Crunching numbers for Atlanta

September, 2, 2010

I'd be remiss if I didn't use this little digital space to talk about Boris Said's Nationwide Series win at Montreal. We are coming off a bye week for Sprint Cup, and the Race to the Chase seems to be a mere formality at this point.

It's not too often you get to see somebody you've worked with and watched races with get a Nationwide Series win. It lets you root from a whole different perspective. But it's not just the fact that Said won that gets me pumped -- you know I love me my historical stats, as well. And this had them!

It was actually Said's second career NASCAR win; he won a Truck series race at Sonoma in 1998. Thanks to Mike Forde, NASCAR's Sultan of Stats, we know it was 4,340 days between wins for Said, the second-longest streak between NASCAR national series wins, behind only the 4,787 days between Joe Ruttman's victories. That's one Nationwide Series win in 1982 and a Trucks win in 1995, the first season for each of those series.

But wait, there's more! Said beat Max Papis in a drag race to the line by a mere .012 seconds. That was the fifth-closest finish in the Nationwide Series since NASCAR went to electronic scoring. There hasn't been a closer one since 1999, when Terry Labonte beat Joe Nemechek by .002 seconds at Talladega.

But now is the time to start looking forward to this weekend's Cup race at Atlanta. Here's what I have:


Yeah, yeah. Jimmie Johnson's on a cold streak, there's no way he's going to repeat. But don't look at where he's finishing now, focus on where he's running.

He has led six of the past seven races despite having only one top-10 finish in that time. And now he moves to one of his better tracks, Atlanta Motor Speedway. Yes, it's where Johnson leads in many of the key loop-data categories. But it's not just that he leads, it's how much he leads by.

Take average running position, for example. Johnson's is 7.8 since 2005 at Atlanta. The second-place tally is about three spots worse. Or driver rating: Johnson's is 109.5, with a 7.7 spread between him and second-place Jeff Gordon. Gordon to ninth place is a 7.3-point spread.

Johnson might run into more bad luck, but he'll be a contender Sunday night.

Kasey at the bat

Kurt Busch won earlier this season at Atlanta, and many are expecting him to do so again. But, going by the numbers, another driver was twice as dominant there. That would be a man on his way out of his current ride, Kasey Kahne.

Kahne finished fourth in the spring race but ran the fastest lap on 77 of the 341 circuits, more than double Busch's second-highest total of 38.

A couple of other drivers to watch who were fast but finished back in the pack include Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin. Stewart ran the third-most fastest laps but finished 13th. Hamlin was fifth in fastest laps, but he finished 21st.

Where are the wins?

As you may or may not know, no driver has won a Cup series championship without winning a race in the same season. Matt Kenseth was the most recent to win a title with just one win, although it's been done three other times.

This season, a number of high-profile drivers remain winless but are still championship contenders, maybe even favorites. Three drivers have been running up front regularly but have yet to taste that sweet victory.

Jeff Gordon has the best average running position in the series but is winless. As are third-best Jeff Burton and fifth-best Stewart. Are they just biding their time? We'll just have to wait and see.

Ooh, a cliff-hanger to end the column? You bet, because 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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