't fret -- the regular format will return in due time.

But Saturday's race was so gigantic, I'll use my space this week to determine whether Regan Smith was the most unlikely winner in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history.

What, you wanted me to statistically break down the Kevin Harvick-Kyle Busch feud? Not a whole lot of numbers to throw out there. Just some good, old-fashioned anger.

Despite the bizarre format, I still give you …

Trivia break! Who are the four other drivers to win for single-car teams since 2000?

The criteria

OK, so there are a few criteria to judge a long-shot winner. The first is longtime drivers who got a win after many races, such as Michael Waltrip or Sterling Marlin. But they had a degree of success already in their careers to stick around that long.

Another way is to look at drivers who came out of nowhere because it was early in their careers.

Maybe they weren't the most unlikely winners, because we didn't know what to expect from them that early in their careers. There are the upset restrictor-plate race winners, such as Brad Keselowski or Trevor Bayne, and drivers who inherited good rides, such as Jamie McMurray.

So, I'm going to focus on the drivers who have been around at least a couple of seasons and not had much success.

Trivia break! Who was the last driver to get his first career win at Darlington?

The breakdown

Smith was the 179th different driver to win a Cup series race. Of those, 145, or 81 percent, had a previous career top-5 finish. Smith's best career finish entering Darlington was seventh at this year's Daytona 500. Before that, he'd never had a top-10.

Of those 34 to never have a top-5 before their first win, only four had more than 20 career Cup series starts before their win: Smith, Elliott Sadler, Derrike Cope and Greg Sacks. Chart time!

Drivers To Win Their First Cup Race
(With more than 20 career starts and no top-5 finishes)
• Regan Smith -- 105 starts (best finish: seventh)
• Elliott Sadler -- 75 starts (seventh)
• Derrike Cope -- 72 starts (sixth)
• Greg Sacks -- 41 starts (sixth)

Of those four, Smith is only one to have one prior top-10 finish. Sadler had two, Sacks three and Cope five.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the most unlikely winner in series history.

Trivia break! Who was the last driver to win in the No. 78 car?

Trivia break answers

1. Bayne and Sadler (Wood Brothers), Keselowski (Phoenix Racing) and Ricky Craven (PPI Motorsports) were the others to win for single-car teams since 2000.

2. Lake Speed got his first win at Darlington in 1988.

3. Jim Paschal won three races in the 78 in 1955.