In previous posts, I have explained the "SAL" rating (Start Adjusted Leaders), as a simple-to-calculate but very effective proxy for speed. Basically it's how many laps you lead as percentage of laps you completed, multiplied by how far back you started to get up front.
I first introduced the rankings last season, showing Kyle Busch #1 for 2008.
Then I reviewed the top ranked drivers since 1992.
And after the first, second, and eighth races of the 2009, I reviewed who topped the charts in SAL. We found that after eight races this year, Denny Hamlin was on top. And in fact, after Pocono's race, he is *still* on top.
Look at the table:
What does this tell us? Quite a few things actually:
1) Despite being the points leader, Tony Stewart hasn't been a dominating speed demon on the track. In fact, most of his success this year has come from completing nearly every race in the top 10, but not necessarily going out front and crushing the competition
2) Joe Gibbs Racing does in fact have a lot of race-day speed this year, as we see both Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch up there at the top of the charts.
3) Non-chasers like Earnhardt and Truex have actually been faster on track than guys like Montoya. More evidence of Montoya's very conservative "points racing" strategy, as opposed to the normal "trying to win" strategy most guys employ.
4) Of the four guys right outside the chase bubble, only Kyle Busch has shown really strong speed. Reutimann, Vickers, and Bowyer are very low on this table. And that makes sense too, since they are almost never factors to win a race.
5) Richard Childress Racing has not shown any speed this year, as you see both Burton and Bowyer way down the list.
6) Roush isn't as bad as you think. Despite the small number of wins, the combo of Biffle/Kenseth/Edwards are actually ahead of both Stewart-Haas cars
7) The champion is likely to come from one of the top 5 racers (usually with SAL ratings above 100 as we've seen in the past). This is a bad sign for Tony Stewart, since he might be finishing each race consistently, but he is rarely ever the car to beat in any given race. He'll need to step it up come Chase time.
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