Crunching numbers for Pocono

June, 4, 2009

Friends, countrymen, students bored in class and reading this on laptops, lend me your ears!

Yes, schools across the nation are wrapping up in the near future, if they haven't already wrapped up another academic year. Although you should be paying attention to your teachers or educational DVDs, I won't make you stop reading. I do appreciate my readers and pretend to know many of them by name.

But when school's over, there's no reason you have to stop learning over the summer. And we here in the ESPN Research Department like to think we can do our part to educate our nation's young minds.

I'll start with the youngsters, and today, we'll be working on shapes. Usually, NASCAR races on ovals -- those are the ones kind of shaped like eggs.

But this week, for the first time this season, we'll be racing on a triangle. Pocono Raceway is one of the most distinct tracks on the circuit, with three different turns, all measuring less than 90 degrees. That, my students, constitutes an acute triangle.

You also have three sides, all with different lengths. And that we call a scalene triangle.

(Matt pauses briefly to accept his award as first blog to mention a scalene triangle.)

Don't think that's fun? Well, without triangles, we wouldn't have slices of pizza, an important member of the percussion section, or the Bermuda Triangle.

My blog is now educational, but let's move on to NASCAR.

Pocono master

Denny Hamlin's first two wins came at Pocono in his rookie season, making him one of two drivers to get his first career Cup series win at the Triangle.

A mini-trivia break (answer at bottom of this section): Who is the only other driver to get his first career win at Pocono?

But even though Hamlin hasn't won there again since sweeping the two 2006 races, it doesn't mean he hasn't been good there lately. On average, he's had the fastest car at Pocono dating back over the past four seasons.

Check out Hamlin's rankings at Pocono since 2005:

Category -- Result -- Ranking
Average running position -- 6.5 -- first
Driver rating -- 123.6 -- first
Green-flag speed -- 159.808 mph -- first

Your answer to the mini-trivia break: Jeremy Mayfield also got his first Cup win at Pocono (1998). He's been in the news for other reasons lately, but let's give him credit for being one half of the duo to win a first race at this tough track.

Half full or half empty?

So, will Hamlin win on Sunday? Well, don't jump on board just because he's running well at the halfway point.

This season, according to NASCAR's loop data, no driver has had a better running position at the halfway point of a race than Hamlin's 7.7. The only other driver better than 10th is the current points leader, Tony Stewart, whose average position midway through a race is 9.1.

However, Hamlin's average finish this season, 14.2, is about double his midrace position.

Looking further into it: Hamlin's pass differential over the past 10 percent of each race this season is a minus-22, which ranks him 46th out of 53 Sprint Cup Series drivers this season.

Want to stump your friends? As long as I'm not one of said friends, this will work: The driver ranking last in pass differential over the last 10 percent of races this season? Kyle Busch with a minus-35.

Achieving perfection

Last week, Jimmie Johnson's dominant performance at Dover earned him a perfect 150 rating for the race, just the ninth time that's been done since NASCAR began tracking loop data in 2005, according to NASCAR's Sultan of Stats, Mike Forde.

It was only the second time Johnson had done it, and only one other driver has done it multiple times (another mini-trivia break for the loyal readers).

That driver is Kurt Busch, who has done it a whopping four times. That becomes more impressive when you consider he's won only eight races over that time period. When he wins, he tends to dominate.

Well, something to look for this week at Pocono: Two of those four perfect driver ratings for Busch came at Pocono, in 2005 and 2007.

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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