Crunching numbers after Richmond

May, 4, 2010

Greetings to all my lug nuts.

Having a blog like this comes with a great deal of power. Hey, stop that laughing. I'm serious here. OK, I'm not really all that serious -- it's not my way.

But I'd like to take this opportunity to write a little open letter to Jeff Gordon. Call it more of a piece of advice from a guy who has never stepped foot in a race car but does enjoy watching it on TV and has made a nice little career by looking up information about it.

    Dear Jeff:

    I know wins are nice and all -- it's basically why you're showing up at the track on a weekly basis -- but there is something special about all those second-place finishes as well.

    You know how Richard Petty is the only driver with 200 wins? Well, guess who's the only driver with more than 100 second-place finishes? That's right, it's Richard Petty.

OK, let me switch back from open-letter mode to blogger mode. Gordon unquestionably has been the class of the field during the past month, but he is winless. However, he's back in championship form.

I usually don't like to get this far into a blog without talking about the actual race winner, so let's get rolling on my favorite Kyle Busch notes from Saturday night's race at Richmond.

The Century Club

Although Gordon led much of the latter part of the race before being passed by Busch in the final few laps, Busch absolutely crushed the field early on.

In fact, there was a point when all but eight of those 42 other cars on the track were a lap down before the wave-around rule bailed out about half the field and put them back on the lead lap.

Busch led the first 140 laps of the race. You might think that drivers who lead the first 100 laps of a race tend to go on to win the race going away, but lately that hasn't been the case. List time!

The past four drivers to lead the first 100 laps of a race:

Driver -- Race -- Laps led
Kyle Busch -- 2010 Richmond -- 140 (finished first)
Denny Hamlin -- 2008 Richmond -- 206 (finished 24th)
Jeff Gordon -- 2007 Martinsville -- 108 (finished third)
Jeff Gordon -- 2006 Martinsville -- 144 (finished fifth)

Trivia break! Who was the last driver before Busch to lead the first 100 laps of a race and go on to win?

Rich and famous

Busch's win at Richmond was no accident. No, Busch has a long line of success at Richmond, basically lasting his entire Sprint Cup Series career. The proof is in the pudding (mmm ... pudding).

Busch's career-average finish at Richmond is a solid 5.8. Among those who have made more than five starts at Richmond, only Lee Petty has a better mark.

Of course, when Lee Petty ran there, it was a half-mile dirt track. (I reaffirm my desire to see a dirt-track race on the schedule, unlikely as it is.) Now it's a three-quarter-mile paved track. So you could say that Busch is the best in NASCAR history at the current Richmond configuration.

Trivia break! What driver has the second-best average finish at Richmond?

A rare win?

Busch won from the pole at Richmond, which is a much rarer feat than you'd imagine.

Jimmie Johnson won from the pole in 2007, and Kasey Kahne did it in 2005. Before that, you'd have to go back to Bill Elliott in 1992 to find the previous Richmond winner to start from the pole.

Where you qualify is becoming less and less important, but you'd think it'd carry a little more weight at a short track, where if you start near the back, you're closer to being a lap down than seeing the leader.

Trivia break! What's the worst starting position for a Richmond winner?

Trivia break answers

1. Tony Stewart led the first 104 laps at Daytona in the summer of 2005 and went on to win.

2. Hamlin is the only other active driver to average better than a 10th-place finish at Richmond, with an 8.8 mark.

3. Clint Bowyer won after starting 31st in the spring 2008 race.

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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