Crunching numbers after Pocono

June, 8, 2010

I don't know what the weather was like in your neck of the woods today, but here in Connecticut, it couldn't be lovelier. Blue skies, moderate temperatures, gentle breeze. A perfect day for the Research Department softball team (nicknamed Research & Destroy) to improve to 6-0.

This is a nice time of year, certainly nothing to raise your ire or shorten your temper.

Unless you're in NASCAR. Then if your day was ruined late in a 600-mile race at Charlotte or a 500-mile race at Pocono, even the most mild-mannered can have their buttons pushed. See Burton, Jeff and Logano, Joey.

Burton, an elder statesman of NASCAR, who is always good for a wise word and a calm voice. Logano, the gentle youth who never seems to be without a smile on his face. Yet here are both of them, up in their opponents' grills after late-race incidents. The race to the Chase is already on, and it's only going to get more intense from here.

I like to think I'm among the calmer bloggers out there. So allow me to give the drivers a word of advice, since I assume they all read my blog, perhaps twice.

Find some "you" time after a race, a day at the shop or making a sponsor appearance. Get yourself a nice hammock (from the Hammock District down on third), maybe an iced tea or some other cool beverage and just enjoy the gentle summer rhythms. Birds chirping, wind chimes in the distance …

Sorry, dozed off for a second there. Maybe I'm doing too well at relaxing here. I should start a seminar.

Anyway, here are some of my favorite research notes coming out of Pocono. Try to stay awake.

Triangle Master

When you finish this blog entry, feel free to go back and look at my last one when I say that any Pocono preview has to include Denny Hamlin. Well, as is quickly becoming the case, all of the post-race blogs on Pocono also lead with Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin won last season's second race at Pocono, and with his win on Sunday, he becomes the first driver to win back-to-back races at Pocono on two separate occasions.

There has been a pair of three-race win streaks at Pocono, pulled off by Bobby Allison and Tim Richmond.

Hamlin's average finish at Pocono is now up to 8.6, the best in track history among those with at least two starts at the track. In fact, only three other drivers have an average finish better than 10th there with at least two starts. They are Jimmie Johnson (9.5), Davey Allison (9.8) and Richmond (9.9).

Trivia break: This was Hamlin's fourth career Pocono win, leaving him one off the track record. Who holds that?

Put on a "Happy" face

Kevin Harvick came out of Pocono looking the part of the villain, especially when you have a happy-go-lucky kid like Logano looking to weave his way through 40 crew members to get in your business.

But, more important, Harvick came out of Pocono with the points lead. And really, if you maintain that, people will come back and start liking you. After all, you're the moneymaker.

"Happy" Harvick's has now held the points lead after five straight races, the first Richard Childress Racing driver to do that since Dale Earnhardt led the points race for eight straight in 1996. Earnhardt also did so in 1995. Those are the only two longer points-leading streaks than Harvick's since Earnhardt won his last Cup Series title in 1994.

Trivia break: Who has RCR's best points finish since Dale Earnhardt?

Ford-ing the river

Ford has yet to win a race this season, and their new engine didn't give the results they probably wanted a Pocono. Of the four drivers to use it, only AJ Allmendinger finished in the top 10 or even showed the potential to run up front. This Sunday, all Ford cars are scheduled to use the new engine at Michigan.

Racing Resources pointed out that the last time Ford went this many races into the season without a win was 1983, when Ford didn't win its first race until Bobby Allison won the summer race at Daytona, the 16th race of the season.

If things get even worse, be on the lookout for this stat. The last time Ford went winless in a season was 1977.

Trivia break: What driver got Ford's first Cup Series win?

Trivia break answers

1. Bill Elliott holds the record with five Pocono wins.
2. Clint Bowyer finished third in points in 2007.
3. Jimmy Florian won at Dayton in 1950 in a Ford, the first win for the manufacturer.

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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