Crunching numbers for Bristol

August, 20, 2009

You know that holiday song that goes, "It's the most wonderful time of the year"?

By the way, you're welcome for getting that stuck in your head at a very inappropriate time of the year. For in reality, it's very un-holiday like outside here, back home in upstate New York. Quite sticky, if you were curious.

Well, anyway, for me, the August Bristol race is right up there with the holiday season. Sure, things have changed over the years: the amount of banking, the cars and, of course, the drivers in those cars, but the message stays the same.

That's what racing is all about for me. Saturday night short-track racing, complete with bumping and the occasional postrace spin. And with things being so tight -- and if spell check would allow it, that's tight with the letter "I" six to eight times -- in the race for the last few Chase spots, things could get heated.

Add in the double-file restarts, and consider me pumped. Gather the children, friends and acquaintances for the race. Heck, order a pizza, and invite the delivery boy in. Plop the dog bed next to the TV and invite the beagle to watch the action at the Bullring.

Doesn't have to be a beagle, but they are adorable. But on with my usual stuff.

Brian's song

Brian Vickers had been sticking around the bubble position for the Chase, but few considered him a serious Chase contender. Even I thought he could compete for the win at Michigan and California, but may falter at the short tracks.

But here is the 83, sitting within sniffing distance of Mark Martin and the rest of those sitting just above the Chase cutoff line.

But I was right to be concerned with Vickers' chances at the upcoming short tracks. In terms of driver rating (think the NFL's passer rating, with anything over 100 being very good), Bristol and Richmond are two of his worst tracks.

Brian Vickers' worst driver rating by track
Homestead -- 46.0
Bristol -- 57.2
Richmond -- 57.7
Darlington -- 60.8

His Kryptonite

Jimmie Johnson has never won at Bristol before, and these days, you can't come up with too many places the dude hasn't won yet.

But it's not just that Johnson (dubbed Superman by teammate Martin) hasn't won at Bristol. Believe it or not, he's actually struggled.

I'll give you a second to let the shock wear off, pick your jaw up off the ground and watch the pigs fly by.

But check out some of Johnson's rather pedestrian ranks at Bristol dating back to 2005.

Selected Cup rankings for Jimmie Johnson at Bristol since 2005
Driver rating -- 18th
Average running position -- 18th
Green-flag speed -- 19th
Speed in traffic -- 23rd


Let's continue my all-negative notes blog entry.

You might've noticed Kyle Busch has been in somewhat of a slump lately … you and everyone else.

Well, even though his first 18 races this season were nothing to write home about, his last five races have been even worse.

Compared to his first 18 races, Busch's driver rating has fallen about 22 points over the last five races, and he's had a negative pass differential.

His average finish in the first 18 was 16.1, in the last five, 22.8. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you fall from eighth to 15th in points.

Now go settle in for some short-track Saturday night action. You'll be glad you did.

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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