Chase loop data update 2006-09-18

KEVIN HARVICK STARTS CHASE IN DOMINATING FASHION * Points leader looks to continue his hot streak * Johnson down but not out, according to Loop Data DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 18, 2006) -- Since the inception of the Chase for the NASCAR ...

KEVIN HARVICK STARTS CHASE IN DOMINATING FASHION

* Points leader looks to continue his hot streak
* Johnson down but not out, according to Loop Data

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 18, 2006) -- Since the inception of the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup in 2004, "Chase" drivers have always eyed the first race at New Hampshire International Speedway as one that could make or break their title hopes.

Using NASCAR's new "Chase Loop Data" report we look at who is strong in the Chase and who has some hard work ahead of them.

Kevin Harvick showed he was the driver to beat on the NHIS "Magic Mile" this past Sunday as he dominated the field from the time his team unloaded. Harvick won the Budweiser Pole for the race and maintained an Average Running Position of 1.490 to lead that Loop Data category.

Additionally, Harvick bested his fellow Chase drivers in Driver Rating with a near-perfect 148.9 and by running all 300 Laps in the Top 15. He also had the highest Percentage of Laps Led with 65.3% and the highest Percentage of Fastest Laps with 25.8%.

These are the reasons Harvick has a 35-point lead in the point standings over rookie Denny Hamlin. Hamlin was able to keep his car at the front of the field most of the day at NHIS, completing 99.3% of his Laps in the Top 15.

If Harvick wants to remain in the series lead, he will need to improve on his recent (2005 and '06) performances at the nine remaining tracks in the Chase.

His cumulative Driver Rating at these tracks is only seventh-best at 80.7. He has also struggled, at times, to keep his car near the front at the upcoming tracks, leading only .6% of the time and running in the top 15 only 51.4% of the time. All of this has relegated Harvick to an Average Finish of 17.7 at the remaining tracks in the Chase.

Jimmie Johnson struggled at New Hampshire after getting caught up in a mid-race accident. Johnson came away with a 41st-place finish but looks to rebound in the coming weeks. Currently Johnson has the second-lowest Driver Rating of the Chase drivers with a 59.2.

The good news for Johnson is that he has the highest Average Point Gain at the upcoming tracks in the Chase, gaining on average 140.5 points per race. Johnson also has the second best cumulative Driver Rating at nine remaining tracks in the Chase with 99.3. He also has completed the second-most Laps in the Top 15 with 73.8% and has the highest Average Finish at the remaining tracks at 10.8.

Further indications that Johnson can still rebound and remain a contender is his record at the remaining tracks in the Chase over the past two seasons. Johnson has more top 10s than any other driver in the Chase at the remaining tracks with 17. He is tied with Mark Martin for the most top-five finishes with 11. Most impressively, Johnson has more wins (four) at the remaining tracks than any driver in the Chase.

Loop Data Analysis from STATS LLC:

From Stefan Kretschmann of STATS LLC (the company that compiles NASCAR's Loop Data):

"Denny Hamlin had become a picture of consistency after the first nine races of his rookie season. Hamlin started the year scoring only two top 10s in the first nine races, but starting at Richmond in May he picked up 12 top 10s (along with his first two NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series wins and four top-five finishes) and has not finished below 17th in that span.

"The Loop Data also shows this to be a tale of two seasons for the talented young rookie. Hamlin started the year with a 79.8 Driver Rating but has seen that number rise by racing his way to a 101.9 rating over the past 18 races. His Average Running Position has seen a similar improvement moving from a 18.245 to 10.756. Hamlin has almost doubled the time he spends in races in the top 15 (43.4% to 83.7%) and has more than tripled the amount of laps he leads (2.0% to 6.8%). Looking at the tracks that he's visited twice in 2006, one can also see a similar trend. The seven tracks that the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup has visited twice this season have seen Hamlin increase his Driver Rating (96.9 to 105.1), improve his Average Running Position (13.468 to 9.589) and improve his average finish from 11.0 to 8.3. With the Chase filled with more tracks he's making his first or second return visit to, he has the chance to become the first rookie NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion."

Loop Logic ...

* Having the Fastest Lap in a given race may not always matter. Kasey Kahne has run the Fastest Lap 12.3% of the time in the Chase -- third-best among Chase drivers -- but sits eighth in points. Conversely Hamlin, who sits second in points, turned the Fastest Lap only .4% of the time in the Chase -- second-lowest among Chase drivers.

* Looking ahead to the remaining Chase tracks, Mark Martin may have his best shot at winning a championship. Martin leads all Chase contenders in cumulative Driver Rating at the remaining Chase tracks with 100.4.

* If Hamlin hopes to win a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship this season, he will need to keep his car near the front of the field on a more consistent basis at the nine remaining Chase tracks. Hamlin has the lowest Percentage of Laps in the Top 15 at the remaining tracks in the Chase running in the top 15 only 39.4% of the time.

FAST FACTS

<pre> Loop Data -- Chase Drivers Driver Rating - NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series

                        Chase      Season-to-Date
1.  Kevin Harvick       148.9      98.7
2.  Jeff Gordon         125.1      99.2
3.  Jeff Burton         117.0      97.7
4.  Denny Hamlin        105.8      94.5
5.  Dale Earnhardt Jr.  104.3      92.1
6.  Mark Martin         98.4       91.3
7.  Matt Kenseth        91.0      104.2
8.  Kasey Kahne         84.4       93.4
9.  Jimmie Johnson      59.2       97.7
10. Kyle Busch          41.8       93.1

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin