The curious case of Jeff Gordon

June, 7, 2012

We're at Pocono Raceway, and this is the point of the year when I usually have two main points to make:

1. Triangle racing is more interesting than it's given credit.
2. Denny Hamlin flat owns this place.

Don't let last year's lackluster finishes fool you; Hamlin's still the man there. Despite two finishes outside the top 10, Hamlin still had the second-most fastest laps run (behind the absent Kurt Busch), and he averaged a top-5 running position.

It's easy to go on about Hamlin, but I wanted to take some time, words and Internet space to analyze the curious case of Jeff Gordon.

Gordon is 21st in points, but doesn't deserve to be. I wrote in Tuesday's blog that he's second in fastest laps run this season, but it doesn't stop there. He's also fifth in overall green-flag speed, much faster than your average 21st-place driver.

This slow start is actually reminiscent to last year, when he was 13th in points after 13 races. Check out the chart!

The good news for 24 fans is that in the next 13 races of last season, nobody was better than Gordon. He had 508 points, 43 more than any other driver, with 10 top-10s in 13 races.

He also was much improved on those loop-data numbers, with a 108.1 driver rating, nearly 20 points higher, and 335 fastest laps run, compared to 184 in the first 13 races.

Looking for Trouble

Every week, my fellow ESPN Stats & Information staffers crunch the numbers and tell us what to watch for this weekend. Here's what they found:

Pocono is called the "Tricky Triangle" due to its three distinct turns, making it almost like a road course.

Some believe that the "Tunnel Turn" (aka Turn 2) is the trickiest of the three, but with the highest banking coming in Turn 1 (14 degrees) and drivers hitting 200-mph plus on the frontstretch, that area of the track leads to the most accidents.

Since 1990, there's been 48 accidents in Turn 1, compared to 31 in Turn 2 and 30 in Turn 3.

The Eliminator: Pocono

For those of you new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to forecast a winner.

It's pretty simple: Instead of telling you somebody will win, I'll point out why everybody else has to lose. The driver remaining, by process of elimination, will be the race winner.

And if you want to see who was eliminated in each step, I'll post the info on my Twitter account (@MattWillisESPN).

1. The past 16 Sprint Cup Series winners finished 16th or better in the previous race at the track (29 eliminated, 15 remaining).

2. The past seven Pocono winners had a top-20 finish in the most recent Sonoma race (five eliminated, 10 remaining).

3. The past seven Pocono winners had a top-10 finish in the most recent Watkins Glen race (five eliminated, five remaining).

4. Fourteen of the past 15 Pocono winners did not finish better than 15th in the previous year's running of that Pocono race (four eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Brad Keselowski

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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