Is Jimmie Johnson due in Phoenix, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman or maybe even Trevor Bayne?

By Shaun Burke

With the glitz and glamour of Daytona behind us NASCAR heads to “The Desert Jewel” for Subway Fresh Fit 500 and the start of the “rest of the season”.
Clearly, the driver to watch this weekend is Jimmie Johnson. Johnson leads several traditional statistics categories but the most telling is his driver rating. Jimmie Johnson’s average running position over the past 6 years is a staggering 5.093. A running position this high is almost unheard of! To put it into perspective, over the same period, Jeff Gordon has the second highest running position at 10.091. Johnson has also spent 96.1% of his time running inside the top 15! Johnson leads all drivers in Driver Rating with a 122.6. Like fine wine, Johnson’s performance at Phoenix has gotten better with age. In his first eight starts, Johnson led a total of 113 laps. In the next seven races, he has led a staggering 744 laps including winning four of those races. While Johnson could blow up on lap one or get caught up in a crash on lap five, don’t expect it this weekend! All you are doing by not putting Johnson on your fantasy team this week is spotting your opponent several points (who likely will!).
While not nearly as spectacular as Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edward’s performance at Phoenix is nothing to be shy about. He is second in driver rating with a rating of 101.7. He is also the second strongest closer at Phoenix averaging nearly two spots gained in the last 10 laps of a race. Not only does Edwards close a race well, he starts well. He ranks third in average speed after a pit stop.
Mark Martin has the third highest driver rating at Phoenix at 100.8. He leads all drivers in starts, top 5s and top 10s; however, many of these great performances occurred in the 90s while racing the Valvoline car. Martin had a stretch from 2001 through 2008 where he finished top 10 in only 3 of 11 races; however his lowest finish was only 19th. Martin is certainly a driver to watch with one caveat. Crew Chief Alan Gustafson won at Phoenix with Kyle Busch in 2005 and Mark Martin in 2009. He is also credited with helping Casey Mears to his best career finish at Phoenix. This season, Gustafson moved to the 24 of Jeff Gordon while Martin gains Lance McGrew (who comes from Dale Earnhardt Jr.) While Dale Earnhardt Jr. had great success at Phoenix in 2003-2004, he was not able to find that success with McGrew. It will be interesting to see if Martin can maintain his performance at Phoenix with McGrew.
Built in 1964, Phoenix International Raceway has one of the most unique configurations on the circuit; offering a dog leg on the backstretch.
NASCAR made its first visit to Phoenix in 1988 with Alan Kulwicki winning his first career race and introducing the world to the “Polish Victory Lap.”
The traditional race date for Phoenix has always been late in the season. In 2005, Phoenix began hosting two races per year.
At the beginning of the 2005 season, NASCAR introduced a series of statistics called “Loop Data”. This data is used to help determine which drivers perform well at a track rather than just looking at finishing position. We all know a driver could win a race after running in the 20s all race. Likewise, a driver who has dominated could crash late and finish poorly.
Loop data looks at average position on the track, laps in the top 15, Number of fastest laps and several other key stats that do a better job telling the picture than traditional statistics. Each week, I will review loop data for a track and help paint a clearer picture as to which drivers I think have a better chance of running well.
In the 29 prior races at Phoenix, Jimmie Johnson has the most wins with 4. He has also led the most laps (857) and has the highest average finish (4.9). In 15 starts, Jimmie Johnson has finished every lap!
Others Drivers to watch:
Mark Martin has started all but one Phoenix race and leads all drivers in Top 5s (12) and Top 10s (19).
Ryan Newman has the most poles at Phoenix with 4, and he won the 2010 spring race.
Jeff Gordon – His new crew chief, has a history of strong performances at PIR.
Kurt Busch – 431 laps led
Kyle Busch – Leads series in “quality passes” at 345
Denny Hamlin – Finished top 5 in 5 of last 7 races coming into 2010. Poor performance in spring 2010 after knee surgery; led 190 laps last fall before finishing P12 after fuel mileage miscalculation.
Martin Truex, Jr. – Ranks 11th in Driver rating, Ranks top 10 in many fastest lap categories (green flag speed, speed in traffic, fast laps early in a run, etc.). Has also led 72 laps.
Ryan Newman – Won the spring 2010 race
Bobby Labonte – With a new team & ranks first in the closer category.
Trevor Bayne – Why not? He just won the Daytona 500!
Drivers to stay away from:
David Gilliland, Dave Blaney, Regan Smith, David Ragan, Brad Keselowski and Paul Menard
If you have questions regarding statistics on your driver please feel free to contact me at