Crunching numbers: The strategy game

May, 17, 2011

Oh, decisions, decisions.

What to start my usual Tuesday blog with?

As much as I'd like to talk some Matt Kenseth winning at Dover, I feel like I can handle those notes in subsequent sections (I get 500 words after all, and I usually just go ahead and take 600 anyway).

I want to talk about the face of late-race strategy, which has dictated the past two winners.

Now, both deserved their victories. Regan Smith and Kenseth were both firmly inside the top 10 heading to the final pit stops, so they put themselves in position to win the race.

I'm a proponent of NASCAR being a team sport, from top to bottom. The driver is just a member of the team, albeit the most important cog, much like a quarterback.

However, you could take the greatest wheelman in the history of the sport (let's call him Cole Trickle), and he won't do a lick in the top series without quality equipment, a heady crew chief and a rock-solid pit crew.

So, to me, watching a dominant driver go down at the end of the day to a driver whose crew chief called for the big move, because their tire specialists figured out that the tires weren't wearing quickly, that's all part of the game, and I like it that way.

Welcome To The Club

Back to Kenseth, who became the 35th driver to win 20 Cup races, but took 411 starts to get there.

Only three other drivers took longer to get their 20th win: Ricky Rudd (621 starts), Terry Labonte (587) and Jeff Burton (480).

And following a 76-race winless streak, Kenseth has suddenly won two of the past five races, and is basically a lock to make the Chase.

Trivia Break: Who are the eight other drivers in Sunday's race who have already reached 20 wins?

Familiar Face

Before the pit call, it looked like Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson had the cars to beat. For Johnson, it was par for the course.

Johnson has led the most laps in each of the past five Dover races, only failing to lead more than half of the laps in one of those.

With just 19 Dover starts under his belt, Johnson is eighth in track history for Cup laps led with 1,829, and his career laps led per race is 96.3, trailing only David Pearson and Cale Yarborough.

Trivia Break: Who holds the record for most laps led at Dover?

The Value Of A "W"

Man, that word limit sneaks up on you. I'll make this quick.

Kyle Busch won the Camping World Truck Series race -- his 27th in the series -- at Dover for his 96th career NASCAR National Touring Series victory, which includes Cup, Nationwide and Trucks.

That tied him with Mark Martin for the fifth-most across the three series, and puts him one behind Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt for a tie for third.

The debate will continue about the value of Busch's wins compared to those of the aforementioned names on the list, and Richard Petty and David Pearson, the only drivers with more than 100.

Trivia Break: Busch is just one win away from tying which two drivers for second on the all-time Trucks wins list?

Trivia Break Answers

1) Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch and Bobby Labonte all have 20 Cup wins.
2) Bobby Allison holds the record with 2,800 laps led at Dover.
3) Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague both have 28 wins.

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.



You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?