Bowyer will bounce back into the title picture with victory at Dover

Hey there, NASCAR fans.

This week, all ESPN employees were NASCAR fans, because it was NASCAR on ESPN Day on Tuesday here at the Bristol campus. It was originally scheduled to be right after the Richmond race, but, what can I say, rainouts aren't just for qualifying this year.

But we had the whole spread -- the burgers, dogs, salads, cake. Props this week, bordering on mad, go out to everyone who put that together. Good times were had by all!

D.J. Copp was showing people how to change a tire. People from AMP were giving away some drinks with Dale Jr.'s picture on it (he's so handsome). We also had Ray Evernham and Dale Jarrett signing autographs.

I was also available for autographs, but nobody seemed to know who I was. Is the problem that I don't have a picture in my columns? I tried to remedy that by repeatedly shouting things like, "I AM THE ELIMINATOR!" but that didn't work. I also claimed I was Jeff Gordon for a while, but that didn't seem to do the trick either. What can you do?

This weekend, the series rolls into Dover, Del., for a race that was extra crazy last season. Dover has certainly lived up to its reputation for being a big version of Bristol. Don't forget that earlier this season, an early race wreck caught up five drivers who would go on to be Chasers. And by the end of the race, only six cars would end up on the lead lap. Get ready for anything to happen.

The race could be another wild one, but that doesn't prevent The Eliminator from trying to give you another top-notch winner. Forty-six cars are on the entry list, but I'll pre-eliminate the No. 34, which hadn't announced a driver at the time of this writing. Not like you'd expect me to pick the 34, right?

But first …

Trivia break! Qualifying has been rained out a frustrating seven times this season, but that's not yet a record. I'll give you credit if you can answer any one of these questions: What year was the qualifying cancellation record set, what was the number, and who went on to win the championship that season?

First of all, here's a streak that goes back to 1981 fall Dover winner Neil Bonnett. Every fall Dover winner since then finished 17th or better in the fall Dover race the year before. In fact, in that streak, only three winners finished outside the top 11. But we'll take it easy on these guys and just knock out the guys who weren't 17th or better at Dover last year.

I referred to Dover earlier as a big Bristol, and there's something to that. The past six Dover winners put up a top-10 in at least one of the Bristol races earlier in the season. Nine of the remaining 17 didn't get it done this year at Bristol, so they'll have to go and leave us our own version of the Elite Eight.

Variety has been the norm at Dover, dating back to 2004. Over the past five seasons, we haven't seen any driver win more than once at Dover, with nine different winners in nine races. So, this weekend, look for it to be 10 in 10, which will take out four more, including spring winner Kyle Busch.

Drivers have been lining up to get their first glimpse of Victory Lane at Dover. In fact, each of the past five Dover winners picked up his first Dover win. Not only will there be 10 winners in 10 Dover races, but look for another first-time Dover winner this weekend. That takes out three more Chasers -- Earnhardt, Stewart and Gordon -- leaving a mere one.

Trivia break! In 1959, qualifying was canceled eight times, setting a NASCAR Cup Series record that still stands. Mind you, that was in a 44-race season. That year, Lee Petty won 11 times to win his third championship.

Last year, Clint Bowyer made a name for himself by winning the first Chase race. This year, he'll put his name back in the title picture by winning the second Chase race. Remember, the numbers don't lie.

Eliminator breakdown

  1. Since 1981, the fall Dover winner finished 17th or better in the previous year's race. (28 drivers eliminated, 17 remaining)
    Drivers eliminated: AJ Allmendinger,
    Marcos Ambrose,
    Stanton Barrett,
    Dave Blaney,
    Kurt Busch,
    Patrick Carpentier,
    David Gilliland,
    Robby Gordon,
    Denny Hamlin,
    Kevin Harvick,
    Sam Hornish Jr.,
    Kasey Kahne,
    Matt Kenseth,
    Travis Kvapil,
    Bobby Labonte,
    Michael McDowell,
    Paul Menard,
    Joe Nemechek,
    Ryan Newman,
    Kyle Petty,
    David Ragan,
    Tony Raines,
    David Reutimann,
    Scott Riggs,
    Johnny Sauter,
    Ken Schrader,
    Regan Smith,
    Reed Sorenson.

  2. The past six fall Dover winners had a top-10 at Bristol earlier in the season. (Nine drivers eliminated, eight remaining)
    Drivers eliminated: Jimmie Johnson,
    Mark Martin,
    Jamie McMurray,
    Casey Mears,
    Juan Pablo Montoya,
    Elliott Sadler,
    Martin Truex Jr.,
    Brian Vickers,
    Michael Waltrip.

  3. There have been nine different winners in the past nine Dover races. (Four drivers eliminated, four remaining)
    Drivers eliminated: Greg Biffle,
    Jeff Burton,
    Kyle Busch,
    Carl Edwards.

  4. Past five Dover winners all hadn't previously won at Dover. (Three drivers eliminated, one remaining)
    Drivers eliminated: Dale Earnhardt Jr.,
    Jeff Gordon,
    Tony Stewart.

  5. And your winner is: Clint Bowyer.

Matt Willis is a studio researcher at ESPN.