Sports, especially auto racing and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series genre, has a way of handing success to those who make news for other reasons. Or at least that is the perception.
Kurt Busch has been in the Cup Series spotlight since late November 2011. In that span, he has been fired, hired, suspended, hired again, contended for Chase contention and hired once more. He has not won a race, the traditional way of landing your name in a newspaper or a snarky stats-oriented column such as this; however, the headline-making recent hire of Stewart-Haas Racing might fuel the aforementioned perception this Sunday.
Though he has now entered lame-duck territory — in sports, something almost unique to auto racing — with his Furniture Row Racing team, he is still contending for a spot in this year’s Chase. This Labor Day weekend, he is visiting a track that just to happens to be, arguably, his best.
5.313 Busch’s 5.313 Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) at Atlanta through the last eight races there is the best in the series.
Busch was the only two-time winner at Atlanta during the CoT era and after a 31st-place finish last week at Bristol, he is on the outside, looking in (currently 12th) to this year’s Chase. A high finish in general, statistically, is in the cards. A victory would be beneficial to both his chances of qualifying in via the top 10 in points and his wild card chances. The chance at the “W,” for him, begins with qualifying.
3.4 Busch and the No. 78 team have averaged a qualifying position of 3.4 in the last five oval-track races.
Some teams put more emphasis on qualifying setups than others. It’s clear that Furniture Row is one placing a premium on Busch’s time trial, getting high starting spots and getting to the front early. In three races — New Hampshire, Michigan and Bristol — in which he started on the front row, he led 102, 43 and 54 laps, respectively. Only one of those races resulted in a good finish (the third-place score at Michigan).
If Busch and team can make it to the end of the race, their 77.27 percent base retainment percentage in the final 10 percent of races indicates that they’re likely to hold, or gain on, the position they are running at the 90 percent mark.
7.2 In the last eight Atlanta races, Jeff Gordon’s 7.2-place average finish is the best among all Cup Series drivers.
Currently 13th in the standings, MotorsportsAnalytics.com projects Gordon to qualify into the Chase via a top-10 points position and his history at Atlanta is a big reason for that. His 7.2-place average is a consistent mark, per his 5.99 finish deviation, over the last eight races, so a good run isn’t just needed; it’s expected. Despite his high season-long PEER (2.146), he is at risk, like last year, of being the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to miss the Chase. A typical Gordon run at AMS on Sunday will go a long way to alleviating some stress next week at Richmond.
66.7% Kevin Harvick drove from the 24th-place starting spot to a fifth-place finish in last year’s race at Atlanta, thanks to 66.7 percent pass efficiency on 66 encounters.
The guy is a primo passer, presently the best overtake artist in the Cup Series with 54.56 percent efficiency through 24 races this season. Additionally, he’s a juggernaut at the Bruton Smith-owned quad-oval tracks. Atlanta is far from an outlier; though he scored his first career Cup win there, he didn’t win during the CoT era. He did score seven finishes of 13th place or better, with a DNF-omitted finishing average of 6.7.
304 A CoT era winner at Atlanta in 2008, Kyle Busch has led the second-most laps (304 or 11.6 percent of the total laps) there across the last eight races.
Surprise! Kyle Busch does Kyle Busch things at Atlanta. He’ll be a closely watched man again this weekend, if his performance earlier this season at Texas was any indication. On a quad-oval track similar to Atlanta, Busch was victorious in the Lone Star State after ranking first in speed early in a run, fastest laps run, fastest on restarts and laps led (66 or 73.3 percent).
6.03 With a finish deviation of 6.03, Joey Logano has been a consistent runner at Atlanta; unfortunately, he is consistently unspectacular with an average finish of 26th.
Though Logano and the No. 22 team have been one of the most consistent high-finishing teams in the series since the beginning of summer, the young driver attempting to clinch his first Chase berth in the next two weeks has his work cut out for him. A high finish at Atlanta will buck his history at the track; a lead-lap finish on Sunday night will be his first.
For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to myglossary of terms on MotorsportsAnalytics.com.
Photos byAction Sports, Inc.