Crunching numbers: Welcome, Matt

April, 12, 2011

Children sing, church bells chime and rainbows stretch across the sky to the delight of Mr. Sunshine, who is wearing sunglasses in true cartoon fashion.

That's because this week momentum shifted and my weekly Eliminator pick finally hit, with Matt Kenseth at Texas. For more details, please see the Thursday edition of my Crunching Numbers blog, also known as the best part of your day.

But the bigger story is that Roush Fenway Racing has been even more solid than my Eliminator -- which had been downright shaky before my Kenseth pick. Hey, I'm not running from the truth here.

After Ford was held winless for the first 20 races of the 2010 Sprint Cup season, the whole Ford camp, led and anchored by RFR, has rebounded behind the strength of the FR9 engine.

Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards combined to win four of the final 16 races last season. In 2011, three different Ford drivers already have won, and Carl Edwards is atop the points.

And the best part, if you're a Ford driver, owner or fan, is that they're running at their best on the intermediate tracks that make up the bulk of the schedule.

But now, let's look back at Kenseth's win.

Ken-do attitude

Kenseth won the first two races of the 2009 season, including giving Jack Roush his first Daytona 500 win. But Kenseth failed to make the Chase that year, and then went winless last year.

Not only did he go winless; he failed to lead much along the way. Check out these numbers:

• 2009: first two races: two wins, 91 laps led
• 2009: final 34 races: zero wins, 154 laps led
• 2010: season: zero wins, 108 laps led
• 2011: first six races: zero wins, five laps led
• 2011: Saturday: one win, 169 laps led

Trivia break! Who are the seven drivers to win a Cup race for Roush Fenway Racing?

Streak busters

For me, Cup racing is at its best when I feel that there are a number of drivers who can go out there every week and win. Don't think I would've done well in the old days with just a few potential winners per field.

A number of notable drivers have snapped long losing streaks over the past couple of seasons, and they've put themselves back in the picture with wins.

Over the past two years, seven drivers have broken winless streaks of at least 70 races, including Kenseth on Saturday. Two more, Jeff Gordon and Biffle, ended winless streaks of over 60 races.

Who could be the next one? I know who the fans' vote would be (psst … it's Dale Earnhardt Jr.).

Trivia break! What active driver has made the most starts since his last win?

Shout-outs aplenty

Let's talk surprises, lightning round-style!

• Dale Earnhardt Jr.: He hasn't been this high in points this late in the season since 2008.

• Paul Menard: Got his second top-5 of the season; he had just two top-5s in his 147-race career entering the season.

• David Ragan: Scored his second top-10 this season; he had just three last year and two in 2009.

Trivia break! Earnhardt has four top-10s this season. How many did he have in 2010?

Trivia break answers

In order of wins: Mark Martin, Edwards, Kenseth, Jeff Burton, Biffle, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray.

Robby Gordon is riding a 262-race winless streak.

Earnhardt had eight top-10s last season.

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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