Crunching Numbers: Beware Denny Hamlin

June, 9, 2011
06/09/11
10:42
AM ET

Welcome to our first trip of the season to Pocono Raceway. If you miss this one, I believe they go back there about three days later. But if you're free between 1-10 p.m. ET on Sunday, feel free to catch the race.

I kid because I love.

Despite the poor reputation Pocono has gotten over the years, I actually have a soft spot and stick up for the poor hunk of asphalt. Maybe I'm drawn to the uniqueness of the track, with three completely individual turns, inspired by three different tracks.

I don't know exactly why I stick up for poor Pocono, but I do know one thing: Denny Hamlin straight up owns the place.

You name a loop data category, Hamlin is the tops there. He's fastest in all conceivable speed situations, and his 119.2 career driver rating at the track is more than 13 points higher than any other driver. In fact, only three other drivers even have a rating over 100.

We know Hamlin's good there, but who else could contend?

Look for the Hendrick contingent to be strong. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin rank second to fourth in average position dating to 2005 at Pocono. And in the most recent Pocono race run, Johnson and Gordon were 1-2 in fastest laps run, despite both finishing outside of the top five.

Martin, too, could be a non-statistical, sentimental pick. He's finished second six times in his career at Pocono, tying a Cup series record for second-place finishes at a track without a win there. He's tied with Bobby Allison at Martinsville, if you're curious. I know you are.

Want a flier? How about Kurt Busch? Taking the guy sixth in points may not be a long-shot pick, but if you listen to his radio early in the race, you'd think he's driving a covered wagon out there. And in true Oregon Trail style, I hope he doesn't get dysentery.

But Busch has shown he can be dominant at Pocono, twice putting up a rare perfect 150 driver rating at the track, in the fall 2005 and 2007 races. Since then, though, in six races, he's had a driver rating over 100 only once.

That being said, remember what I told you about how good Hamlin was at Pocono? Don't forget that. He's won 40 percent of his starts here. Among active drivers, only Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen has a higher winning percentage at a track.

The Eliminator: Pocono

Most people just pick winners -- some by hunches, some by stats, some by just picking names off the top of their heads.

I don't pick winners, I pick losers. I'll make my race pick by telling you why all but one driver in the field just can't win.

1. Every Pocono winner since 1996 who had previously raced at the track had a previous top-5 finish there (16 drivers eliminated, 28 remaining).

2. Thirteen of the past 14 Pocono winners finished in the top 12 in the most recent California race (16 eliminated, 12 remaining).

3. The past five Pocono winners finished in the top 10 in the previous two road course races (11 eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Juan Pablo Montoya.

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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