Crunching numbers after Martinsville

October, 26, 2010

NASCAR-reading audience, let me speak for you all. I am a voice of the people, if nothing else. I speak for a generation!

It seems like the audience is unhappy with the fact that Sprint Cup Series regulars are running in Nationwide Series races and dominating. But no, even though that's what your mouths may say and your fingers might type, I don't think that's solely the problem.

I think there's just frustration that they're running for the title, and that one of them has been running away with it. Brad Keselowski, with a 485-point lead over Carl Edwards with three races to go, merely needs to start the remainder of the races to lock up his first Nationwide Series title. The frustrating part of it is that locking up the title with multiple races remaining has been the norm of late.

It's the third time in the last five years that there's been a lead that big in the series with three races remaining. In 2006, Kevin Harvick led by 790 at this point. In 2007, Edwards led by 531.

My question? Would you mind those Cup regulars running for the Nationwide title if there was a close points race right now? Would you mind if they won a majority of the races but didn't run for the title? Should I continue asking questions, knowing I won't get an answer?

The fact is, Cup guys running Nationwide races is not a new phenomenon. Mark Martin has run 231 career Nationwide Series races with 48 wins, but he ran for the championship only once. And that was before his Cup series career hit its stride. Yet I don't remember all this fuss.

Remember, though, I'm solutions oriented, so here you go. We need to have more Nationwide stand-alone events, send the series to some tracks without Cup dates, thus giving a hand to independent owners. Then, put a 12-race cap on Cup guys running in the series.

The benefits: It'll help developmental drivers, give the series an identity of its own while not robbing track promoters of some of the name value they need to get fans to come out.

The drawbacks: exposes people to my genius.

Now, on to the Martinsville postrace notes!

This One Goes To 11

We've got a whole new Chase after Denny Hamlin's win at Martinsville, with just six points separating first and second, the tightest race with four to go in Chase history.

It was quite a stark difference to Hamlin's other start from the pole this year, when he finished last at Atlanta. And that's three straight wins at Martinsville for Hamlin, just the fifth driver to pull off a three-race win streak at the Paper Clip in NASCAR's modern era, which dates to 1972. But what I was really impressed with was how Hamlin dealt with setbacks at the start of the race, when he dropped outside the top 10 with a tire problem.

With some help from Toby Petitpas from the ESPN Stats & Analysis team, I was able to find out that Hamlin's average lap time over the first 100 laps was the 14th-best in the field. From Lap 201 to Lap 300, he had the sixth-fastest average lap time. And over the last 100 laps, he was the fastest car on the track. Impressive comeback, both at Martinsville and in the Chase standings.

Trivia break: Hamlin's won three straight at Martinsville. Who was the last to win four in a row?

Sweet 17

And then there's Jimmie Johnson, who "only" finished fifth at Martinsville, which for him is an effort roundly deserving of a yawn. It's just his 17th consecutive top-10 finish at the Paper Clip, the longest in that track's history, and the-third longest at any track in Cup history.

The only guys ahead of him are also the only ones with more Cup titles than Johnson -- Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty. Each of those two had 18 consecutive top-10 finishes, and they both did it at North Wilkesboro.

Good news for both Johnson and Hamlin, along with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. The eventual Chase champion has never failed to finish outside the top five in the Chase race at Martinsville.

Trivia break: Who is the only non-Chaser to win a Chase race at Martinsville?

Too Much More

Where does the space go? Oh yeah, to my incoherent ramblings.

Anyway, I've got a lot of notes of which I must inform my loyal fans, and not too much room to do it. So here we go:

Second-place Mark Martin got his best finish of the season, while the Nationwide Series all-but-crowned champ Brad Keselowski got his first Cup top-10 of the season. Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (90) and Marcos Ambrose (40) led more laps in this race than they had all season entering the day. For Ambrose, it's a career high in laps led.

Trivia break: If Ambrose had gotten the win, he'd be just the second driver in the last 25 years to get his first Cup win at Martinsville. Who's the other?

Trivia Break Answers

1.) The Elmhurst Express, Fred Lorenzen, won four in a row at Martinsville in 1963-65.

2.) In 2005, Jeff Gordon didn't make the Chase but still got a Martinsville win.

3.) Ricky Craven got his first win at Martinsville in 2001

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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