Crunching numbers: Tourney and Cali

March, 22, 2012

The first round of my annual NASCAR Bracket of Massive Significance was nothing if not mad.

Bristol wrecking and bad luck led to such upsets as Bobby Labonte over Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers over Jimmie Johnson, and David Gilliland over Carl Edwards.

But there's still plenty of big names and stars left in the running, including a matchup between last week's top two finishers, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth. Seeding was based off last week's standings when the brackets were formed.

Petty Bracket
(1) Greg Biffle vs. (16) Bobby Labonte: Gotta love the points leader here.
(8) Martin Truex Jr. vs. (24) Juan Pablo Montoya: Neither has great numbers at California, but I'll take Truex, who's on a roll.

France Bracket
(4) Dale Earnhardt Jr. vs. (13) Ryan Newman: Newman was fifth in the last two California races, while Junior is top-fiveless in the last seven races.
(5) Matt Kenseth vs (21) Brad Keselowski: Kenseth is powerful here; taking him.

Earnhardt Bracket
(2) Kevin Harvick vs. (15) Jeff Burton: I'll take Harvick, the defending champ who has three straight top-seven finishes here.
(7) Tony Stewart vs. (10) Mark Martin: The collection of 55 drivers runs into the defending champ. I like Smoke here.

Allison Bracket
(14) Clint Bowyer vs. (30) AJ Allmendinger: The Dinger's had problems settling in, while Bowyer's been heating up. Give me a sip of Five-Hour Energy.
(11) Paul Menard vs. (27) David Gilliland: The Cinderella run comes to an end. Menard and his Nardburns moves on.

Just How Good Is The 48?

There's no denying that Johnson is a flat-out stud at California. In the last nine California races, he's finished in the top three eight times. The other race? A pathetic ninth.

Last year, Johnson finished an oh-so-tight second to Harvick after Harvick passed him in the final turn, and I imagine Johnson will be out for revenge.

But just how good is Johnson at California? Since the start of 2007, you can make the case that it's his best track on the circuit.

In that time, of the 2,150 laps Johnson has run at California, he was the fastest car on the track on 405 of them, nearly 19 percent.

That's Johnson's highest percentage at any track since 2007, beating his second-best track, Chicago, by nearly 2 percent.

Looking For Trouble

Every week, our stats and analysis team compiles a breakdown of the wrecks at the next track on the schedule. Here's this week's takeaway:

Two of the drivers looking to break long winless streaks could be in trouble this weekend. Biffle and Earnhardt have each been collected in four accidents at California, the most of any drivers.

So how do they prevent this? By starting up front.

All time at California, cars starting in the front five rows have been involved in 18 accidents. That number grows as you go through the field. Twenty-five that start 11th-21st and 32 from 22nd-32nd.

The Eliminator: California

For those of you new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to make my race pick. It's pretty simple, instead of telling you why one guy will win, I'll point out why everybody else has to lose. The driver remaining, by process of elimination, is my pick for the race winner.

1. The last 11 California winners had a previous top-four finish at the track (27 drivers eliminated, 19 remaining).

2. The last four California winners finished in the top 15 in the last Charlotte race (eight eliminated, 11 remaining).

3. The last 11 California winners finished in the top nine in the last California race (five eliminated, six remaining).

4. The last six California winners finished ninth or better in the last Kansas race (two eliminated, four remaining).

5. Six of the last seven California winners finished in the top nine in the last Chicago race (two eliminated, two remaining).

6. The last four and 10 of the last 11 California winners had a top-six finish in one of the previous two Cup races (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Carl Edwards

Matt Willis | email

ESPN Staff Writer
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.



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