Crunching numbers after California

October, 12, 2010

Wednesday will be a very big day, and not just because it's one of my days off this week, although that's a nice bonus.

No, on Wednesday, the second class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame will be announced, and there's no shortage of quality nominees.

When I first saw the list, I thought it was going to be a class of all drivers, especially after the first class of five included only two full-time drivers (Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt) and one driver who had much success as a driver but even more as a team owner (Junior Johnson).

And you might think the same when looking at the collection of drivers with 50-plus wins and multiple championships who are on the nominees' list this year. Guys like David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Lee Petty and Ned Jarrett stand out. Bobby Allison, too.

But let's not forget about those who have made other contributions. Like Dale Inman, a crew chief who was with Richard Petty for all seven of his Cup series titles and won another in 1984 with Terry Labonte for good measure. Or how about some forgotten drivers like Tim Flock and Herb Thomas, both of whom won multiple titles and have the two highest winning percentages in series history?

Also, there's T. Wayne Robertson, who brought the Winston sponsorship that helped NASCAR take off. Or some early fan favorites who helped the sport's popularity like Joe Weatherly, Fred Lorenzen or Fireball Roberts.

So check out the nominees' list on and let's start a discussion in the comments section on who you'd like to see get in.

But now, time for a look back to California.

Smoke owning up

Tony Stewart put himself right back in the Chase conversation with his win at California, moving up from 10th to fifth in points. It was his first win at the track, the only track where he didn't have a previous top-3 finish.

But it also vaulted Stewart into a tie for second place for the most wins as an owner/driver in NASCAR's modern era, which goes back to 1972. Stewart's now tied with a couple of the legendary owner/drivers of recent memory, Ricky Rudd and Darrell Waltrip, at six. Alan Kulwicki is just one back of that group with five.

Of course, he has a way to go to catch Richard Petty, who has 58 owner/driver wins in the modern era.

Trivia break! What are the two remaining active Cup series tracks where Stewart has not yet won?

Chasing Jimmie

Jimmie Johnson has amassed 623 points through the first four Chase races, or more than 50 fewer than he collected through the first four races in each of the past two years, when he put up 678 and 698 points.

However, nobody has been able to fully take advantage of this "down" year so far, as no other driver reached 600 points through the four Chase races, only the second time in Chase history that multiple drivers didn't put up 600-plus points over the first four events.

Last year, for example, not only did Johnson have 698 points, but Mark Martin had 676 and Juan Pablo Montoya had 670. And Stewart had 614, just back of the number Johnson's put up this year.

Trivia break! What driver has put up the second-most points over the past four races?

The loneliest number

As a researcher by trade, I come across a lot of notes. Some meaningful and heart-touching, and some downright meaningless, yet fun anyways. But sometimes I come across a note that I just really enjoy for reasons I don't even understand.

This is one of those notes:

In 21 all-time races at California, the Lap 1 leader has never gone on to win. Maybe nobody told Jamie McMurray before the race, as he led the first 14 laps but finished 17th, therefore continuing the curse. Better get Scooby and the gang on this one. I blame a crooked real-estate developer.

Trivia break! Who is the only pole-sitter to win at California?

Trivia break answers

1. Stewart's never won at Las Vegas or Darlington.

2. Kevin Harvick has 589, the second-most points over the past four races.

3. Johnson won the fall 2008 California race from the pole, but didn't lead Lap 1.

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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