So much to cover this week, I don't even have time to brag about my successful third-place run last week at Phoenix. Well, maybe a little. So, in the words of Greg Oden in that ESPN The Magazine commercial boom!
We're down to just one race in the 2007 season, the last under the name Nextel Cup, as well as the last with the old car. But, more importantly, just one more "Eliminator." I hope everybody has enjoyed reading these as much as I have enjoyed putting them together, perhaps even more so.
Sure, it'd be easy to make this week's "Eliminator" just one sentence: "Only drivers named Jimmie Johnson have won the past four Nextel Cup races." But we're not about easy here ... or are we? No, I guess not. Besides, no driver in NASCAR's modern era, since 1972, has won five consecutive races. We had two drivers, Richard Petty and Bobby Allison, do five in a row in 1971, and add in Petty's 10-race winning streak in 1967, and you have the only drivers with winning streaks longer than Johnson's current four in a row.
There's so much more to cover this week, so let's get into the Lightning Round. That's right, I've instituted a Lightning Round for this week's article.
• Hendrick Motorsports now is assured of having won at least half of the Cup races this season, yet, miraculously, Hendrick drivers never won when I picked them.
• We had three former Indy 500 winners in the field at Phoenix. You and I might miss the IROC Series, but we're seeing elite drivers come to NASCAR in droves.
• Michael Waltrip Racing has recovered somewhat from its disasterous start to the 2007 season, but last weekend was the first time we saw all three of its drivers miss the field.
• I wish I could do this article after qualifying. The past five NNCS winners all started in the first four rows. And seven of the past eight Homestead winners started no worse than 13th.
• I'm still waiting for ESPN or ESPN.com to send me to South Beach for the week.
• Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! And a belated thank-you to all the veterans out there.
NASCAR has been racing the season finale at Homestead, a 1.5-mile track, for the past five seasons. In that time, every race winner had a previous top-5 finish at a 1.5-mile track that season. We'll trim some of the riffraff right from the start, 28 in all, leaving 21 still in the running.
Also in season finales at Homestead, every winner previously had won a race that season. Expect to see a familiar face in Victory Lane this week, so we'll take out six more, leaving 15.
Terrell Owens said he "loves me some me," but this week, I love me some streaks (I also love me some me, obviously). The past two weeks, I mentioned a run of race winners who finished no worse than 14th in their previous race. This week, that streak's up to 10, so let's take out the four remaining drivers who finished worse than 14th at Phoenix, leaving 11.
There have been eight Cup races at Homestead. In the first five, the winner didn't race in the accompanying Busch race, but the past three winners did put in some overtime. Look for that trend to continue. We'll take out the five drivers not doing double duty (as of Tuesday), and yes, that includes Johnson and Jeff Gordon. We're down to six.
Well, Johnson might be eliminated, but he's taught me not to pick against hot streaks lately. Well, the past three races at Homestead have been won by a driver named Greg Biffle, so let's take out the five remaining drivers not named Biffle -- it's the sensible thing to do.
I gave away my pick in the previous paragraph, but he's won three in a row at Homestead, he's coming off a second-place finish and more than half of his 2007 top-5s have come during the Chase. Let's just say that this weekend, the other drivers will be baffled by Biffle.
Enjoy the offseason, and remember that the numbers don't lie.
In season finales at Homestead, the winner had a previous top-5 at a 1.5-mile track
(28 drivers eliminated, 21 remaining).
Dale Earnhardt Jr.,
Sam Hornish Jr.,
In season finales at Homestead, the winner had won a race earlier in the season
(Six drivers eliminated, 15 remaining).
The past 10 Nextel Cup winners finished 14th or better in the previous race
(Four drivers eliminated, 11 remaining).
Juan Pablo Montoya.
And your winner is: Greg Biffle.
Matt Willis is a studio researcher at ESPN.