Keselowski's spark getting brighter

September, 29, 2011

I'm going to call it like I see it. As a stats guy, I love it when I'm right. Who doesn't?

But, sometimes, I like being proved wrong when it means somebody has thrown past evidence aside to succeed, and that's why I'm digging Brad Keselowski after he finished second at New Hampshire.

It's a little strange that Keselowski struggled to the degree he did last season. I mean, he was winning a Nationwide Series championship while simultaneously putting up no top-5s and two top-10s on the Sprint Cup side. And none of those top-10s came in the first 31 races, and he didn't finish better than 10th all year.

Maybe something just clicked, and maybe it was the addition of crew chief Paul Wolfe on the Cup side that got him the rest of the way there. Either way, Keselowski's improvement has been impressive.

Let's take a look at his driver rating, a figure that measures a driver's total performance on a scale from 0-150. From last year, his driver rating is up 22.2 points, the biggest jump by a full-time driver this season.

To compare, last year, only one driver had a jump that big, Kevin Harvick, whose rating jumped 22.3 points as he finished third in the points.

Keselowski's driver rating this year is a solid 87.3, 11th best in the series. But that's not a fair look at it, since Keselowski did struggle somewhat early in the year.

After the July Daytona race, Keselowski's driver rating on the season was a 76.6, ranking 20th among the full-time Cup drivers. Since then, his driver rating per race averages out to 103.7. If he put up that mark for the entire season, he'd rank second in the series behind Kyle Busch.

I was among the many who were just waiting for Keselowski's Cinderella run to end. Now, I'm starting to think it just might not.

The Eliminator: Dover 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 12 Dover winners had a top-20 finish in the previous Phoenix race (25 drivers eliminated, 20 remaining).
2) The past eight fall Dover winners finished in the top 11 of the previous year's fall Dover race (12 eliminated, eight remaining).
3) The past six race winners this season all finished seventh or better in the previous week's race (seven eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Jeff Gordon

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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