Jeff Gordon not so great at Watkins Glen

August, 9, 2012

Being a NASCAR statistical blogger is about more than just the numbers, the women and the riches. It's about righting wrongs and informing your loyal fans about any misconceptions.

Today, I'm doing a public service. And I'm doing that by telling you that Jeff Gordon isn't as good on road courses as you think.

His nine road course wins speak for themselves. Yeah, that's an impressive number. But seven of those wins came from 1997-2001, the others came in 2004 and 2006. So that's zero wins in his past 12 road course starts.

And it's even worse at Watkins Glen. In his past 10 starts there, he has just a pair of top-10 finishes, none better than ninth, with a 20.1 average finish.

Over the past five seasons, from 2008-12, there's only one track where Gordon has a worse average driver rating than his 76.5 mark at Watkins Glen, and that's at Talladega, where getting caught up in wrecks can quickly ruin a driver rating.

The 76.5 mark is 18th best in the series among drivers who have made a Watkins Glen start in that time, ranking below drivers who are usually road course afterthoughts, like Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth.

And he hasn't shown raw speed either. In those four races, he's run the fastest lap just four times, tied for the 12th most in the series.

So, who can we look to for road course dominance? How about Marcos Ambrose.

In those same four races, Ambrose has 79 fastest laps run, 35 more than any other driver, and he's finished no worse than third in his Cup career at the Glen.

Looking for Trouble

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

The rate of accidents at Watkins Glen is actually on the way up. Over the past three races at the Glen, there have been 10 accidents involving 23 cars.

Compare that to the eight-race span from 2001-08, when there were 14 accidents involving 33 cars. In an 11-race span from 1990-2000, there were 18 accidents with 26 cars.

The Eliminator: Watkins Glen

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, is my projected race winner.

Don't doubt the system -- it's riding a streak of seven straight top-10 finishes.

For those of you looking for more details, I'll post the step-by-step eliminations on my Twitter account (@MattWillisESPN).

1. Since 1987, every road course winner had a top-5 finish earlier in the season (24 eliminated, 19 remaining).

2. The past five and 12 of the past 15 Watkins Glen winners had a top-10 finish earlier that year at Sonoma (11 eliminated, eight remaining).

3. The past five Watkins Glen winners finished in the top seven in the previous year's Watkins Glen race (seven eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Joey Logano

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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