Crunching numbers after Watkins Glen

August, 10, 2010

Call it the Year of Redemption. Do it!

Juan Pablo Montoya reminded us all on Sunday just how good a driver he is, when he became the fourth driver this season to snap a winless streak of at least 50 races. He joined Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle.

I think it speaks to the competitiveness on the Sprint Cup Series that so many high-caliber, championship-level drivers could have gone at least a season and a half without a victory.

And look here, Jeff Gordon's winless streak is now over 50 races. Hey, I'm just putting that in the back of your head. Feel free to drop that nugget of knowledge on your friends, co-workers and hangers-on.

But, let me get back to Montoya (you have no choice, it's my blog). Lately, the conservation around Juan Pablo has centered on his disappointment after running for a championship last year and his recent verbal clashes with crew chief Brian Pattie. It's time to start concentrating on the dude's driving ability.

Let me lay a little truth on you: Montoya has won at the highest level of Formula One, in Monaco. He's won the crown jewel of American open-wheel racing, the Indianapolis 500, in his first start in the race. And now he's won twice in the highest level of stock car racing. And although both those wins took place on road courses, he's been a threat to win on ovals, too.

But now it's time for the finest in our research notes following Watkins Glen.

Takes Juan To Know Juan

I think one of the forgotten storylines late in the race is that the two cars that battled for the lead throughout much of the race featured drivers who were Colombian and Australian. If I'd told you that would be happening 20 or so years ago, you'd think I was nuts.

Montoya got the win, therefore becoming the first foreign-born driver to win twice in NASCAR's top series, going along with his Sonoma win from his rookie season of 2007.

The other two were Canada's Earl Ross in 1974 at Martinsville, and Italian-born Mario Andretti in the 1967 Daytona 500.

Trivia break: Who are the only two drivers to lead more laps in a Watkins Glen race than Montoya?

Start Me Up

With help from my brothers over at the ESPN Stats and Analysis Department, I was able to chase down the numbers (you know I love my numbers), on what we found to be the key to the race at Watkins Glen.

Montoya repeatedly beat Marcos Ambrose on the restarts on his way to victory. How much so? Well, Montoya, on average, was about a half-second faster on the first lap after a restart than both Ambrose and second-place Kurt Busch.

Plus Ambrose lost a position on three of those five restarts. A tale of the oh-so-close.

Trivia break: AJ Allmendinger had a top-5 finish, the second of his career. Where was the other?

A Bonus Entry

As a researcher, I like to think I do a pretty good job of supplying our hosts and analysts with information in a timely manner, while the drivers will break down some of the on-track action for me. Sometimes, the roles are reversed.

Case in point: After Sunday's race, Ricky Craven pointed out that Montoya was only behind two other drivers, Jimmie Johnson and Gordon, in bonus points accumulated this year.

Montoya's racked up 75 points, tied with Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch for the third-most in the series, and only one win to show for it and a 19th-place spot in the points.

Trivia break: Although now it's technically a different team, the three wins this season ties the most for a Chip Ganassi-owned Sprint Cup Series team. Who got the three wins for them in the past season?

Trivia Break Answers

1.) Tony Stewart led 83 laps in 2005, and Mark Martin led 75 laps in a 1994 win.

2.) The 'Dinger was third in the 2009 Daytona 500.

3.) In 2002, Sterling Marlin won twice for Ganassi. After his injury, Jamie McMurray won at Charlotte in the same car.

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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