A preseason Cup primer from yours truly

February, 17, 2011

Let's face it: It's a short offseason, but hopefully your batteries have completely recharged, and you're as ready as I am to get going on the 2011 Sprint Cup season.

Or maybe I'm just ready to get out of the Northeast and down to Daytona Beach. I don't care if it's only in the 60s, it's not in the teens and I don't have to clean snow off my car.

My love affair with the Daytona 500 has been well-documented (darn tabloids), but I'm just glad to be back in the NASCAR swing, ready to get going on 2011.

Even though it's a short offseason, there are some important notes to take away from the end of last season and through the winter months. Sure, we all know what took place atop the points, but a little further down, there are some things you should be aware of.

That's where I come into play, keeping an eye on some stories just off the radar, and giving it the statistical twist that I have seemingly mastered in my time in the ESPN Research Department.

Two hot?

Carl Edwards won the final two races of the 2010 season, making him a trendy pick to again challenge Jimmie Johnson for the Cup title. But winning the final two races of the season isn't the harbinger of good fortune that you might think.

In Cup series history, only four other drivers have won back-to-back races to end a season, and none went on to finish higher than sixth in the next season's standings.

The last to do it was Jeff Gordon in 1998, coming off his finest season. But in 1999 his wins cut back from 13 to seven, and he finished sixth in points.

Four's a crowd

In 2007, 2008 and 2010, every Richard Childress Racing driver made the Chase. But in 2009, none of them made the Chase or finished higher than 15th in the standings.

So, what happened in 2009, you ask? I'm glad you did, my friend.

RCR expanded from three to four teams that season, adding a fourth car driven by Casey Mears.

Did they stretch their resources too far that year? Or was it completely unrelated to their struggles? You be the judge:

• 2008: The team had three wins and 54 top-10s, not to mention the three Chasers.

• 2009: No wins and 39 top-10s from four drivers.

• 2010: Five wins and 59 top-10s going back to three drivers, all Chasers.

Rain on your parade

I don't mean to be a party pooper, just a speaker of truths.

There are a lot of trendy Chase and championship picks out there this year, but let's throw out some facts so you can make informed decisions.

A lot of people like AJ Allmendinger or Marcos Ambrose to win a race and stay in the Chase picture. However, Richard Petty is now back in charge there, and the last time he even won a race as the majority owner was in 1999 with John Andretti.

How about Kurt Busch? Busch always seems to end up in Victory Lane, but he really fell off as the year went on last season.

In the first 18 races of the season, Busch had a pair of wins and seven top-5s, leaving him fourth in points. In the final 18 races, Busch failed to win and had just a pair of top-5s.

Now that you have the knowledge, get pumped for the season! Do it!

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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