Crunching numbers for Texas

November, 4, 2010

I don't know if you've heard that we just had some elections here in the United States. If you haven't heard, that's actually sort of impressive. It was all over TV, radio, the Internet, newspapers, magazines, skywriting, etc.

I, like many of my fellow Americans, exercised my democratic right to vote. I voted for Kodos (bonus points for getting the reference). But why should the fun stop there?

Everybody loves some voting -- I know I do. So, let me take this space to give you my votes for some key NASCAR categories. But why should mine be the only voice heard? Feel free to leave your votes down in the comments section, and let's start a little conversation among my superfans.

Before I start on that, the easy one: My vote for 2010 Sprint Cup Series champion remains Kevin Harvick. Why? He was my eliminator-anointed pre-Chase pick to win the title. I'm loyal, and I'm stubborn. Therefore, I'm sticking with Harvick.

Now for more votes …

Best Organization: Richard Childress Racing. What a change from last year, when RCR didn't put a team in the Chase. Now it has a title contender, the only driver to win twice in the Chase and a driver in Jeff Burton who is due a couple wins from this season. Not to mention a share of the top engines in the series with Earnhardt Childress.

Best Run of Paint Schemes: Tommy Baldwin Racing. A start-and-park team I really feel is doing a nice job developing into something more down the road. But check out the schemes at and you'll find something you like. Whether it's the underrated sweet Wave Energy Drink blue car, the Kim Kardashian pink car or the Richie Evans tribute car, when it's had a sponsor, the 36 has been putting something pretty out there.

Next Driver to Win His First: Paul Menard. I almost went AJ Allmendinger here, but Menard's shown a lot of growth over the past few weeks, and next year, he'll be driving for a team I just labeled the best in the sports.

Now, on with the prerace loop-data notes.

Three's company

Simply put, there's a three-man championship race, and I think it's my duty to tell you what to expect out of these guys at Texas.

In the spring race, Denny Hamlin won over Jimmie Johnson, with Harvick seventh. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

Hamlin ran the fastest lap 13 times, with a plus-20 pass differential and a 111.6 driver rating. But Johnson actually had the edge, with 53 fastest laps, a plus-23 differential and a 127.4 driver rating.

Harvick didn't put up great numbers, with a 85.1 driver rating, plus-1 differential and no fastest laps run. But he did drive a classic Harvick race in that he came from midpack to get a top-10.

Hot-and-cold Carl

At Texas, Carl Edwards' 17.5 career average finish puts him 11th among Chase drivers, beating only his teammate Greg Biffle in that department. On the other hand, he's the only driver to win three Cup races at the track.

That average finish, and a lot of Edwards' stats, are dragged down by three crash DNFs at the track, including one in each of his past two starts there. In fact, in 11 career races at Texas, Edwards has the three wins, and no other finish better than 10th.

The question is, which Edwards will show up? He's a high-risk, high-reward fantasy play for Texas. His recent races there were forgettable, but in 2008 he pulled off the sweep, and was nearly perfect in doing so, putting up driver ratings of 139.8 and 146.7 in those races. The scale goes to 150.

It's a Junior mint

Again, more bonus points for getting the reference. I'm just giving away bonus points!

Occasionally, I like to appease Junior Nation, or anger the Junior Haters, however you want to look at it. Either way, those two factions make up approximately 140 percent of the NASCAR audience.

But Dale Earnhardt Jr. was strong at Martinsville and Talladega -- there's no doubting that -- and he's been strong at Texas in the past. Here's what impresses me about his performance there:

Earnhardt has the second-best average position among all drivers at Texas going back to 2005, meaning he's been running up front. He also has the most average passes, both total and per race at the track, meaning he's not just running up front, but he's passing cars up there as well.

Well, that's all I have for you this week. Don't forget to cast your votes, and 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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