Are Edwards, Stewart really the best?

November, 10, 2011

If you've made it this far on the NASCAR page, you're well aware of what's going on at the top of the Chase.

And you're also well aware of the whole situation over in the No. 18 camp. Of course, I'm referring to Michael McDowell's 33rd-place finish at Texas.

Wait, that's not what you were talking about? Wait, he did what?

Nah, you come to my little notch on to dig a little deeper, get more informed and chuckle at my feeble attempts at comedy (see above). So, that's what I'll give you, since I'm nothing if not thoughtful.

So, to recap, we have Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart atop the Chase standings, but if you really look at the first eight Chase races, neither has been the most impressive Chase driver.

If you gauge it by driver rating, NASCAR's formula that encompasses many statistics and tries to quantify a driver's real performance instead of just finishes, then you like Matt Kenseth.

Kenseth's driver rating is a 109.6, one of three drivers at more than 100 for the Chase, along with Stewart (108.7) and Jimmie Johnson (106.1). Edwards is fourth with a 98.2.

Let's recap Kenseth's Chase, just to get an idea of how much closer he should be to a championship.

At Chicago, Kenseth ran out of gas late and finished eighth after a push. But since that push was illegal, Kenseth was given a 21st-place finish, losing 13 points. At Talladega, Kenseth lost his drafting partner, and even though Trevor Bayne tried to push him, it was too late to make a run. Then at Martinsville, incidents with Brian Vickers and a multi-car wreck that included Kyle Busch led to a 31st-place finish.

In the other five races, he's finished sixth or better. He's just 38 out of the lead, even with the misfortune.

How about looking at just raw speed? Well, that belongs to Mr. Five-Time, Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson's run the fastest lap on 13.1 percent of the circuits in the Chase. No other Chaser is better than a 7.1. And he just didn't dominate in one race to cheat that total higher. No, he ran 49-plus fastest laps in four different Chase races, and 23 in another.

So, while Edwards and Stewart have made it a two-man race, don't ignore the fact that, breaking down the numbers, it's Johnson and Kenseth who have been most impressive.

The Eliminator: Phoenix

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. There hasn't been a first-time race winner at Phoenix since 1996 (14 drivers eliminated, 32 remaining).
2. The past nine Phoenix winners finished 16th or better in that Phoenix race one year ago (16 eliminated, 16 remaining).
3. The past 11, and 20 of the past 21 Phoenix winners finished in the top 11 in the last New Hampshire race (10 eliminated, six remaining).
4. The past eight, and 11 of the last 12 Phoenix winners finished 12th or better in the last Phoenix race (three eliminated, three remaining).
5. The last five fall Phoenix winners entered the race in the top five in points (two eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Carl Edwards

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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