Crunching numbers for Michigan

June, 10, 2010

During the races this season, I've had a lot of fun chatting and providing live race updates on (cheap plug, not even thinly veiled). It has also led to me having a pretty solid feel for the pulse of the NASCAR fan world.

So I thought I'd take this opportunity to answer the questions that seem to come up every week, in hopes that this will become a referral point before people come into the chat room. So now, the answers to the great NASCAR mysteries of the world.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't winning races or running for the championship, but if you look at his recent numbers, this has seemingly been par for the course since they moved to the new car. If I knew what was plaguing the team, I'd be gainfully employed by Hendrick Motorsports. That being said, he's 16th in points and only 87 points out of a Chase spot, so all is not lost.

The problems with Roush Fenway Racing have been going on for a couple years now. The restrictions on testing, along with the development of the new Ford engine, have seemingly put RFR behind. But last year we were saying that same thing about Richard Childress Racing, so things can turn around quickly.

And finally, the biggest questions of all. Where is Driver X running, and, why aren't my questions appearing. These questions all seem to have simple answers, but I will instead give the following smart responses.

On the track, and because of a personal vendetta I have against you.

On with the Michigan preview!

We've Mich-ed you

You might've read above that Roush Fenway Racing, and Ford in general, has been struggling this year, but only in terms of wins. The truth is, the big three RFR drivers (Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle), are all currently in Chase positions.

They've gotten to that point by avoiding bad finishes and getting good points days, but they haven't been running as fast as their points positions indicate.

Kenseth is 10th in overall driver rating this year, but fourth in points. Biffle is 14th in driver rating and 10th in points. And Edwards is 19th in driver rating, but ninth in points.

Michigan could be the best indicator of RFR's level of success the rest of the season. They have 11 wins at the track, tied for the most all-time with the Wood Brothers. Plus, those three drivers listed above make up three of the top four spots in prerace driver rating.

Fill it to the top

You may remember the last race at Michigan, or you may not, who am I to say? But Brian Vickers got a win that propelled him to the Chase, helped largely by the fact that many top contenders ran out of fuel late in the race.

So, don't let Jimmie Johnson's 33rd-place finish or Mark Martin's 31st trick you into thinking they weren't fast last time out. Truth is, Johnson was first in average position and fastest laps run in that race, and Martin was second in both categories.

Maybe they should consider a hybrid, get that better fuel mileage.

Making a pass

Overlooked in his recent run of dominance and all the late-race craziness that developed at Pocono, you might've missed that Denny Hamlin hit the wall doing a post-win burnout. But I wasn't going to ignore that in this blog. It was too funny.

However, let's also not ignore the fact that, even though Hamlin isn't leading the points at the current time, he is first in another notable category, green-flag pass differential.

This measures actual on-track performance by drivers, not positions gained or lost on pit stops. And Hamlin is leading this category going away. This calls for a list!

Best green-flag pass differential this season
Denny Hamlin -- +238
Jeff Burton -- +186
Kevin Harvick -- +166
Jimmie Johnson -- +133
Kyle Busch -- +109
Robby Gordon -- +108

I had to include Gordon. It makes me think that maybe a minus sign was swapped for a plus sign on this week's loop data release.

That's all I have this week, 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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