Crunching numbers after Michigan

August, 17, 2010

I'm feeling the itch again, my friends and loyal readers. It's soapbox time!

This week, it's something random that started bothering me during the Michigan race. If you're like me (and if not, there's still time!), you've noticed that there's been a host of incidents this year in which a driver appeared to have a great day, but maybe they missed the setup at the end of the race or had a tire issue. You know how these things go.

Because there were so many cars on the lead lap, suddenly you've finished 30th, despite having a car capable of a top-5 or top-10 finish. It's sad, really.

The current rules dictate that when a caution comes out, the first car a lap down gets a lap back, and if the leaders pit and lapped cars don't, they get a free pass to go around and line up at the back. So, even when a long green-flag run results in many cars going a lap down, we end up with a lot of cars on the lead lap at the race's end, and very little room for error for the guys running up front all day. It also opens up a whole new world of pit strategy.

Now, I love competition. Nothing would make me happier than to see 43 cars on the track all capable of running on the lead lap, with a different cast of characters going for the win on a weekly basis. But the current setup feels so artificial.

In this humble blogger's opinion, it's better than seeing cars win by three or four laps like back in the old days. Give me 30 cars on the lead lap, even if only 15-20 deserve it, over just one on the lead lap any day.

Time to step off the soapbox and give my loyal friends and true believers the best of the postrace notes from the Michigan race. Go.

Happy New Year

One year ago, the relationship between Kevin Harvick and Richard Childress Racing looked to be falling apart. Not only did it not look like Harvick would re-sign with RCR, it seemed as though he might even ask out of his contract early to head for greener pastures.

Now, Harvick is looking like a championship favorite, with three wins as we draw nearer to the Chase. Sunday's win stands out in my head. That's because Harvick has finally won on an intermediate track.

Both of his previous wins this season were on restrictor-plate tracks, Daytona and Talladega. His only win in 2007 was at Daytona. He won five times in 2006, but one of those was on a road course, two on short tracks and two more on one-mile tracks, New Hampshire and Phoenix.

In 2005, a Bristol short-track win. In 2003, only a win at Indianapolis. I'm not saying this are rinky-dink wins, they're quite major. However, many of Chase races take place on intermediate tracks of either 1.5 or 2 miles.

Harvick's last win on a track on a run-of-the-mill oval came at Chicago all the way back in 2002, Harvick's second season in Cup. With Sunday's performance, Harvick shoots to the top of the list of title contenders.

Trivia break: Harvick still leads the points. Where was Harvick in points through 23 races last year?

Michigan Master

Also sneaking their way into title contention are three Roush Fenway Racing drivers who are now in very comfortable Chase positions, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth. Although I obviously can't quantify it, the force of having Jack Roush back at the track will definitely be behind those teams.

Edwards, Biffle and Kenseth all put up top-5s on Sunday, and they must wish they could add a couple Michigan races to the Chase. Check out this chart.

Biffle's not far behind either. His career average finish of 12.2 at Michigan ranks him 10th all-time, right between David Pearson (12.1) and Richard Petty (12.5). Not bad company to keep.

Trivia break: Despite all the success at Michigan, Edwards has won there only twice. Who is the all-time wins leader at Michigan?

The Spice Of Life

Kevin Harvick's win at Michigan was his first career win there, meaning one of my favorite notes can continue unabated.

In the past 14 August races at Michigan, we've had 14 different winners, the longest active streak for any race currently on the Sprint Cup schedule. The spring race at Michigan has a 12-race streak without a driver winning twice, the third-longest streak with only the Texas spring race wedged in there.

And if you're storing this away for next season, the fourth-longest active streak belongs to the Daytona 500, where we've had nine consecutive unique winners.

Trivia break: Who is the only driver to win two August races at Michigan in the past 15 seasons?

Trivia Break Answers

1.) Kevin Harvick was 23rd in points at this point last season.

2.) David Pearson has nine career Michigan wins, most all-time.

3.) Dale Jarrett won the August race at Michigan in 1996 and 2002.

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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