Sunday, April 15, 2012

Numbers no longer slumbering for MWR

Seven is the perfect number, and to paraphrase the late and great song writer Larry Norman, those who aren't for real in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings will now begin to slumber.
The Sprint Cup series is just under one fifth of the way through the season, just completing its seventh race Saturday night at Texas. And while it's common for two or three drivers to start off the season strong in the first couple of races and then fade, by now we are getting an idea of who the real contenders are.
We've got many of the usual teams in the top 10 with the Roushkateers of Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth, the Hendrick guys of Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., the Stewart-Haas duo of Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, and Richard Childress Racing's Kevin Harvick.
Those teams and drivers are expected be there. If they weren't at least in the top 12, many would be asking what has gone wrong.
But the team to do a lot of things right so far this season is Michael Waltrip Racing. The Toyota-powered team has Martin Truex Jr. in the fourth spot in the standings, 20 behind Biffle and Clint Bowyer in 10th. And if you go by the owners points, the No. 55 car shared by Waltrip, Mark Martin and Brian Vickers is seventh in points.
Thanks to NASCAR's statistics these days, there's evidence that at least one, if not more, of Waltrip's drivers will be around to stay when it comes to the final 10 races, otherwise known as the Chase for the Championship.
Truex Jr. is just one of three drivers to run all of the 2,295 possible laps this season, along with Kenseth and Earnhardt Jr., who are tied for second in the points standings. Another good sign for Truex Jr. is that he has run the most laps inside the top 15 this season at 1996, just over 88 percent.
That means Truex Jr. hasn't been hanging around the top 20 in some of these races, and then just slipping into the top 10 or top 15 just because of others' misfortunes at the end of the race. Truex Jr. is also second in laps run on the lead lap, at just over 98 percent, just behind Kenseth.
Another good sign for Waltrip Racing is that Martin has run 78.5 percent of his laps in the top 15, too. And even though he has not driven in two races (Bristol and Martinsville) he is still 20th in points. Martin is scheduled to run 26 races this season. If he runs well enough to finish in the top 20 in points, and wins two races, he could make the Chase. It's not likely, but stranger things have happened.
And of course there is Bowyer, who is 10th in the standings and has run nearly 70 percent of his laps in the top 15 and is certainly capable of winning at any track. And that could happen this week as Kansas is considered his home track.
Michael Waltrip Racing can't quite be called an elite team yet when it comes to comparing it with Hendrick, Roush or Gibbs. That's because you can't be considered truly elite until you win a title
There's no doubt Waltrip Racing has come a long way since its embarrassing debut at Daytona in 2007, where penalties cost the team 100 points (that was under the old points system).
The numbers undoubtedly tell us the team is gaining on the rest of the field. The question is not if the team will make that key winning pass, but when.
That's when the numbers will be just perfect for Michael Waltrip Racing.

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