Crunching numbers for the Brickyard

July, 22, 2010

Welcome back, NASCAR fans. I hope everybody enjoyed the off week and had as much fun as my bros and I did down in Disney World. I'm not just saying that since I'm employed by the Mouse, although even if I didn't have fun, I think I'm contractually obligated to fib just a little.

While I was down in the Sunshine State (aptly nicknamed, as evidenced by my man tan), I took in a number of the shows, including "Lights, Motors, Action!" at Hollywood Studios. We got to see how chase scenes in movies are filmed and watched some amazing stunt driving while taking in some of the tricks of the trade. Oh, yeah, there were explosions, too.

Then I came home and saw what happened in the Nationwide Series race Saturday night.

As great as it is to watch some of the best stunt drivers in the world do their thing, it's also a lot of fun to go off script and go the reality TV route, courtesy of Carl Edwards and the Family Keselowski. With both of these guys running full-time schedules in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series, there are a lot of laps and a lot of opportunities for these guys to see each other, giving NASCAR a rivalry that many say it desperately needed.

Although neither is running at the tip-top of the Cup points, both have the potential to be running for championships over the next decade, and it doesn't look like this bad blood is on the verge of cooling down.

Good for NASCAR? I think so, seeing as on a Tuesday after a week without a Cup race, we're still talking about it on "SportsCenter." Bad for the guys in the shop who spend their weekdays trying to rebuild these cars? Oh, yeah.

But now, we'll take a look ahead to this weekend's race, one of the crown jewels of NASCAR -- the Brickyard 400. Hey, I'll be there for my one race per year, sitting harmlessly in a trailer somewhere in the infield.

Something's stewing

All the hoopla entering Indianapolis is on Jimmie Johnson, and with good cause. He's got the new baby, he's the two-time defending race winner and he's won this race in three of the past four years.

Want to hear the list of guys who have won three times in a four-year span at Indianapolis in the Brickyard 400, Indy 500 or U.S. Grand Prix? It's Johnson, Michael Schumacher and Wilbur Shaw. That's it.

However, over the past five seasons, it's actually Tony Stewart who's been the most consistent and powerful competitor. Stewart ranks first in that time in many of the key loop-data marks, including driver rating, average position, fastest laps run, quality passes (green-flag passes inside the top 15) and green-flag speed.

Sure, Stewart's team isn't where it was at this point last year, but he's been hot lately to the tune of five top-10 finishes in the past six races.

What could've been

The lasting memory of last year's Brickyard 400 was Juan Pablo Montoya's heartbreak. Montoya dominated the first three quarters of the race but was caught speeding on pit road, which he vehemently denied.

Montoya certainly had the dominant car, running the fastest lap on 46 of the 160 circuits in the race, but a pair of Hendrick drivers also separated themselves from the pack. While Montoya had 46 fastest laps, Mark Martin had 26 and Johnson had 25, and they finished second and first, respectively.

From there, the next most fastest laps run by a driver was just nine by both Denny Hamlin and Stewart.

Oh, yeah, Johnson too

OK, I had a little Johnson teaser up higher in the column, but while Stewart's been better on paper over the past five years at Indianapolis, Johnson's been very consistent in almost every situation as well.

Stewart has the top overall speed, speed early as well as late in runs, the most fastest laps run and the best speed in traffic, so that's pretty good. But, not so quietly, Johnson was in the top four in all five of those categories himself. Plus, he's a three-time brick kisser.

While those two look like heavy favorites for this weekend, I'll also leave you with a quick nugget to discount an upset winner this weekend. The worst points position entering the race for a Brickyard winner was 10th. That was a young Jeff Gordon in 1994, his second career win.

That's all I have for you this week. Enjoy the race!

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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