Loop Data update 2006-08-21

KENSETH POISED TO MAKE RUN AT TITLE * Matt Kenseth already building momentum heading into Chase * 400 point margin in play? DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 21, 2006) -- The annual rites of late summer seem to be taking shape: Squeezing in...

KENSETH POISED TO MAKE RUN AT TITLE

* Matt Kenseth already building momentum heading into Chase

* 400 point margin in play?

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 21, 2006) -- The annual rites of late summer seem to be taking shape: Squeezing in one more family vacation, the start of school and a series of solid runs by Matt Kenseth heading into the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

Sunday's win at Michigan International Speedway, his runner-up finish at Indianapolis and the team's past success in the remaining races in the Race to the Chase show that the No. 17 DEWALT Ford team may be poised to make a strong run at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship.

Although Kenseth is 58 points behind Jimmie Johnson in the championship point standings, Kenseth holds the top Driver Rating at 103.4. He has also logged 4,931 laps (78.6%) in the top 15 in 2006, more than any other driver.

So far, in the seven races in the Race to the Chase, Kenseth has the third best driver rating over that span with a 101.3, bested only by Kevin Harvick (109.9) and Tony Stewart (105.5).

What may be even more worrisome to his competitors is Kenseth's history of strong performance at the three tracks where they will race before the Chase to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. Of the top 14 drivers in contention to make the Chase, Kenseth has the second-best average Driver Rating (109.5) at those three tracks. He will be looking to repeat last year's August victory at Bristol and also seek to make it a season sweep for 2006 at California Speedway.

Although the points will be reset prior to New Hampshire, Kenseth says that momentum will mean a lot for the Chase.

"My main goal was to win the championship, but the other one is to carry momentum into the Chase," he says. "To take the next two or three races just as seriously as the rest of the year, and try to go in there with some momentum and keep the spring in the guys' steps and the fire in their eyes. Ready to go out and try to win them a championship and try to go out and show them we're serious about it."

400 Point Margin in Play? ...

Although Jimmie Johnson has a lead of 533 points over 11th-place driver Kasey Kahne, just one stumble by Johnson could see more than 10 drivers qualify for the Chase. The Chase format means that, in addition to the top 10 drivers in the point standings, all drivers within 400 points of the leader following the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 will qualify for the Chase. A driver can gain as much as 156 points on a competitor in just one race.

Of the top 14 drivers in the point standings, Johnson has the worst average Driver Rating (76.7) over the tracks for the three races remaining in the Race to the Chase. Kahne is ranked seventh at 94.0, and he has a win at Richmond and three top-six finishes in his last three races at California Speedway.

Loop Data Analysis from STATS LLC:

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

"Going into the final three races in the Race to the Chase, it's interesting to note a significant difference between Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and their ability to close out a race. Earnhardt has picked up 24 positions (good for 87 points) in the last 10% of the races so far this year, most impressively moving up from 34th to 18th at Watkins Glen. Kasey Kahne has lost 22 positions (21 points) during those same laps, losing 78 points alone on his last lap troubles at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen. The driver that's lost the most places, 96, during the final 10 percent of the race is Greg Biffle for a hefty 324 points, including four races (California, Phoenix, the Pepsi 400 at Daytona and Indianapolis) where he lost over 50 points during the close of each race. One of the keys to picking up places over the close of a race is getting a lead lap finish, which Earnhardt has done twice more (19 to 17) than Kahne. Jimmie Johnson leads the series with 22 lead lap finishes. Earnhardt is also helped by his relatively strong performance Late in Runs (8th overall) compared to Kahne (13th overall)."

Loop Logic ...

* Ryan Newman has a strong reputation as a top qualifier, but this year his Average Starting Position (10.7) is bested by Kurt Busch (8.7), Jeff Gordon (9.7) and Jimmie Johnson (10.2).

* Scott Riggs has the top improvement from the mid-race running position to finishing position. Riggs has an average mid-race position of 25.0, but his Average Finishing Position is 19.5, an improvement of 5.5 spots. Jimmie Johnson is second, improving 2.3 positions from 10.8 to 8.5.

* Tony Stewart has led 930 laps (14.8% of all laps) so far in 2006, ranking him at the top in that category. Greg Biffle is second with 872 laps led (13.9%).

NASCAR Loop Data Statistics -- Glossary & Definitions

Average Running Position -- Sum of driver position on each lap, divided by the laps run in the race.

Box Score -- Key statistics that summarize a driver's race performance.

Closers -- The number of positions a driver improves over the last 10 percent of the race.

Consecutive Laps With A Pass -- Number of consecutive laps with at least one pass.

Consecutive Passes Without Being Passed -- Number of consecutive passes without being passed.

Fastest Drivers By Straightaway -- Ranks each driver by average speed on each straightaway.

Fastest Drivers By Turn -- Ranks each driver by average speed in each turn.

Fastest Drivers Early In Run -- Ranks each driver during the first 25% of laps run in a typical full green-flag segment.

Fastest Drivers Late In Run -- Ranks each driver during the final 25% of laps run in a typical full green-flag segment.

Fastest Laps Run -- Number of laps that the driver had the fastest car on the track for that lap.

Fastest On Restarts -- Shows average speed on the first two laps under green-flag conditions.

Laps Driver Improved Position -- The total number of laps where a driver improved his position during a race.

Passing Breakdowns -- For each driver, shows how many and what percentage of passes were made by each turn and each straightaway, including the total number of passes.

Quality Passes -- Number of times a driver passes another car running in the top 15 under green-flag conditions.

Speed In Traffic -- The speed when there is another vehicle within one car length under green-flag conditions.

Time Trailing At Finish -- The time that each driver finished behind the race winner. Average green flag lap time is used to calculate cumulative time for drivers not on the lead lap.

Top 5 Drivers Performance Graph -- Graphic showing the progressive performance of the top-five finishers at different intervals throughout the race.

FAST FACTS

Loop Data -- Season-To-Date

Driver Rating - NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
1. Matt Kenseth 103.4
2. Jimmie Johnson 101.1
3. Greg Biffle 99.9
4. Tony Stewart 99.7
5. Jeff Gordon 97.8
6. Kevin Harvick 95.4
7. Jeff Burton 95.1
8. Denny Hamlin 92.6
9. Mark Martin 92.1
10. Kyle Busch 91.7

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Scott Riggs , Kasey Kahne , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin