Who is the Craig Kimbrel of NASCAR?
In baseball, the closer is a pitcher that tosses the final three outs of the game. Sorry for those of you who are baseball fans, it’s pretty obvious to that group of fans who also like NASCAR.
However, the closer’s role in NASCAR is a lot different.
In the sport of NASCAR, a closer is a driver which attempts to improve his or her position within the final ten percent of the race.
The best and worst closer’s may surprise some, but for others it is no shock.
Joey Logano is statistically the best closer in the sport this season. Even though his driver rating is just 80.2, he has proved that he has been one of the most efficient closer’s in recent years.
Logano, in his final year at Joe Gibbs Racing, averages an improvement of a position and a half within the allotted time frame. Though it may not seem like it’s nothing, points wise it is.
Let’s use Tony Stewart as an example.
Stewart barely made the chase after being just 18 points in front of the driver 11th in the points standings in Kasey Kahne. As of the race at Dover, Stewart has gained 15 positions within the final ten percent of the race. If Stewart couldn’t gain these 15 positions, it would be likely that he would have entered the Chase as a wildcard contender instead of being in third place when it started at Chicagoland.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are some horrendous closer’s in the sport. Some drivers that one would not think to question.
The worst of the worst may be not be shocking.
Denny Hamlin, who has failed to finish several races due to fuel and mechanical issues throughout the season, losses an average of three positions per race in the closing laps. If this didn’t happen, instead of being 16 points out of the championship battle, Hamlin could be anywhere from two to eight points out of the championship hunt. That could be the difference preventing Hamlin and his team from walking across the stage at Homestead in November.
Other driver’s with poor closing talents include the likes of veteran driver’s Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, as well as Greg Biffle.
These are veteran drivers. Each of which have won several races at NASCAR’s top level.
But, due to a variety of reasons, these driver’s just simply can’t hold their positions at the end of the race, the most important time of the race besides the green flag.
So, what makes a good closer one may ask?
Well, to be honest with every single NASCAR fan on this planet, I can’t tell you. No one can. It simply varies every week.
However, I can tell you what can be considered within the circumstances that can make a good closer on a weekly basis.
Driver’s must have a good relationship with their crew chief. No one wants to see another Kevin Harvick and Shane Wilson incident where they had absolutely no chemistry.
The strategy called by the crew chief is likely going to tell how good of a closer a driver truly is. If the crew chief calls for two tires with ten laps to go when everyone else is taking four, that driver needs to drive his rear-end off to win the race.
This and many more strategic moves help set up teams for the final portion of the race.
Being a “Closer” may just be a statistic. However, in the racing world, every statistic has a deeper meaning to it and in writing this column I have shown the true meaning to being a “closer” in NASCAR.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.