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David Smith’s Benchmarks and Breakouts

Motorsports Analytics Previews UNOH Battle At The Beach
By David Smith, Special To NASCARHomeTracks.com
February 14, 2013 - 4:29pm

Tuesday, I wrote about the obvious choices for the UNOH Battle at the Beach, but this event offers so much more; seasoned veterans and young drivers just emerging as notable prospects help fill the fields of the two-night NASCAR Home Tracks showcase at the World Center of Racing.

Some of those short track lifers and hopeful young‘uns are racers with which you need to become familiar.

motorsports_analyticsLet’s start with the grizzled vets:

BENCHMARKS

Traditional scouting methods (i.e. the eye test, going by the gut) require a measurement for achievement. It's easy to spot a young driver if he’s beating an unbeatable, never-phased veteran. That certain vet is what's called a benchmark.

The benchmark is the consummate professional in a racing series, whose wisdom and wiliness is seldom bested. A benchmark’s presence also tends to go unappreciated, but a stage the size of Daytona can help rectify some wrongs in this regard. The UNOH Battle at the Beach has plenty of benchmarks ready and able to school fields littered with youthful adversaries.

Ted Christopher, 54, Plainville, Conn.

On Track: NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour (Tuesday)

The Skinny: The 2008 Modified Tour champion ranks third on the division’s all-time wins list (42 scores in over 320 starts); however, 2012 was his first season since 1998 without at least one victory. To say he’s probably hungry is an understatement. Driving the Ole Blue No. 3 for owner Jan Boehler, Christopher might want to keep the spotlight for himself on Tuesday night.

Greg Pursley, 45, Newhall, Calif.

On Track: NASCAR K&N Pro Series (Tuesday)

The Skinny: A winner of 13 K&N West races – and 10 across 2011 and 2012 – Pursley gave up the Western crown last season to Dylan Kwasniewski, a fellow Gene Price Motorsports driver. Of his four wins last year, two were on bullrings shorter than Daytona’s 0.4-mile oval.

D.J. Kennington, 35, St. Thomas, Ont.

On Track: NASCAR K&N Pro Series (Tuesday)

The Skinny: If anyone can outrun Kennington in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, it’s an accomplishment. He scored his second Canadian title in 2012, winning seven times in 12 races (he’s got 18 total wins to his credit with 14 coming across the last three years). He’ll be in a well-prepared car out of the Bill McAnally Racing stable in the K&N Pro Series race.

Doug Coby, 33, Milford, Conn.

On Track: NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour (Tuesday)

The Skinny: At age 33, Coby really shouldn’t be considered “grizzled,” but he’s past the age that warrants consideration from NASCAR’s premier division teams. He’s on top of the Modified world right now, though, having scored five of his seven career victories last season to take the Tour title with a 5.9 average finish.

BREAKOUTS

There are aspiring NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers participating in The Battle that could benefit wildly from a spectacular performance Monday or Tuesday night. These aren’t drivers that can simply rest on their laurels if this one race doesn’t pan out in a best-case scenario; for whatever reason, these drivers remain in the shadows of more popular, more productive prospects.

These are the sleepers, or the potential breakout performers, in the UNOH Battle at the Beach.

Bobby Santos, 27, Franklin, Mass.

On Track: NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour (Tuesday)

The Skinny: An eight-race winner in the Modified Tour, Santos is already a champion (2010) and now he’s looking for approval from the Cup Series inner sanctum. He’s immensely talented, but in his seven career NASCAR Nationwide Series starts – all for underfunded teams – he hasn't been able to properly showcase his abilities. A win at Daytona could reopen some doors thought to be closed to him.

Michael Self, 22, Park City, Utah

On Track: NASCAR K&N Pro Series (Tuesday)

The Skinny: Just a serviceable driver in 2011, Self has come a long way in a short amount of time for Golden Gate Racing. In 28 races prior to 2012, he went winless. Then last year happened: he won three races, including a woodshed whipping at Phoenix, and registered a promising 3.733 PEER. It has taken three years for Self to produce at this kind of level. That long assimilation might scare off some brand name NASCAR teams, but last season proved that his development shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Cale Conley, 20, Vienna, W.Va.

On Track: NASCAR K&N Pro Series (Tuesday)

The Skinny: Conley was on the verge of breakout last year – he earned three finishes of third or better in his first four K&N East outings – before regressing to a serviceable PEER (1.667), an improvement over the 0.700 he earned in 2011. He’s looking for redemption after a poor finish to 2012, when he finished 24th or worse (with three DNFs and two crashes) in his final four races.

Lee Pulliam, 24, Semora, N.C.

On Track: NASCAR Whelen All-American Series (Monday)

The Skinny: Don’t look now, but the hard-pedaling Pulliam is starting to pile on the accolades. He scored 22 wins last year en route to the Whelen All-American national championship, a season removed from setting a track record for wins (16) at Virginia’s Motor Mile Speedway. He also scored the victory in the 2011 Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 at Martinsville.

David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projections, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidSmithMA.