Crunching numbers for Charlotte

May, 27, 2010

We're coming up on one of the greatest endurance tests of the NASCAR season: 600 miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Although the racing isn't as physically demanding as it is at a short track or road course (at least I don't think so, but what do I know?), 600 miles is no laughing matter.

So, what's the best way to honor the 43 drivers who will be attempting 400 laps around the 1.5-mile track on Sunday night? How about a longer-than-normal blog? The only issue with that is that these entries have a max length, which I imagine I often surpass with my inane ramblings (like this one!).

That means I'll have to focus on the time these drivers will spend in the car instead of on the distance they'll drive. So I'll honor them by typing really slow. Don't worry, I don't get paid for this by the hour.

In other news, Sunday is one of the best racing days of the year, but if you're here reading this blog, you already knew that.

But if you do need a reminder, I want to be there to fill that need. On Sunday, the United States' most prestigious open-wheel race (I'll let you decide on its weight versus the Daytona 500) takes place in the early afternoon. You'll get a couple of hours to exhale afterward, then it's off to Charlotte for one of the crown jewels of NASCAR: the Coca-Cola 600.

Get on board, and here are some notes to get you ready …

Flashing back

Just a casual glance at the box score from last year's 600-miler at Charlotte shows Kyle Busch with a sixth-place finish despite leading a race-high 173 of 227 laps.

Let's go inside the numbers, shall we? You don't have a choice.

Last year in the rain-shortened 600, Busch had an average position of 1.5 and ran the fastest lap on 50 of the 227 laps. Those were both race-high marks.

However, Busch didn't have the top green-flag speed in the race. That went to Brian Vickers, whom I wish well in his recovery.

Hamfields versus the McBusches

Busch didn't exactly have a great first weekend at Charlotte in 2010, getting involved with teammate Denny Hamlin, then hanging at Hamlin's hauler, waiting for him to return.

Both these guys could be in the running for the win Sunday if the stats hold true. And if they don't, then what am I doing all this work for?

Hamlin had a pretty fast car in nearly all conditions in this past fall's race at Charlotte, but not the fastest in any particular situation. Check it out:

Hamlin's speed ranks in fall 2009 race at Charlotte
• Early in run -- Second
• Late in run -- Seventh
• On restarts -- Fifth
• In traffic -- Second

Hamlin ran the third-most fastest laps in the race, behind only winner Jimmie Johnson and multiple-time Charlotte winner Kasey Kahne.

Hitting the half

Let me give you a glimpse inside the inner workings of Matt Willis.

I couldn't decide how to wrap up this particular blog. Johnson has the top driver rating at Charlotte, but that seemed obvious, given that he has six wins there, tying him for the most with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. So I'm going off the board!

Sunday marks the halfway point to the Chase, and I wanted to make sure my loyal readers went into that with some statistical ammunition.

In every year the Chase has been held, at least one driver has moved into the Chase field after being out at the halfway point.

Last year, three pulled off the feat. After 13 races, Vickers, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kahne were all out -- Vickers was 131 points out. They knocked out Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Burton.

The biggest deficit from the cutoff made up in the last 13 races before the Chase? Try Kenseth's 278 points in 2005. Tony Stewart has the biggest blown lead. He was 146 points to the good in 2006.

That's all I have 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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