Roger Diez: Record-breaking Cup season hits Las Vegas | NevadaAppeal.com

Roger Diez: Record-breaking Cup season hits Las Vegas

Roger Diez
For the Nevada Appeal

So far, the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has been a record-breaker. We saw records for lead changes and cautions and the youngest-ever winner at Daytona. Last week at Phoenix the 28 lead changes broke the record at that track. Anybody who says the racing isn’t good this year just isn’t paying attention. Speaking of records, Jeff Gordon’s win at Phoenix last Sunday (after 66 winless races) tied him with Cale Yarborough at fifth on the all-time win list at 83. One more victory will put Gordon in a three-way tie for third with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.

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I’ve been perusing the NASCAR Media website’s loop statistics recently. If you think that baseball is a sport with lots of stats, check this out. Just some of the statistics that NASCAR compiles for each race, each track, each driver include: Average start position, average mid-race position, average finish position, green flag passes, green flag times passed, quality passes, number of fastest laps, laps led, laps in the top 15, and driver rating. In addition, they keep track of youngest and oldest pole winners and race winners. At Las Vegas, Kyle Busch holds the youngest pole winner (22) and race winner (23) records and is the only driver to win from pole. Dale Jarrett was the oldest pole winner, and Sterling Marlin the oldest race winner at Las Vegas – both were 44 at the time.

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It is hard to believe that Sunday will be the 14th race at Las Vegas. It seems like just yesterday I was at the track for the inaugural event in 1998, won by Mark Martin. Martin, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, and Bobby Labonte are the only drivers to have run all 13 previous races at the speedway, and all four are entered this weekend. NASCAR has only been keeping loop record statistics for six years, but some stats include all 13 previous years. Martin has the most top-10 finishes with 10, and is tied with Gordon for the most top fives with six each. I hope that Gordon isn’t superstitious, because he has a lot of 13’s in his stats: 13 races, average start 13.8, and average finish 13.3. He also has the highest driver rating of any competitor at Las Vegas, 117. Teammate Jimmie Johnson is next at 116.4, and Kyle Busch is third in driver rating stats at 108.

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The Busch brothers come into their hometown race first and second in season points, with Kyle three counters ahead of big brother Kurt. It is the first time family members have been 1-2 in the points since 1988, when the father-son of duo Bobby and Davey Allison finished first and second in the season-opening Daytona 500. The new points system has been the subject of a lot of controversy, and there have been some big swings in standings from Daytona to Phoenix. The new system makes it a lot more difficult to overcome a bad race. On the other hand, the two wild-card Chase spots for drivers not in the top 10 with the most wins is going to make for some interesting racing as the season progresses. Motivation to score a victory will be at an all-time high for drivers with a chance at one of those two spots.

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Today’s Nationwide race should be interesting. Kyle Busch, who is only four races away from tying Mark Martin’s Nationwide win record of 48, has never won a series event at Las Vegas. And Martin will be trying to stretch that win margin himself, running the first of four Nationwide races he will compete in this season driving the number 32 Dollar General Chevy. Martin has a pair of Nationwide wins at Las Vegas (2005 and 2008), but has not run a race in the series since 2009.

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Finally, a long-time racing hero became a hero of a different sort in Las Vegas last Tuesday. Morgan Shepherd, 69-year-old Nationwide driver, apprehended a thief in a Walmart parking lot, chasing him down on foot and sitting on him until police arrived. And they say that drivers aren’t athletes.