Crunching numbers for Atlanta

September, 3, 2009

Just because there was no Sprint Cup race last weekend doesn't necessarily mean that it was an off weekend.

There was news aplenty, with assurance that Kevin Harvick would be staying with Richard Childress Racing for at least 2010 and Brad Keselowski would be driving for Penske Racing next season in a car that won the 2008 Daytona 500.

Oh, and let's not forget a Nationwide Series race that can only be described as wet and wild. By race's end, it more resembled an obstacle course from Double Dare than a NASCAR race. How is that reference for you? Too early 1990s?

As much as I love the unpredictability of Silly Season, there's still the business (or bidness, if you're so inclined) of the Race to the Chase. We all have our picks and favorites, we've spent the past couple weeks debating them and working the calculator (or adding machine, based on your preference for retro machinery) to figure out every possible scenario.

But we're returning to the track with NASCAR returning to racing on Labor Day weekend in the southeast. Although it's not Darlington, I'll still call it the Southern 500. And that's coming from a guy who hails from upstate New York. Land of the 10-month winter and spiedies. I could go for one of those right now. I'll let you guess which one.

What to look for Sunday night? Well, let me tell you what I'm looking for.

Dominating deuce

The NASCAR season is a long one, I don't think there's any disputing that. I can prove that by the fact that there's often snow on the ground back home from when one season ends to when the next begins.

But reflect back to the Atlanta race earlier in the season, when Kurt Busch flat-out dominated.

Perfect driver ratings don't happen often, but Busch drove the No. 2 car to a perfect 150.0 in the win, 25 points better than Jeff Gordon. Busch's average position in the race was 1.5, and he ran the fastest lap on 81 of the 330 laps. No other driver had more than 33 fastest laps, and that was also Gordon.

That was months ago, and while Busch has almost certainly locked up a Chase spot, he hasn't had a top-5 finish in six races. This could be his chance to reassert himself as a championship contender.

What's the Roush?

When my NASCAR fantasy league had its auction draft before the season, the top target on my list was Carl Edwards, since our points system rewards wins handsomely. I managed to get him, but spent a fair share of my salary cap on him.

Yet, here I sit at the beginning of September in the middle of the standings, getting more wins out of my other drivers -- Brian Vickers and Joey Logano -- than Edwards (who broke his right foot Wednesday but is expected to drive this weekend).

Yes, Edwards and his teammate Greg Biffle, both preseason championship contenders based on how they closed out the 2008 season, are winless, but that doesn't mean they aren't running well. And Atlanta could be the place for them to get in the win column, based on these numbers.

Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle ranks at Atlanta since 2005
Stat -- Edwards -- Biffle
Fastest laps run -- first -- third
Green-flag speed -- first -- fifth
Avg. position -- second -- fifth
Driver rating -- second -- sixth

Setting the pace

Since I'm a dork, and I have the excuse of having a NASCAR statistics blog to write, I was sifting through the loop data statistics for the season and went down the list of the fastest laps run.

This stat basically tells you who're the drivers to beat out there, who is laying down the hot laps time after time. To me, it's one of the clearest indicators of who are the drivers to beat in the championship race. So I can't say I was surprised about the name at the top, but I was surprised at the spread between him and the field. Accompanying list!

Most fastest laps run, 2009 Cup season
Jimmie Johnson -- 709
Mark Martin -- 422
Jeff Gordon -- 407
Greg Biffle -- 387
Kurt Busch -- 356

Three Hendrick drivers at the top, and don't forget about Jeff Gordon, who few are talking about as a threat to Jimmie Johnson's run at four in a row. If you were looking for Tony Stewart, he's eighth on this list, behind Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

That's all I've got for you this week, enjoy Atlanta. Or is it Hot-lanta? (Checks papers.) No, it was Atlanta, I was right the first time.

Matt Willis | email

ESPN Staff Writer
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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