by Charlie Turner
Thanks for stopping by OnPitRow.com and the Bench Racing with Steve and Charlie blog. The best NASCAR and IndyCar news and opinion, exclusive pictures and video. I'm Charlie Turner. Follow me on Twitter @onpitrowFebruary 29, 2008 10:11 am UTC 1 Comment
The image that you may need to carry with you this week is the one of Carl Edwards #99 Roush-Fenway Ford Fusion relentlessly running down first Jeff Gordon and then race leader Jimmy Johnson for a convincing win at Auto Club Speedway of California. Or maybe that’s the vision that you want your competitors to lock on. It may convince them that Jimmy Johnson can be beat in Vegas.
The victory by Edwards convinced me that Jack Roush and his Ford Factory team has recovered from being snookered in 2007 , mostly by Hendrick Motorsports, in the testing and development of the, former, Car of Tomorrow. The new Fusion race car was dominant with Edwards at the wheel, but Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray all looked strong in California. The Fords are back, I’m convinced.
But I’m not convinced that it will make any difference at the next track where Jimmy Johnson has won the last three races and has a NASCAR Loop Data Driver Rating of 133.7. In fact of the sixteen categories that make up the pre-race Loop Box Score, Johnson has category best ratings in ten. Five of the six items that he doesn’t lead are Passing stats – things like Passes Under Green, Quality Passes, Pass Differential. The thing is, he trails in the passing stats because he spent 93.2 % of all of his Laps in the Top Fifteen and has led 24.5% of all laps over the last three years. He didn’t have very many cars to pass, did he?
Couple the #48’s past Las Vegas success with the fact that Jimmy led more laps than anyone at California (76) and finished a strong second place means picking anyone but Johnson this week is probably a mistake.
Making your pick from the best of the rest
By comparison, Carl Edwards has a Loop Driver Rating of 78.3 and leads only the Green Passes category with 220. The Vegas track has been good for other Roush Ford drivers and Carl is the highest rated driver at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the track most similar to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But if you pick Carl, you’re basing it on last Monday at Cali. That’s not much to go by.
Jeff Gordon has the second best Driver Rating at 114.1. Gordon led 68 laps and finished third at California. For much of the race it was a two car affair between the #24 and the #48. Gordon has won at Las Vegas, but only once and he’s never won at the similar Homestead. He could win this week because Jeff Gordon can win any week.
Hometown hot-shoe Kyle Busch has a DR of 108.7. He’s been as hot as you can be without winning a Cup race. He leads the Sprint Cup points – and Craftsman Truck Series points as well – and seems to be able to drive this new car anywhere he wants to on the track. Don’t look to Homestead for support though if you are leaning to the Shrub. His average finish down there is 33 rd.
Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle have DR’s of 104.5, 100.9 and 95.5 but only Kenseth has ever won at Vegas – at least on the track. Matt has two wins and has led a Loop second best 147 laps – 18.3% the last three races here. He finished a solid fifth at California after a strong run in the Daytona 500. Matt may be the better Ford choice than Carl Edwards for this week.
If I have to pick someone besides Jimmy Johnson to win this race, my choice would be between Jeff Burton and Mark Martin. Burton has been solid so far in 2008 sitting tenth in points. Jeff is another two time winner at Vegas and has a DR of 93.6. He has run 80.1 % of his laps in the top 15. Hanging around, giving himself a shot at the win in the end has worked well for Jeff in the Nationwide Series.
Martin is a past winner at Vegas. His Driver Rating is sixth best at 97.0. Nothing really jumps out and says,”pick me, I’m gonna win” but Martin has been very good at mile and a half tracks over the years.
When all is said and read though, how can you not take Jimmy Johnson this week? For a longshot pick any of these three Toyotas could be very good. Between Dave Blaney, Brian Vickers and David Reutimann, I like Blaney to finish this one in one piece and in the top ten.
Photo credit – Icon Sports Media, Inc.