As we enter the second half of the Chase, with the outcome still up in the air, we need to take a close look at the recent past to get a good angle on what the immediate future holds. Good news for fans of the best vs. the best: the two guys at the top of the standings account for the last eight wins. As for who's the best at Martinsville lately, let's go to the numbers for the last five races):
1. Denny Hamlin (average finishing position 2.0): As good as Jimmie Johnson is at Martinsville, Hamlin has been even better of late, posting three wins in the past five races, including the last two in a row.
2. Jimmie Johnson (average finishing position 3.4): Unbelievably good. He's got the other two wins in the last five races, plus the three before we began sampling. If anybody wants to gain ground on Vader, they'll have to be at the top of their game.
3. Jeff Gordon (average finishing position 3.6): Here's a surprise: Gordon has been in the top 10 in the last 15 Martinsville races, or every race since 2002. That's pretty impressive, and with one more good race this Chase, Gordon could have been in the mix.
4. Clint Bowyer (average finishing position 10.0): Surprisingly, Bowyer is the best of the other Chasers here, but like Gordon, it's too late for him now.
5. Jeff Burton (average finishing position 12.0): A couple top-fives in the last few races have inflated Burton's average in his home state, where he's always tough.
6. Carl Edwards (average finishing position 13.2): Three top-10s are balanced out by two sub-20 finishes.
7. Tony Stewart (average finishing position 13.8): See what we wrote about Edwards? Yeah, same thing here.
8. Kevin Harvick (average finishing position 15.0): Not a good position for one of Johnson's putative challengers to be in, averaging more than 11 spots worse than him.
9. Matt Kenseth (average finish 18.6): Surprised by this? Me neither.
10. Greg Biffle (average finish 19.0): Biffle has been rather ordinary at Martinsville, posting nothing better than a 10th-place finish at the track in the last five races.
11. Kyle Busch (average finish 23.4): Martinsville has been horrendous for Kyle. Aside from a 4th-place finish this time last year, he hasn't finished better than 22nd in the last five races. Ug-lee.
12. Kurt Busch (average finish 25.4): The sooner Kurt can get out of Martinsville, or get Martinsville out of the Chase, the happier he'll be.
So there you have it. What's your take on these numbers? Looks like we're in for an interesting race, but in the end, a potentially familiar storyline.