Crunching numbers for Michigan

August, 12, 2010

I did some major thinking (stand back) after I made an appearance on ESPN Radio in Indianapolis in the days leading up to the Brickyard 400. My question, spurred by a joking question from a friend: Am I now a celebrity?

My answer is yes, but I am the world's most minor celebrity. And I'm willing to accept that role until I get my big break.

That's why I need my readers (yes, I assume there's more than one; hi, Mom!) to start a little grassroots campaign. Get me on "NASCAR Now," instead of just off the set with a computer armed and ready to go. Or: We're owned by the fine, benevolent people at Disney. Why not put me in a movie or get me a sitcom on ABC?

Yes, I can see it now. Marty Smith and I are struggling stock car drivers trying to make a living, but we also solve crimes on the side. Or, perhaps Ed Hinton and I can compete on a season of "The Bachelorette"? (I don't like my odds; he's the classic Southern gentleman.) Ooh, how about a show in which David Newton, Terry Blount, Tom McKean and I open a bar? I like where this is going.

But I assure you, when I hit it big, I'm not going to forget about my readers. Sure, I'll probably stop writing a regular blog, choosing instead for a life of fame and fortune (you'd do the same thing), but occasionally you'll cross my mind when I'm cruising in my Ferrari, and I'll smile.

It all starts with my beloved readers making their demands, and don't be afraid to threaten violence, even if you don't plan to back it up. I won't condone it, but I like to see the job get done. I already can see my VH1 special on the horizon.

In the meantime, I'll keep writing this little ol' blog. Here are my favorite NASCAR Next Level notes heading to Sunday's race at Michigan.

Running on empty

Now that song's running through my head. I guess I could do a lot worse.

Anyway, looking back to last year's races at Michigan, you could make a good argument that Jimmie Johnson should've easily won both. He led 279 of the 400 laps in the two races combined. However, he finished 22nd and 33rd in the two races. But look at these numbers!

Johnson led the field in all those categories in both races.

However, although he was good in the Michigan race earlier this season, he wasn't as dominant. He ranked fifth in average position, driver rating and green-flag speed. And he was 11th in the fastest laps run, registering the fastest lap on only three of the 200 circuits. He finished sixth.

More streak-busting?

In the past two weeks, we've seen Greg Biffle and Juan Pablo Montoya snap long winless streaks. I think we could see a third go down at Michigan.

In the past few races at Michigan, no driver has been better overall than Carl Edwards, and that includes his race here in the spring in which he was downright average, finishing 12th. However, in the six Michigan races before that, Edwards won twice, finished fourth twice and finished seventh twice.

During the past five-plus years at Michigan, Edwards leads all drivers in driver rating, average position and quality passes (green-flag passes inside the top 15, so only passes on the best in the field).

He's also had the fastest car late in runs, so watch out for the 99 if we get a caution-free stretch.

Fading late

In a statistical anomaly, the drivers ranked second and third, Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton, in the Sprint Cup Series points this season have each failed to win a race through the first 22 events.

A little bonus trivia question for you. The best a driver has ever finished in points without winning a race is second. James Hylton did so in 1966, '67 and '71.

Well, the reason for Burton's and Gordon's winless seasons might simply be that they're not at their best at the end of races despite being strong in most races.

Gordon leads the series in average running position, and Burton is third, but look at this list.

Montoya, by the way, is seventh this season in average running position. Look for a bounce-back year from him in 2011.

That's all I've got 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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