Crunching numbers after Michigan

June, 15, 2010

Greetings, my friends. Welcome back to everybody's favorite Tuesday-based breakdown of the weekend's Sprint Cup race. You don't have to read it on Tuesday, although I definitely recommend doing so for freshness sake.

Sometimes it's important to pause and take notice of a dominating performance in the works. Now, while Denny Hamlin isn't lapping the field (those days have long since passed), his current run puts him on quite a pace.

Five wins in 15 races means Hamlin's on pace to win 12 races this season. That's a mark last hit by Jeff Gordon in 1998, when he ran away with the title with 13 victories. Before Gordon, the last to win a dozen races in a season was Darrell Waltrip in 1982. He, too, won the title.

Now, don't react like I'm saying Hamlin's a lock for 12 wins. I'm not willing to go out on that limb, especially given my balance and coordination issues. But I am saying that if he continues to win at this rate, it'll truly be a historic feat.

Ryan McGee, in his Monday chat, was asked if Hamlin was peaking too quickly, and responded with the excellent point that even if he drops off, now is a good time to accumulate trophies and cash. I'll always take trophies and cash (take note, editors).

So, as my editors mull over the number of trophies and amount of cash to give me (I'll also accept trophy girlfriends), let me dish out some of our finest Denny Hamlin-related research notes from Sunday's race at Michigan.

Playing spoiler

The first point I'd like to make, unless you count all those other ones I made above, is that Hamlin's hot stretch can be attributed to the re-emergence of the rear spoiler. Or maybe it's the bionic knee he's got going on.

In Hamlin's first five races this season, all of which were run with the rear wing, he failed to record a top-10 finish. His average finish was 21.0 and he was 19th in points.

In the past 10 races, Hamlin has five wins and seven top-5 finishes, and he's averaging a 7.2 finish and leading the series in points over that time.

That's a good way to make your knee feel a lot better.

Trivia break! Who holds the Joe Gibbs Racing record for Cup series wins in a season?

It's not how you start

Well, for this note, it is about how you start. Hamlin has won five of the first 15 races this season, all of them coming in the past 10 races. He's just the second driver since 2000 to start a season by winning at least five of the first 15 races, joining Greg Biffle in 2005. Biffle finished that season second in points.

This is the 16th time in NASCAR's modern era (since 1972) that a driver has won five of the first 15 Cup series races in a season. All but one of those drivers (David Pearson in 1973, when he didn't run the full schedule) went on to finish in the top three in points.

Hamlin joins this list of drivers with five wins in the first 15 races: Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Richard Petty. Good company to keep.

Trivia break! What's the record for most wins in the season's first 15 races?

Even better

What is even more impressive than winning five of the first 15 races? How about Hamlin's current stretch of five wins in a 10-race span? I leafed through pages and pages of results, and through my weary eyes, I've found that this is just the seventh time that's happened in the last 15 seasons.

What's that? List time!

Drivers who have won five races in a 10-race stretch (past 15 seasons):

Driver -- Year -- Finished
Denny Hamlin -- 2010 -- ?
Kyle Busch -- 2008 -- 10th
Jimmie Johnson -- 2007 -- First
Tony Stewart -- 2005 -- First
Jeff Gordon -- 1998 -- First
Jeff Gordon -- 1997 -- First
Jeff Gordon --1996 -- Second

Seems like Mr. Hamlin is a pretty clear championship favorite right now. But we're still a long way from Homestead.

Trivia break! Who holds the record for most wins in a 10-race stretch?

Trivia break answers

1. Kyle Busch set the mark with eight wins in 2008.

2. The record is seven wins in the first 15 races, done several times and most recently by Jeff Gordon in 1997.

3. It's Richard Petty, who won 10 consecutive races in 1967.

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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