Breaking down the Brickyard 400

July, 26, 2012

Let's take a trip down memory lane, shall we? All the way back to two weeks ago (wavy lines indicating flashback).

Yes, Denny Hamlin was dominating at New Hampshire, but came up just short of the win, as Kasey Kahne was hoisting the trophy that Hamlin coveted so.

If you look at the drivers to run the highest percentage of fastest laps in a race this season, nobody was more dominant in a race than Hamlin. He was the fastest car on nearly 30 percent of the laps, the highest percentage of any driver in a race this season.

The "not winning with a dominant car" isn't an oddity. Four times this season a driver was the fastest car on at least a quarter of a race's laps. In three of those, the driver didn't end up winning. Jimmie Johnson at Dover was the only exception. List time!

Let's flash back a little further, to about a year ago, for last year's Brickyard 400.

Jeff Gordon was dominant, leading the field in average position, fastest laps run, green-flag speed, as well as speed early/late/on restarts. But again, as it often does, pit strategy got the better of Gordon, as he made a late charge through the field, but came up just short of Paul Menard for the win.

Gordon was the fastest car on 49 circuits last year at Indy, the second-most fastest laps run at the Brickyard since they started tracking the stat in 2005. Once again, not an unusual occurrence at Indy.

Of the five highest totals of fastest laps run in a Brickyard 400 since 2005, the fastest driver in four of those didn't go on to kiss the bricks. The record -- and only number higher than Gordon's 49 -- is held by Juan Pablo Montoya (2010), who had 54 before a pit road strategy call (what else?) set him back in the field. Montoya would later crash trying to get back to the front.

Despite these examples, an elite car does tend to win, unless there are serious issues. Since 2006, 11 of the 13 highest totals in percentage of fastest laps run in a race have been by winning cars. The others were Montoya at the 2010 Brickyard (covered earlier) and Johnson at Michigan in 2009, who ran out of gas with two laps to go.

The Eliminator: Indianapolis

For those of you new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to predict 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 for those of you looking for more details, I'll post the step-by-step eliminations on my Twitter account (@MattWillisESPN).

1. Nine straight Brickyard 400s have been won by Chevrolets (30 eliminated, 17 remaining).

2. Thirteen of the past 14 Brickyard winners were coming off a top-12 finish in the previous race (10 eliminated, seven remaining).

3. Thirteen of the past 14 Brickyard winners finished 14th or better in the the most recent Pocono race (two eliminated, five remaining).

4. The past four, and six of the past seven, Sprint Cup winners finished in the top 11 in the previous year's running of that race (three eliminated, two remaining).

5. Six of the past seven Brickyard winners finished in the top 13 in the most recent Darlington race (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Tony Stewart

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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