Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Willis [Print without images]

Thursday, July 2, 2009
Crunching numbers for Daytona


This week, NASCAR will release a list of 25 nominees for the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Something tells me I shouldn't hold my breath, they would've called me ahead of time.

And, as my colleague Terry Blount writes, three of those nominees should be pretty obvious. Those are "Big" Bill France, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

From there, there's room for debate. If I'm picking, I'd go with Bill France Jr. and David Pearson. But, if it gets tough after the first three, why do more than three? You get only one inaugural class, why not just leave it to the names synonymous with the sport?

But from here, things get interesting. What should some of the exhibits be at the Hall?

How about a section where you can provide the commentary for some of NASCAR's classic moments? A place to race RC cars against other Hall of Fame-goers? What about a shrine to the great NASCAR mustaches? Or an exhibit of some of the great NASCAR statistical bloggers?

There's only one way for me to get in that wing. I must blog like I've never blogged before!

How to find a Daytona favorite

Let's face it, Daytona can be a crapshoot. The cars are separated by so little, and at the end of the race, it could just come down to whom you hook up and ride to the front with or squeezing through that hole to avoid the big wreck. Brad Keselowski did it at Talladega, who will do it at Daytona?

There is one statistic that might help give a glimpse of what cars can drive well in the draft: speed in traffic. Let's take a look to see who was fastest in traffic in the Daytona 500.

Fastest speed in traffic in Daytona 500
Driver -- Speed -- Finish
Kyle Busch -- 187.216 -- 41st
Carl Edwards -- 187.158 -- 18th
Denny Hamlin -- 187.047 -- 26th
Matt Kenseth -- 186.988 -- First
Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- 186.946 -- 27th

Although you may be fast in practice, you still have to stay out of trouble and make the right move at the right time.

Extra spicy

I have to work to come up with a title about Tony Stewart that doesn't use the word "smoke." This isn't as easy as it looks. Given, still not all that difficult.

Think about how far things have come since the series was at Daytona in February. At that point, many still thought Stewart was nuts for giving up a championship-contending ride with Joe Gibbs Racing, surely a seat he could've kept until he was ready to retire.

Now, he's got another championship-contending team, and has seemingly wrapped up a Chase spot, unless there's a major meltdown with the 14 team.

He's already won a race, too, and should be in contention Saturday night. Since 2005, Stewart ranks first among all drivers in speed in traffic and driver rating in Daytona races. He's also been passed the fewest times of any driver who's run in every race in that time.

All Amped up

I don't need to inform anybody who would be reading this that Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't quite having the year many envisioned.

Last year, the wins weren't flowing, but Earnhardt came to Daytona in July third in points and left second. This year, he comes clinging to hope of making the Chase, but things aren't looking good with him mired in 19th and 285 points behind the 12th and final spot.

Last year at this point, he had 359 fastest laps run, this year he has only 74. And his driver rating has dropped from 103.7 last year to 77.0 this year.

But no track on the schedule holds as much promise for Junior as Daytona. And let's not forget that he nearly won at Talladega earlier this season. He's been one of the top restrictor-plate drivers this season in driver rating, according to NASCAR's Sultan of Stats, Mike Forde.

Best driver rating at restrictor-plate races this season
Matt Kenseth -- 107.0
Kyle Busch -- 103.7
Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- 102.9
Denny Hamlin -- 102.1
Kurt Busch -- 96.8

That's it for me. Happy Independence Day!