By Brant James
August 16, 2011
Watkins Glen Power Rankings
Kyle Busch came bedevilingly close to what would have been a series-best fourth win of the season on Monday at Watkins Glen, but Brad Keselowski and eventual winner Marcos Ambrose were able to squirt past as he bobbled in Turn One.

Ambrose went on to become the fifth first-time Sprint Cup winner this season and the 15th different driver to win in the 22 races contested. According to NASCAR, the five first-time winners this season are the most since 2002. But there have not been this many first-time winners through this few races since 1950, the second year of NASCAR's existence. Just 19 races were held that season.

The 15 different winners are the most through 22 races since 2003. The modern era-record of 19 was set in 2001. Champion Jeff Gordon led the series that season with six victories.

Final Laps: Ambrose wins in wild finish
Kyle Busch, Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski battle for the win late and David Ragan and David Reutimann go for a wild ride.

In a season of statistical oddity, in which parity has skewed the ability to analyze, perhaps Busch could appease himself with what passes for a possible trend. More than likely it's simply a coincidence. But with four races left until the most meaningful portion of the season begins and a safe spot in the playoffs already secured, Busch could afford to dabble in NASCAR numerology.

According to NASCAR research, the last time the Sprint Cup wins leader had so few victories through 22 races was in 2002, when Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart paced the series. Kenseth went on to lead the series with five wins. Stewart didn't win another race but claimed his first Sprint Cup title for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch races for JGR, too.

Coincidence or trend? Too soon to tell.

Kyle Busch
Wins: 3
Top-10s: 14
The points leader was contrite after failing to win what would have been a series-high fourth race.

"[I] just knew exactly what not to do and did it anyway," said the JGR driver. "[I] just got in there and didn't think I got in there too fast, but the car just didn't slow down the way I needed it to and then it didn't turn the way I needed it to. [I] saw sprinkles on the windshield, but everybody else made it fine through there. I just screwed up."
Jimmie Johnson
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 14
A weekend that began with the distraction of a fresh feud with Kurt Busch ended with a 10th-place finish in the Cup race. And a rare foray into the Nationwide Series yielded a second-place finish (to Busch). All in all it was an anonymous but productive weekend. Although he fell one spot to third in the driver standings, he's just six points behind leader Kyle Busch.
Carl Edwards
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 14
Alternative pit strategy and a 12th-place finish cost Edwards the points lead, by virtue of Kyle Busch's three wins to Edwards' one.
Kevin Harvick
Wins: 3
Top-10s: 11
He started 23rd but negotiated traffic to advance to sixth at the checkered flag on Monday, an encouraging effort that moved him up one spot to fourth in the driver standings. His three victories co-lead the series with Busch. It's doubtful he'd care much about the stat from 2002.
Matt Kenseth
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 11
Fourteenth at Watkins Glen, he finished one place better than his career average on the road course.
Jeff Gordon
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 10
The four-time Watkins Glen winner started 17th and finished 13th, a seemingly pedestrian effort for one of the series' top road course racers, but he had actually battled back from an untimely caution following a pit stop.
Kurt Busch
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 12
A brake issue similar, he said, to the one that led to teammate Brad Keselowski's test crash at Road Atlanta last week caused a failed left front tire that sent him hard into the tire barrier midway through the race. Busch was feisty otherwise, at one point bumping race leader A.J. Allmendinger into the grass to regain the lead lap. He fell two spots to sixth in the standings but is safely inside the Chase for the Championship envelope.
Ryan Newman
Wins: 1
Top-10s: 10
When his alternative strategy was undone by an early caution, Newman plied traffic conservatively for the rest of the race to secure a 16th-place finish and hold onto the eighth spot in the standings.

"It was one of those days where you leave the track not too upset and not too happy," Newman said. "If our strategy worked out it could have been really good, but when it didn't we played it safe with fuel mileage and just didn't want to take many chances out there today. There was no need for that at this stage of the game."
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Wins: 0
Top-10s: 9
After escaping Watkins Glen with a 15th-place finish, NASCAR's most popular driver seemed confident that he had done enough -- barring calamity -- to secure his fourth Chase spot in eight seasons of the system. With six career wins and 27 career top-fives at the final four venues before the Sprint Cup playoffs begin, Earnhardt might have finally found the guardrail. If he fell out of the top 10 -- a direction he had been hurtling for weeks -- he was unlikely to make the Chase considering the fact three drivers in the wild-card pool have at least one win. Earnhardt Jr., though certainly overdue for his 19th career win, hasn't reached Victory Lane in 115 starts. That win was at Michigan -- site of this weekend's race -- in 2008, the last season in which he qualified for the Chase.
Brad Keselowski
Wins: 2
Top-10s: 7
Boris Said, one of NASCAR's most respected road course mentors, could not foresee Keselowski successfully running an entire race with a broken left ankle given the rigors of braking at Watkins Glen. He got that one wrong. Keselowski, a two-time winner, didn't so much survive as thrive at The Glen, finishing second and possibly clearing the most daunting hurdle to securing a wild-card berth.

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