Kyle Busch impresses; David Ragan wins?

July, 7, 2011

OK, I'm willing to admit when I am beat. This is one of those times.

There's not a whole lot I can do to preview the Kentucky race specifically. You know, that whole thing about their not having previously run there.

I could use Nationwide Series stats, maybe throw some Trucks in there, but we're talking completely different cars and levels of competition. And I respect you, my beloved readers, far too much to jerk you around like that.

So, wouldn't this be a nice time to take a look ahead at the rest of the season, both leading up to the Chase and the Chase itself? That's two things for the price of one. However, that price, as always, is free.

I know there are quite a few Tony Stewart fans out there, and he's been surlier than normal lately, talking of spinning all those who dare block "Smoke." Well, he does find himself squarely on the bubble heading down the stretch.

But, stress not, Smoke fans. This is the time of year when he tends to make a charge, so I think he can make a run to get back into the top 10.

Let's talk title picture. Kevin Harvick is the new points leader following Daytona, but I'm not going to give him the favorite label. Harvick ranks seventh in both driver rating and overall green-flag speed. His consistency and ability to pop up late in the race might have earned him a few wins, but given the raw numbers of his performance throughout the year, I expect that pace to fall off shortly.

What about the previous leader, Carl Edwards? Edwards has had the best car late in green-flag runs this year, but there's a driver who bests him in just about every other category.

That man is Kyle Busch.

He's a quiet third in points, but digging deeper shows his strength. He leads the series in average speed in traffic, on restarts, early in runs and overall.

His driver rating is a 109.9; only one other driver has a rating better than 100 on the year. It's a 9.2-point drop to second-place Edwards, more than the spread from the second- to seventh-place drivers.

Average running position is the most dominant indicator of strength. Busch's average position this season on a lap-by-lap basis is a 9.24, and from there it's 3.33 down to second-place Kurt Busch.

The 3.33 spread is more than the spread from second to 15th-place Paul Menard. Impressive stuff, if you ask me.

Eliminator: Kentucky Edition

Most people just pick winners, some by hunches, some by stats, and some by just picking a name off the top of their head.

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) The past 20 winners on 1.5-mile tracks all had a previous Sprint Cup Series win (18 eliminated, 30 remaining).
2)The past seven and 10 of the past 11 winners on 1.5-mile tracks had a top-20 finish in the previous 1.5-mile race (11 eliminated, 19 remaining).
3) The past four winners this season had a previous top-two finish on the season (six eliminated, 13 remaining).
4) In five of the past six inaugural races at a track, the winner had a top-5 finish in the previous Cup race (10 eliminated, three remaining).
5) The past five and eight of the past nine winners this season came from outside the top five in points (two eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: David Ragan

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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