"The Loopies": The Fourth Annual Best-Of Loop Data For 2010 Print Page

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Dec. 10, 2010) -- There's a hush-hush reason why every driver attending the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas was smiling, even when faced with the truth that Jimmie Johnson owns yet another championship.

The reason: They may not have won the championship, but there was still hope for a Loopie.

For the fourth consecutive season, NASCAR public relations combed through the statistics to hand out a number of awards celebrating the best -- and worst -- Loop Data performances of 2010.

The envelopes please...

The "Most Awesome Sport Ever, Especially This Year" Award: This one goes to NASCAR racing. Congrats, us. The world's best racing got even better in 2010, and the proof is in the numbers. According to the Loop Data, there were 1,299 green flag passes for the lead and 116,327 green flag passes this season, the most since NASCAR started recording the stat in 2005. Though not Loop Data, there were also an average 25.4 lead changes and 11.4 leaders per race, both highs in the 62-year history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

The "'Happy' To Be Back" Award: Better known as the "Comeback Driver of the Year" Award, this one goes to the driver who had the biggest gain in Driver Rating from 2009. Congrats to Kevin Harvick, who shrugged off a subpar 2009 to have a big bounce-back season in 2010. Harvick rocketed from a rating of 75.7 in 2009 to a 98.0 this season, a difference of 22.3. Honorable mention in this category: Paul Menard, who will be Harvick's teammate at Richard Childress Racing next season. Menard posted a Driver Rating of 70.9 this season, up 20.3 points from a rating of 50.6 in 2009.

The "You're Going The Wrong Way" Award: This one is given to the driver who had an unfortunately lackluster year. This award goes to Mark Martin, who had the largest drop in Driver Rating from 2009 -- 17.5 points. His struggles were surprising; his Loopie is not. He was the odds-on favorite to take home this not-so-coveted award. This year, Martin had no wins, 11 tops 10s, a Driver Rating of 82.8 and a final points position of 13th. In 2009, he had five wins, 21 top 10s, a Driver Rating of 100.3 and a final points position of second.

The "It's Not How You Finish, It's How You Start" Award: This is another Loopie that likely won't be displayed during the holiday season. Given to the driver who failed to close races, this year's winner is Juan Pablo Montoya. Statistically, Montoya was the worst "Closer" in the sport. The "Closer" statistic counts the number of positions gained or lost over the last 10% of races. Montoya lost a total of 116 positions over the last 10% of races, the most in the series. That explains his excellent average start of 11.6 and his disappointing average finish of 18.0.

The "Click 'Em Off" Award: This award is given to the driver with the top Pass Differential (passes minus times passed). Taking home his second Loopie of the year: Kevin Harvick. Harvick had a Pass Differential of plus-500, making 3,268 passes and getting passed only 2,768 times this year. That makes sense when looking at his start-to-finish numbers: Harvick had an average start of 21.0, but a series-best average finish of 8.7.

The "Second Is NOT The First Loser" Award: This award is given to the driver who is runner-up in season-long Driver Rating. Often, it's a predictor for a strong season to come. Last year, Denny Hamlin won the award.

This year, it goes to Jeff Gordon. Gordon's season Driver Rating was 98.5, second only to champion Jimmie Johnson (107.7). Gordon was second in a number of other categories: Average Running Position (10.8), Laps in the Top 15 percentage (77.0%) and Percentage of Laps Run on the Lead Lap (92.7%). The "Door Is Ajar, Sorta" Award: This one goes to the field. But it's not a trophy or a medal. It's a glimmer of hope.

Statistically, this year's Chase was Jimmie Johnson's worst in many categories. His Driver Rating of 108.5 during the 2010 Chase was the lowest of any of his championship seasons. He led fewer laps -- 232 -- in this year's Chase than in any of his five title years. Same goes for Fastest Laps Run, where he only had 163.

This could be looked at one of two ways: 1) The door is open for someone to dethrone Johnson; or 2) Those numbers are still pretty amazing, and who cares if they're down slightly -- he won.

Either way, everybody gets a Loopie! (Except Johnson. No Loopie for you.)

-source: nascar