May 22, 2009

Dominating the front of the pack

A driver's finishing position on a track is certainly important—and in the long run, that is the only way most fantasy games pay points—but it is not always the best indicator of who has been strongest. When handicapping a race, we often find it helpful to look at the number of laps drivers have spent in the top 10.

There are two reasons why this is important. The most obvious of these is that driving in the first quarter of the field means a racer and his car has raw power, but equally important is the fact the further forward a car is in the pack, the less likely the driver is to get into trouble. Top-10 drivers are far less likely to make silly mistakes that could cause your fantasy selection to end the day in the garage.

During the last five years, one driver stands head and shoulders above the competition, and he will come as no surprise to anyone who's played the game for more than a year. Jimmie Johnson remains the master of this track, with five victories and 14 top-15s in 16 starts and his time spent in the top-10 reflects this. Johnson has been that far up on the grid in 79 percent of the laps he's run, boasting 2,588 of a possible 3,275 circuits.

The next driver on the list might be a bigger surprise, however. Despite finishing 25th or worse in five of the last 10 races held at Lowe's, Kyle Busch has managed to log 1,850 laps with the leader, which equals 56.5 percent of the time. More important still, most of these laps came in the last three Lowe's races and he converted those strong runs into three consecutive top-fives.

Kasey Kahne is the only other driver to spend more than half of his time among the top-10 during the last five years. He's run with the leaders 50.8 percent of the time (1,665 laps) and has been even more productive than Busch or Johnson in recent events. In his last six starts on this track, Kahne has won three times and finished second on another occasion. With the new Dodge engine in his car this week, he should be considered a threat once more.

Top-10 Laps, last five years

DriverTop-10 LapsPossible Laps%
Jimmie Johnson 2,5883,27579.0%
Kyle Busch1,8503,27556.5%
Kasey Kahne 1,6653,27550.8%
Mark Martin 1,6343,27549.9%
Dale Earnhardt Jr.1,6343,27549.9%
Greg Biffle 1,6253,27549.6%
Jeff Burton 1,5533,27547.4%
David Ragan5931,47140.3%
Ryan Newman 1,2743,27538.9%
Kurt Busch 1,2273,27537.5%
Jeff Gordon 1,1723,27535.8%
Clint Bowyer7262,20532.9%
Denny Hamlin8352,54132.9%
Matt Kenseth 1,0603,27532.4%
Tony Stewart 1,0433,27531.8%
Brian Vickers 9142,93831.1%
Elliott Sadler 8663,27526.4%
Carl Edwards 8163,27524.9%
Casey Mears 7893,27524.1%
Joe Nemechek 5772,53822.7%
Scott Riggs7263,27522.2%
Jamie McMurray 6823,27520.8%
David Reutimann2831,40720.1%
Bobby Labonte 6203,27518.9%
Michael Waltrip 5102,87517.7%
Kevin Harvick 4593,27514.0%
Dave Blaney 4443,27513.6%
Martin Truex Jr.3492,60513.4%
Reed Sorenson2272,20510.3%
David Gilliland1741,8059.6%
Tony Raines 2122,5398.3%
Sam Hornish Jr.567347.6%
David Stremme801,8074.4%
Robby Gordon 1413,2754.3%
Bill Elliott431,4712.9%
Mike Bliss 311,0702.9%
A.J. Allmendinger81,4710.5%
Juan Montoya51,4710.3%
Paul Menard11,4710.1%
Todd Bodine03340.0%

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