Crunching numbers for Richmond

September, 9, 2010

You know I love me some short-track racing, and this weekend we get the fifth of six short-track races of the season. If that intro wasn't exciting enough, I can give you the hard sell: It's also the Chase cut-off race. Too bad the battle at the bubble isn't too thrilling this season.

So that begs the question: If this bubble battle isn't exciting, do we need to make some changes? Or is this type of season inevitable, regardless of the system?

Is there another tweak in the rules forthcoming? Perhaps an expanded Chase field with eliminations along the way? A system where if you win a race, maybe two, you're in the Chase? Should there be another points reset during the course of the Chase?

One thing is for sure: I'm glad I don't have the weight of making these decisions on my shoulders, because you can never please everybody. Then again, I bet the people who make those decisions make more money than yours truly. And I do have the lovely personality trait of thinking that I'm always right on issues such as the best Chase format.

So, yes, on second thought, I would like that job.

Then again, maybe the stress would get the best of me. Perhaps it's best if I just stick to a little loop data look-ahead to Saturday night's race at the action track, Richmond International Raceway.

Red-hot Smoke

Tony Stewart finally broke through at Atlanta and got his first win of the year, perhaps ending the sophomore slump that has dominated his second season as an owner-driver. This weekend, he could make it two in a row and enter the Chase as a trendy pick to win the title.

Going back to 2005, Stewart has been quite solid at Richmond and has proved tough to pass, with a plus-201 green-flag pass differential in those 11 races. That's 74 spots better than the second-best driver on the list, current points leader Kevin Harvick.

Only one other driver is even within 100 spots of Stewart, and that, rather unpredictably, is 2000 champion Bobby Labonte, with a plus-106 mark.

I won't go out on that limb saying Labonte is going to be a force to be reckoned with Saturday, but I will stick my neck out a little and say that Stewart will again be running up front.

It's for lovers

Richmond is in Virginia, and Virginia's for lovers. Denny Hamlin's from Virginia, so I guess this note is also for lovers. But seriously, this blog always brings the necessary love, and often a heaping helping more.

Hamlin's coming off a last-place finish last week at Atlanta, and if he's going to go from worst to first anywhere, it might be Richmond. Last year at Richmond, Hamlin put up a perfect driver rating of 150 in winning this race heading to the Chase.

During that race, his average position was an eye-popping 1.3, as he led 299 of the 400 laps and ran the fastest lap on 108 of those circuits. Even more impressive was that Hamlin was passed under green-flag conditions only six times.

Bubble trouble

Richmond is Clint Bowyer's best track in terms of average finish. That, coupled with his sizable lead over Ryan Newman for the 12th and final Chase spot, means he should be in pretty good shape in the regular-season finale.

And while Newman and Jamie McMurray had solid runs this season at Richmond, they were looking up at Bowyer. Newman was ninth in average position and 10th in driver rating. McMurray was one spot behind Newman in each of those categories.

Bowyer, on the other hand, was fifth in average position and sixth in driver rating.

Well, 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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