Confusion ravaged home viewers tuned into the driver introductions at Homestead-Miami Speedway a few weeks ago. There was a major misconception that when Kyle Busch was introduced, attending fans were screaming “Boo!”
In actuality, the astute NASCAR fans knew that Busch owned the top Driver Rating in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and was a shoo-in for a postseason Loopie – NASCAR awards given solely on Loop Data statistics, which includes Driver Rating. They were actually offering a verbal pat on the back to the driver of the No. 18 Toyota, and yelling “Looooooooop” to Busch. It was an emotional moment for all.
So, let’s start the show. For the fifth consecutive season, NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications combed through the statistics to hand out a number of awards celebrating the best – and worst – Loop Data performances of 2011. The envelopes please…
“Still The Most Awesome Sport Ever” Award: This one goes to NASCAR. Congrats again, us. For the second consecutive season, the world’s best racing boasted numbers never before seen in its six-decade-plus history. According to the Loop Data, there were 131,989 green flag passes this season, the most since NASCAR started recording the stat in 2005. Though not Loop Data, there were also an average of 27.1 lead changes and 12.8 leaders per race, both Cup Series records. The 2012 Daytona 500 -- Feb. 26 on FOX, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 -- can’t come soon enough.
“Where Did He Come From” Award: Better known as the “Most Improved Driver” Award, this award goes to the driver who had the biggest gain in Driver Rating from 2010. Brad Keselowski, please accept your well-deserved award. Keselowski entered 2011 mostly as an afterthought. He finished the 2010 season -- his first with Penske Racing -- with a 25th-place points finish and a Driver Rating of 65.1. Still fresh to the series, most expected those growing pains to continue. But Keselowski scoffed at any low expectations with a quick win at Kansas. Then he won at Pocono on a broken left ankle. A few weeks later, he won the Bristol Motor Speedway night race. And soon after that, he made the Chase for the Sprint Cup, taking advantage of the new Wild Card berth. Keselowski finished the season fifth in points, with a Driver Rating of 87.1 – an improvement of 22.0 points, best in the series.
“Nice Guys Finish Not First” Award: We hate to give this award out, but no one ever said The Loopies were easy. Fans place a certain level of trust in The Loopies board of directors. This one is given to the driver with the largest drop in Driver Rating. This unfortunate award goes to Jeff Burton, whose 96.2 Driver Rating in 2010 fell to 78.7 in 2011 -- a decline of 17.5 points. The personable Burton need not worry too much. Optimism reigns in the No. 31 shop, as the team scored four top-10 finishes in the final five races.
“Rope-A-Dope” Award: Attention NASCAR Hall of Fame: Richard Petty’s plaque needs a re-write -- he has just won a Loopie. The King’s two drivers, A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose, ranked 1-2 in the “Closer” statistic -- the number of positions gained or lost in the last 10 percent of races. Allmendinger gained a whopping 134 spots as races winded down; Ambrose improved 85 spots. In case you’re wondering, Kevin Harvick (aptly nicknamed “The Closer”) ranked third, with 78 positions improved.
“Irregular Season” Award: Season-to-Date Loop Data is what it says -- a statistical representation of the entire season. That’s why you’ll find Kyle Busch -- winner of this Loopie -- at the top of so many Loop Data charts, but at the bottom of the Chase standings. Busch led 10 different Loop Data categories this year: Average Running Position (10.4), Driver Rating (104.1), Fastest Early in a Run (average rank of 5.9), Fastest Late in a Run (average rank of 7.8), Green Flag Speed (average rank of 6.1), Laps in the Top 15 (79.6%), Laps Led (1,455), Mile Leaders (1,777.77), Quality Passes (2,219) and Speed in Traffic (average rank of 9.3). So why the 12th-place finish for Busch? The answer: Another subpar Chase. During the 26-race regular season, Busch had a Driver Rating of 108.4. In the nine races he ran in the Chase, his Driver Rating was 91.6.
“Brad Keselowski’s Ankle Deserves Its Own Award” Award: This award goes to Brad Keselowski’s ankle. Keselowski’s performance after his early-August accident that resulted in a broken left ankle defies logic. Check out the tale of the tape.
“Lifetime Achievement” Award: As this is the milestone Fifth Annual Loopies, we felt it necessary to commemorate the occasion with a special award: The Stefan Kretschmann Lifetime Achievement Award.
Kretschmann, the godfather of Loop Data, works for our partners at Stats Inc. in Chicago, Ill. He’s the man behind the Loop Data, originating each statistic and inventing the involved formula for Driver Rating. It’s only fitting this award be named after him.
And the winner of the first ever Stefan Kretschmann Lifetime Achievement Award Loopie is … Jimmie Johnson. Johnson’s championship reign ended in 2011, but his assault of the stats page continues. NASCAR started collecting Loop Data in 2005. Since then, Johnson has compiled a Loop Data-lifetime Driver Rating of 104.8, the only driver eclipsing the 100.0 barrier. Second-best is Jeff Gordon, with a 98.3.