Crunching numbers for Dover

May, 13, 2010

Back home in good old Owego, N.Y., my mom teaches kindergarten. Occasionally, she'll run into students at the store or while out eating dinner, and they'll be surprised that she doesn't live at the school.

That being said, I give you a personal record: This is the latest I've submitted a blog entry. Hey, I've got a life outside this blog. It's nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.

The issue, of course, is that when I hang out with non-NASCAR-viewing friends (how dare I!?!), and ask for any suggestions for the blog, I get a lot of blank stares, followed by some smart remarks about how they should try turning left, with a Dick Trickle joke thrown in for good measure.

Hey, nobody likes funny names more than I do. I'll even chuckle at the inevitable "What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?" line I get upon the first time somebody hears my last name. No, you're not the first to dream up that gem.

Do they have a point about the right turns? Hey, I like thinking outside the box as much as I like funny names. Although a race going clockwise instead of counterclockwise wouldn't get it done, I like some creativity in track design.

And that brings us to Dover, a track that's unlike any other on the schedule. Not quite a short track, not a full superspeedway. High-banked concrete excitement with a monster mascot to boot. Count me on board!

With that, here are my favorite prerace loop-data notes heading to Dover:

Top of the class?

After his win last week at Darlington, Denny Hamlin tied Jimmie Johnson for the most wins in the series with three apiece through 11 races. Meanwhile, atop the points sits Talladega winner Kevin Harvick.

So, nearly a third of the way through the season, who's the Sprint Cup Series leader in driver rating -- a stat that closely mirrors the NFL's passer rating -- taking into account many different loop-data factors?

It's the four-time champ, well, the other four-time champ, Jeff Gordon. Gordon, despite not having won a race, has led the most laps in the series and, according to the stats, is this year's best all-around performer.

Gordon's at 109.7, just ahead of Jimmie Johnson's mark of 108.1. It's a drop-off at that point back to Kyle Busch at 100.7. A sleeper in the fourth slot is none other than Jeff Burton at 99.9.

Monster mash

Sometimes finding a prerace favorite is as easy as looking back to the most recent race at a track.

Although an offseason can change a lot of the power players around, Dover is a very unique track and can produce a different type of racing.

That being said, one driver stood head and shoulders above the field in last fall's race at Dover, and that was the winner, Jimmie Johnson.

Only two drivers have won more than Johnson at Dover -- Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. Maybe you've heard of them?

But Johnson's domination can be seen by looking at the list of drivers who laid down the most fastest laps last fall at Dover. List me!

Most fastest laps run at the 2009 fall Dover race
• Jimmie Johnson -- 155
• Mark Martin -- 44
• Juan Pablo Montoya -- 42
• Kurt Busch -- 24
• Jeff Gordon -- 20

Johnson had more than the next four drivers combined and more than three times as many as Mark Martin, who had the second-most fastest laps run.

On second thought ...

Or, maybe instead of just looking at the last race at Dover, we look back over a five-race period. In that time period, it looks more like a power team instead of a power player.

That team is Roush Fenway Racing, which, despite having won only once over the past 45 races (and that coming from a driver no longer with the team), has a trio of drivers in the top 12 in points.

Those three all excel at Dover.

Look at Greg Biffle. The Biff has the best average position and driver rating at Dover over the past five seasons and ranks second in fastest laps, overall speed and quality passes.

Matt Kenseth leads the series in that span at quality passes at Dover, top-15 passes under the green flag, and is second in both average position and driver rating.

Carl Edwards doesn't have the dazzling résumé of his two teammates, but ranks in the top six in just about every major category.

That's all I've got for you this week. Enjoy the race!

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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