October 30, 2008
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Carl Edwards won the battle of Atlanta but Jimmy Johnson surely won the war. With a 183 point lead, only three races to go and a seemingly invincible team, Hendrick Motorsports’ no. 48 has it’s third straight Sprint Cup all but locked up. Edwards is putting up a spirited fight, but the Johnson - Chad Knaus combo is relentless.
Still this column is not about championships. We’ve been mostly using data derived from NASCAR’s scoring loops, mixing in some traditional stats and the random hunch, to try and pick a winner for each upcoming race in the Chase to the Cup. Next up is the 500 miler at Texas Motor Speedway, one of NASCAR’s ubiquitous, intermediate tracks.
Great military leaders throughout history have always strived for command of the terrain. Carl Edwards held the high-ground at Atlanta Motor Speedway for most of the day last Sunday. In the end he managed to hold off the counter-attack of Jimmy Johnson. But it may have been more a matter of Johnson running out of laps than that of Edwards commanding the field. Carl did all he could do. Can he do it again at Texas?
Carl has some things stacked in his favor. He won the first Texas race of 2008. Same year sweeps seem to happen more often on intermediate tracks than on any other type. Cousin Carl has eight wins on the I-tracks during the last five years - a total that trails only Greg Biffle (12) and Johnson (14). And, as Matt pointed out, the fall Atlanta winner has followed up with a Texas Two-step in each of the last three years. Edwards’ Loop Data is strong for Texas too, with a Driver Rating of 96.0 - sixth best - 255 Laps Led and 70.2 percent of his Laps in the Top 15.
Tony Stewart is tied for the top Driver Rating with a 107.9 and has series leading stats of 196 Fastest Laps Run, 2109 - 89.8 percent - Laps in the Top 15, 437 Laps Led and and Ave Position of 8.0. Tony has four I-track wins, including 2006 at TMS.
Biffle, as stated before, has 12 wins on the intermediates. He always seems fast on fast tracks like Texas. But his tenth best DR for TMS and his lack of category leading Loop Stats make it tough to pick him over his teammate Edwards.
Biffle’s other Roush-Fenway partner, Matt Kenseth has a better shot. Kenseth has the second best Driver Rating - 104.9 - and the best Ave Finish and Ave Mid-race Position - 6.9 and 4.9 - along with the top Ave Points Gained for races at Texas. Kenseth is a six-time I-track winner.
Denny Hamlin’sDriver Rating is a strong 101.9 and though winless on intermediates, has the third best Ave Finish on the I-tracks in general and TMS in particular.
Dale Earnhardt Jr is a three-time I-track winner and has a Loop Driver Rating of 98.1 - 5th best. But if you heard any of the in car radio conversation between Junior and crew chief Tony Eury Jr, it will be hard to have confidence in their ability to figure the current car out enough to win at Texas. Eury Jr was at a loss to the point where Earnhardt had to calm HIM down. Not the normal state of affairs with the no. 88 team.
Jimmy Johnson was asked if he felt that, with such a big points lead, he could ease up a bit and drive for points. He said, absolutely not. He plans to drive every race that’s left with the intention of winning it. That should send chills down the rosy necks of Johnson haters everywhere. Johnson has a Driver Rating of 107.9 - tied for best with Stewart - he has the best Ave Start and Ave Finish on I-tracks in general and the most wins too.
The pick is the no. 48 Lowes Chevrolet to win this week. For an upset special take Martin Truex Jr who is seventh in Driver Rating and due for DEI to get a break.
Photo credit: Icon Sports Media, Inc.
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