Crunching numbers for Phoenix

November, 12, 2009

What's up!

I'm feeling high-energy right now. And no, it's not just because of the newfound points race, nor the fact that I'm writing this column while eating a banana. Hooray potassium!

It's because I'm writing yet another fine piece of journalism for my loyal readers. I live to serve. I do other things, but I also do a lot of serving.

But I feel like this season's almost over (don't worry, next season is only, like, 18 days away), and we haven't really gotten to know each other yet. And one of the first things you realize when you get to know me is that you'd probably never think I was a NASCAR fan.

I'm from the great wilderness of upstate New York, where I'll be making cameo appearances during the holiday season, since I was looking to get somewhere colder than Connecticut. I know absolutely nothing about cars, can't change my oil (although I have a vague idea of where it comes out) and can't drive a stick shift (thus violating one of Barney Stinson's rules in the Bro Code).

I've never raced myself, but I'm downright filthy when it comes to NASCAR games on the Playstation. I consider myself a restrictor-plate specialist.

And, of course, I'm an open book. Feel free to e-mail me, even during the offseason, with any of your NASCAR-related quandaries, and remember that I'm on the Twitter. Make me the most popular columnist on there, and I'll rub it in the others' faces.

But now, let's move on to a little Phoenix preview. With the finest in NASCAR loop data and what have you.

Perfect 1(5)0

Since NASCAR began keeping loop data at the start of the 2005 season, a perfect 150 driver rating in a single race has been accomplished only 10 times. Just a little FYI, driver rating compiles several loop data statistics and pretty closely mirrors the NFL's passer rating scale.

Only two tracks have seen a perfect driver rating more than once, Pocono and Phoenix. Let's take a look at the two drivers to have done it at Phoenix, courtesy of NASCAR's Sultan of Stats, Mike Forde.

Kurt Busch (April 2005)
Average position -- 1.9
Fastest laps -- 76
Percentage of laps led -- 70.2

Kevin Harvick (November 2006)
Average position -- 1.2
Fastest laps run -- 72
Percentage of laps led -- 80.8

And why do I bring this up? Because last year at Phoenix, Jimmie Johnson became the first and only driver to put up a single-race driver rating of 149.9. He did this with an average position of 1.5, 66 fastest laps run and leading 69.3 percent of the laps.

There's a long formula to explain driver rating, but I only get so many characters for this blog, and it's pretty complicated.

Phoenix rising

Let's face it, Jimmie Johnson's very good at Phoenix. Last week proved anything can happen, but will lightning really strike twice?

His 5.4 career average finish at Phoenix ranks it as his second-best track, behind only Martinsville. But dating back to 2005, his loop data numbers are downright bananas (banana reference No. 2!). Look at my trademark chart to see how far ahead of others he is.

Jimmie Johnson ranks at Phoenix since 2005
Average position -- 5.5 (8.7)
Driver rating -- 120.0 (102.4)
Fastest laps run -- 283 (264)
* 2nd-best in parentheses

The best one yet?

Let's take one more minute to appreciate how good Johnson's been this season. Not just in the Chase, but take the entire 2009 season as a whole.

How do you rank it up there against his last three seasons, all of which resulted in championships? Well, if you look just in terms of his average running position, race by race, for the entire season, this is his best performance yet.

Jimmie Johnson average running position, last four seasons
2009 -- 8.9
2008 -- 10.1
2007 -- 9.3
2006 -- 10.8

The kicker in 2007 is that even though Johnson won the championship, he did not lead the series in average running position. That honor went to the runner-up, Jeff Gordon. The 48 did lead every other season.

That's all I've got to offer for this week. Enjoy Phoenix, everybody!

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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