Crunching Numbers: Déjà vu with Special K

June, 7, 2011

What an odd NASCAR season it has been. We've had first-time winners in the two biggest races of the year, Trevor Bayne in the Daytona 500 and Regan Smith in the Southern 500.

The third "crown jewel" race, last week's 600-miler at Charlotte, saw a last-lap pass as Kevin Harvick beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. after NASCAR's most popular driver ran out of gas.

The driver with the most wins in the series thus far, Harvick, has won three times with nine combined laps led in those races (for more detail on this, see last Tuesday's blog).

But the overwhelming theme of the season has been drivers dominating races, but not coming away with the win. Only three of the 13 races we've run so far this season have been won by the driver leading the most laps.

Has it been a number of chance occurrences?

Or have we reached a state in NASCAR where having a fast car isn't any more important as fuel and tire strategy coupled with just having a car that can hang around the lead lap.

And even staying on the lead lap is overrated, as Harvick took a couple wavearounds before he won at Charlotte.

All those questions … but for now, let's talk Kansas.

Special K

There have been 179 drivers win a Cup Series race. Of those, 59 never won another Cup Series race. Well, cross Brad Keselowski off that list, the 120th driver to win multiple Cup races.

And if you had some déjà vu, you're not alone. Although the wins came with different teams and at different tracks, there was quite a bit in common.

In both races, Keselowski led only once. At Talladega in 2008, it was just one lap for Phoenix Racing. On Sunday at Kansas, it was a whopping nine for Penske Racing. And both times, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second.

Trivia break: Keselowski is the sixth driver to win a Cup race for Penske Racing. Who are the other five?

Burning Busch

You might not have known it by listening to Kurt Busch's in-car radio on the first lap, but he actually had a pretty solid car.

How solid? Well, I'm getting to it. He led 152 of the 267 laps, the most ever led in a Kansas race.

Unfortunately, Busch failed to win, coming home ninth and succumbing to the trend I talked about above.

Trivia break: Who previously held the record for most laps led in a Kansas race?

Odds, Ends And Junior

So many stats, so little space. So here we go. Bullet points!!!

• Dale Earnhardt Jr. got his fifth runner-up finish since his last win. The Cup record for second-place finishes between wins is eight, last accomplished by Jeff Gordon earlier this year.

• Denny Hamlin was third. He has four top-10s in his past five races, after having just one in his first eight.

• With his fifth-place finish, Jeff Gordon now has five straight top-5s at Kansas.

Trivia break: With Justin Allgaier's win at Chicago, he'll now look to become the first non-Cup regular to win twice in a Nationwide Series season since who?

Trivia Break Answers

(1) Mark Donohue, Bobby Allison, Rusty Wallace, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch have also won for Penske.
(2) Mark Martin led 139 laps in 2005, and did end up winning that one.
(3) Brad Keselowski won multiple times in 2008 and 2009 running a partial Cup schedule.

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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