Stewart’s Performance, Competitive Balance Highlight First Half
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 6, 2009) – Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart needed little time to grasp the driver-owner concept. At the season’s midpoint, he has already:
- Won two races (Pocono and Daytona), becoming the first driver-owner to win a race since Ricky Rudd in 1998, and the first to win multiple races since Rudd in ’97;
- Captured the points lead, the first driver-owner to do so since Alan Kulwicki in 1992;
- Put both of his Stewart-Haas Racing cars in the top 12 in points.
Stewart’s surprising success highlights a season filled with compelling storylines. Competition is strong and balanced, as illustrated by the 11 different race winners this season. There were 12 different winners in all of 2008, including seven drivers who have yet to win this season. In other words, last year’s mark will likely be passed.
Some other statistics gleaned from the first half:
- 7 different teams represented in the current NASCAR Sprint Cup top 12
- 8 different Coors Light Pole winners
- 34 drivers with at least one top-10 finish
- 40 drivers have led at least one lap
- Average Margin of Victory of 1.044 seconds
- 10 races with an MOV under 1 second
- Average of 11 leaders per race
- Average of 20 lead changes per race
- Average of 22 green flag passes for the lead all around the track
- Average of 3,038 green flag passes per race
- 52% of the cars finished on the lead lap
- 85% of the cars were running at the finish
- All four manufacturers have won a race and are in the top 12
The above statistics are the reason for one of the most competitive, yet unpredictable seasons in recent memory:
- There have been three first-time winners. Brad Keselowski, David Reutimann and Joey Logano all captured their first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories. With his win at New Hampshire, Logano became the youngest winner in series history.
- Mark Martin’s successful return to a full-time schedule has been one of the most intriguing stories thus far this season. His three victories tie him with Kyle Busch for the most in the series at the halfway point. Still, Martin is outside the Chase top-12 bubble, in 13th. He has eight more races to make a top-12 return.
- In his third full season, Colombia-born Juan Pablo Montoya is looking more and more like a championship contender. With eight top 10s, he has already eclipsed his previous season-best total of six in 2008. Montoya currently sits 11th in the points, 86 points inside the Chase cut-off.
- Four NASCAR Sprint Cup champions sit in the top-four in points, something that has never happened this deep into a season. Tony Stewart (2002 and ’05 champion), Jeff Gordon (1995, ’97, ’98, 2001), Jimmie Johnson (2006-08) and Kurt Busch (2004) rank in the top four.
But 18 more races remain, including NASCAR’s “playoffs” – the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which consists of the final 10 races of the season. A number of questions hang in the balance going into the second half:
- Will Jimmie Johnson win an unprecedented fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship?
- Who will be the top seed going into the Chase? Once the Chase starts, each driver in the top 12 will have his points reset to 5,000, with 10 additional bonus points added for each win during the first 26 races. Currently, Mark Martin and Kyle Busch lead the series in victories with three – and 30 potential bonus points.
- Will Johnson and Matt Kenseth each make their sixth consecutive Chase? The two are the only drivers to earn a berth in every single Chase since its inception in 2004.
- Will Carl Edwards pick up a win? Edwards has gone winless over the first 18 races since winning a series-high nine in 2008.
- Will Richard Childress Racing have a second-half rebound? After putting three drivers in the Chase last season, all four of its teams are currently outside the top 12.