Crunching numbers after All-Star Saturday

May, 25, 2010

You know what's the best part about coming up with these "What if?" scenarios that I often play around with in my blog? I can change the rules on the fly however I see fit.

If you don't like it, just casually give in. I'm not looking for a fight here. Do not attempt to read another blog.

You might remember that in my last blog I challenged readers to come up with their dream 20-car field for an all-time NASCAR All-Star race. No limits to who can be in this. Just the 20 drivers you think would put together the most prestigious and entertaining race we could watch.

Well, on Saturday there were 21 cars in the All-Star race, so I'm pulling an audible and saying I can put 21 cars in my field. I just couldn't take one of these guys out. And if there are any blackjack players in the audience, we know 21 is much better than 20.

So, in alphabetical order, here are my 21 drivers: Bobby Allison, Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, Tim Flock, Jeff Gordon, Ned Jarrett, Jimmie Johnson, Junior Johnson, Mark Martin, David Pearson, Lee Petty, Richard Petty, Tim Richmond, Fireball Roberts, Tony Stewart, Herb Thomas, Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip, Joe Weatherly and Cale Yarborough.

My apologies to those I left out. But now is the difficult part: picking a winner of this thing. I can't think of any fair way to project a winner, so I'll again throw it out to my loyal, blog-reading audience. Who wins this thing?

While you mull that over, I'll fill everybody in on the finest of notes I have to offer coming off Saturday's All-Star race.

Getting Kurt with you

What better way to start a blog entry than by talking about the guy who won the race, Kurt Busch.

Every week, one of the NASCAR researchers up here in Bristol will send out a packet with race preview notes, statistical breakdowns and all sorts of hot trends to the ESPN masses. I had the honor of putting together the All-Star packet, and when I got to the "Who's Hot/Not" section, my first "Not" driver was Busch.

Who can blame me? In three All-Star races from 2006-08, Busch had finished 20th, 19th and 22nd. And given that it's a short field in these races, that's even worse. You can also look at it as a last-place finish and two finishes in the bottom three.

Busch, however, started the recovery last year, finishing third behind Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth. Let's look at Busch's breakdown from Saturday:

Kurt Busch in All-Star races
2002-03: Two races, two top-5s, 3.0 average finish
2005-08: Four races, zero top-5s, 17.0 average finish
2009-10: Two races, two top-5s, 2.0 average finish

Trivia break! Who had the other All-Star race win for Penske Racing?

Segue to segments

Jimmie Johnson, once again, had a possible All-Star win thwarted by a late-race spin, but it didn't stop him from collecting some extra cash and accolades by winning the middle two segments. Those were his sixth and seventh career segment wins in the All-Star race, trailing only Jeff Gordon's nine.

Of course, that's heavily weighted toward the current day, seeing as Saturday's race was four segments, while earlier versions of the race had but a single segment. Still impressive, though.

Bill Elliott has the next most segment wins with six. Dale Earnhardt and Davey Allison had five apiece, and that brings us to …

Trivia break! What driver holds the record for the most segment wins (four) without an All-Star race win?

Truex dat

You may not have noticed who finished second in the All-Star race. Turns out it was Martin Truex Jr. A little bit of a shocker, considering he had to win the Sprint Showdown to even transfer into the main event.

Truex finished 22nd, 10th and 16th in his previous All-Star starts, making his run to runner-up even more of a shocker. He came up just short in his attempt to be the first driver to win the Showdown and the All-Star race in the same year.

Truex is the third driver to win the Showdown and finish second in the All-Star race. Tony Stewart did it in 1999, and Sterling Marlin in 1988. Got a good every-11-years thing going on there, so really I should've seen it coming.

Trivia break! Three drivers, however, have raced in the Sprint Showdown and won the All-Star race. Who are they?

Trivia break answers

1. Ryan Newman won the All-Star race as a rookie in 2002 for Penske.

2. Kyle Busch has four segment wins, but none in the final segment.

3. Michael Waltrip got the fifth and final transfer spot in 1996, Ryan Newman won the second-chance race in 2002 and Kasey Kahne won the fan vote in 2008 and each went on to win the All-Star 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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