Writers don’t like to admit it, but every once in a while a topic will completely and utterly elude them.
It shouldn’t be a concern in a sport as fast-paced as NASCAR — between the travels of the weekly circuit and all the crazy moves teams make to put themselves in a better position down the road — but it is. Especially in a week where little news is dropped, a lackluster race was contested and an expected winner took the checkered flag first.
Instead of expounding on one topic, a by-the-numbers format might be beneficial to all involved.
So here we are: eight key stats, the values of which mimic half the car numbers in the playoff field, that will play a role in the final nine races of the season.
1: The number of drivers in the playoffs that have exactly zero playoff points from a stage win or race win. The driver with that distinction? Jamie McMurray. For all the speed that teammate Kyle Larson has shown this season and for all the consistency that McMurray has used to make the playoffs, he has yet to take any type of checkered flag first. Consistency matters in this format, yes, but playoff points matter the most. Will McMurray be able to add any this season? If he hasn’t yet, don’t bet on it.
2: OK, 0.2, really — the amount of time a car could conceivably shave off a lap if tape is added to the spoiler, according to Reddit. While the science seems a bit wonky, NASCAR said it’d be doing its “due-diligence” to make sure everybody’s on a level playing field. Check back in a few weeks to see if this is indeed a new rule-skirting modification or not.
3: The number of top-five finishes defending champion Jimmie Johnson has. It’s also the amount of wins this season for the Hendrick Motorsports driver — a damning stat because, while good for third overall on the year, none of those wins have come since Dover International Speedway in the spring. Johnson has been known to have a summer slump and rebound come playoff time, but something seems like 2017 might not fit that pattern.
4: The point differential between the first two drivers to miss the playoffs, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer. It would have seemed impossible for Logano to miss the playoffs even after an encumbered win at Richmond in the spring, but here he is, just a handful of points ahead of a driver who’s shaking the dust off his boots after a lackluster 2016 campaign. Should be a fun race to watch down the stretch.
5: The amount of wins Martin Truex Jr. has this season. The number should probably be double, and while Truex is aware of that fact, he’s likely more concerned with the ultimate goal, which is to make it Homestead-Miami Speedway with a chance at the title. With 58 playoff points in the bank, it would take a huge string of bad luck to keep out of the final four drivers. Truex is also aware that he’s probably the only driver in the garage that can have that kind of bad luck.
11: Truex’s average finish this season. This is the best in the series and a solid number through 27 races. What’s perhaps more solid is the fact that Kevin Harvick is only .1 position off of Truex’s pace. With the way the season has gone so far, you’d think that Harvick’s team lost some of the spark it’s had in years past. Not true at all. A deep playoff run seems likely.
18: The sum of all of Larson’s top-two finishes this season. With 11 such results but plenty of sub-20th place finishes, Larson has been the picture of perfection or completely out to lunch. He’s now riding a hot streak of five straight top-15 finishes, results he’ll need to continue if he wants to challenge Truex for the title.
41: The amount of points both Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski are behind points leader Truex. Good enough for fifth in the standings, this gap does two more things. First, it illustrates just how important playoff points are; through one race last year, second place was just a point behind, and the entire playoff grid was within 41 points. But it also shows that for all the noise that Keselowski has made regarding the dominance of Toyota, rival Busch is no better off heading into the playoffs. Toyotas might have speed, but the Fords are holding strong.