NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

The Frontstretch 5: Big Michigan Stats & the Drivers Who Own Them

There are a lot of ways to break down a race weekend afterward. Traditional statistics, loop data and subjective analysis all come into play. But those are also things that are important to look at entering a race weekend. It gives fans an idea of who might perform well when you couple the numbers with recent races for those drivers. It’s also an interesting look at a group of drivers.  Who’s good, who struggles, who has run well but not closed the deal?

Here’s a look at some key numbers from Michigan International Speedway along with the active drivers currently leading each category and who’s gunning for them in this week’s doubleheader.

1. Three wins: Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Kurt Busch

While nobody comes close to David Pearson’s nine Michigan wins, multiple wins at a track are not easy to come by, and in today’s ultra-competitive NASCAR Cup Series, three wins at a track is impressive. If you mete them out in one block, it comes to six years where nobody else would have a chance to taste the champagne.

Who can catch them: Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman have two wins apiece. With the doubleheader this weekend, both could join the list, though given their 2020 seasons so far, Hamlin is the more likely driver to do so.

As for who’s most likely to break this tie, the nod goes to Harvick, who’s on his own 2020 hot streak. Of course, Hamlin has been just as good, and a sweep could take him right to the top of the heap.

2. 14 top fives and 20 top 10s: Matt Kenseth

This shouldn’t surprise anyone; Kenseth has been a model of consistency throughout his career; it’s how he won the 2003 Cup title. His best Michigan races came mostly during his tenure at Roush Fenway Racing, which considers MIS a home track. Kenseth has struggled since his return to the driver’s seat in 2020 for Chip Ganassi Racing, but this is a good track for him to rebound.

Top fives and 10s aren’t as glamorous as wins, but drivers who don’t score them on a regular basis are rarely winners, and top finishes pave the way to titles, though under the current system, the final race is more heavily weighted.

Who can catch him: Provided Kenseth doesn’t score either a top five or a top 10, only Harvick can match him (or best him) this weekend. He’s one behind Kenseth in both categories, so a top five in either race could match Kenseth in both as well. He could top Kenseth with top fives in both races, provided Kenseth doesn’t score a top five. Nobody else can touch either number, even with top fives in both races.

3. 7.6 average finish: Chase Elliott

Like top fives and 10s, average finish hints at consistency, and through eight starts at MIS, Elliott has been the model of it, with seven top 10s. Kenseth is second on the list with an 11.3 average finish. That’s also an outstanding number, because Kenseth has maintained it through 38 starts.

What Elliott is missing is a win, but it could be argued that the average can take him there — he’s learned to run with the leaders at this track in his first four seasons, and now he knows how to get it done. If he can close, he could improve his average with that first victory at MIS.

Who can catch him: Kenseth could theoretically do it. If he wins Saturday and Elliott finishes 39th, Kenseth would have the advantage by less than a tenth of a position, and if that happened twice, he’d have a little more of an edge. But a top finish by Elliott Saturday coupled with a poor one for Kenseth would put the number out of reach even with a win/last place scenario Sunday. Given recent performance, it’s unlikely that this category changes hands.

4. 4 poles: Joey Logano

Poles often don’t end up as more than bragging rights, but it can also be argued that a top start puts a driver in better position to capitalize throughout the race. Logano has done that nearly every time; all three of his MIS wins came from the pole, and the fourth pole earned him a top 10. So while it may not be a huge advantage, it can be one.

Who can catch him: One P1 start for Busch would tie him with Logano’s active record (Pearson holds the all-time record of 10), and a pair of poles would put teammate Brad Keselowski in that position. But it can be argued that if either driver ties Logano (or if Busch passes him with two poles), it should come with an asterisk, because the lineup for the first race is by random draw, with the second race being set by results from the first one with an inversion. That’s not quite the same statement as going out and winning the pole on sheer speed.

5. 700 Laps led: Jimmie Johnson

Leading laps under today’s point system isn’t as important as it was under previous rules, because other than winning the race, leading laps only matters at the end of the other stages, where as there used to be a bonus point for leading any lap and another for leading the most laps. Johnson has led a lot of laps in his career, at just about every track he’s raced on, so him being on top here is no surprise. He only has one win at MIS, but he’s got a good lead in this category.

Who can catch him: provided Johnson doesn’t lead a lap this weekend (give that a 50/50 chance given his performance this year), there are a total of 312 laps combined in the two races this week. Logano could catch Johnson with 128 laps led, and that’s certainly doable. Harvick would have to lead 183 laps to match Johnson, also doable, but he’d have to lead over half of both races. 201 laps would draw Busch even, while Kenseth would need 257. Based on their 2020 performance, Logano and Harvick are very real threats to Johnson. Busch and Kenseth would need a weekend beyond what they have shown they can do this year.

 

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About Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson
Amy is a 15-year veteran writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. Amy pens The Big 6 (Mondays) Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and Holding A Pretty Wheel (monthly - Fridays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits extend everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports.

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