Crunching numbers after Talladega

April, 27, 2010

What else can I say that hasn't already been said?

Oh, I know. Coming out of Turn 4, here's your winner, Chad Little in the John Deere Machine!

Wait, what's that? I have to talk about something that actually happened? Sorry, to my fellow blogger Tom McKean -- I tried to give your boy a win.

It was actually Kevin Harvick who earned his first Sprint Cup win since the 2007 Daytona 500.

He got the late edge on Jamie McMurray, who was looking to become the second driver to win three consecutive restrictor-plate races. The only guy to do that? Some dude named Dale Earnhardt. Oh, you've heard of him?

Regardless of your feelings about restrictor-plate racing, the racing was fantastic at Talladega. Even when the field got strung out in single file, as it is apt to do at Talladega, you'd blink and they'd be side by side for the lead once again.

Unfortunately, what I decided to do during Sunday's race was continuously update the top five while chatting on NASCAR Live! on (Get in!) Without any live timing and scoring feed from my recliner, I was at the mercy of my eyes and typing speed. I was even snacking on some baby carrots, as I was going to try to gain an edge.

But it's time for me to give you the best of the postrace notes the research department has dreamed up coming out of Talladega.

Everybody gets a turn

Statistically, which is the way I tend to make my arguments because I'm a researcher, Sunday's race at Talladega was the most competitive in NASCAR history.

The announcing crew mentioned that fact during the race, but trust me, I had prepped those lists for the ESPN Stats & Information department days before the race.

How competitive was it? Well, in the first 120 laps, only twice did a driver lead five consecutive laps. And 29 drivers led, which means only 14 didn't lead a lap.

Among those who didn't lead a lap, however, were five of the top 15 finishers. None of the last four finishers led, either, although only two cars parked without being involved in a wreck.

There was a Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s worth of lead changes during the race -- a record 88 … over 200 laps.

And the previous record for lead changes was 75 at Talladega back in 1984, so that record was shattered.

Trivia break: Who won the race in which there were previously a record 28 different leaders?

Missed it by that much

The margin of Harvick's victory was a mere .011 of a second, meaning that Harvick's past two Cup wins have been by a combined .031 of a second.

I'd like to be able to compare what .031 of a second is to something from your day-to-day life, but in reality, I have no idea. Try blinking. That seems about right.

Well, that .011-second victory is the eighth-closest in the Sprint Cup Series since electronic scoring was instituted back in 1993. Again, whatever your feelings on restrictor-plate racing, four of the eight tightest finishes during that time have come on plate tracks.

Trivia break: Who won in the closest finish at Talladega since 1993?

Your happy place

Maybe I should talk a little more about Happy Harvick's win instead of focusing solely on the competitiveness of the race. Hey, that's why this blog has three sections.

Harvick's win snapped a 115-race winless streak and was the longest winless streak for a driver after a Daytona 500 victory.

Strangely, the second-longest winless streak after a Daytona 500 win also was snapped this season, as Ryan Newman's 77-race winless streak was snapped at Phoenix.

Trivia break: Which two drivers never won another NASCAR Cup series race after winning a Daytona 500?

Trivia break answers:

1. Tony Stewart won the fall 2008 race, which featured a then-record 28 leaders.

2. Dale Earnhardt edged Ernie Irvan by .005 of a second in July 1993.

3. Both Bobby Allison and Mario Andretti made the Daytona 500 their last career wins.

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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