Montoya to make surprise Victory Lane appearance at Richmond

Hey there, NASCAR fans.

Glad you could make it for a Saturday night, short-track version of The Eliminator, the column that begs the question: How dorky can one be while picking NASCAR races? But you can't argue with the results, as Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Talladega run, a 10th-place finish, gives The Eliminator yet another top 10.

Now I know what you're thinking. I claim to be going Joe Friday on this column week to week (just the facts, ma'am). I use only statistics, trends and streaks to pick a whole bunch of losers, until there can be only one, like the Highlander. I also claim to be able to use two outdated references in one paragraph, and I got that done.

Then I give you groundbreaking picks such as Dale Jr. at Talladega and Jimmie Johnson at Phoenix. I'm not exactly going out on a limb with these, but I have a reputation to protect. Wait, do I?

I'm being told that I do not have a reputation to protect. But I swear I find the streaks, then let the numbers do the picking for me. So, any week could be the week for an upset.

This week, The Eliminator is going five steps, so let's get it going, but first …

Trivia break! Jimmie Johnson has won the past two Richmond races, the first driver since Terry Labonte to go back-to-back at Richmond. Who was the last driver to win three in a row at the short track?

Here's a note not for The Eliminator but just something to keep an eye on. I write this column before qualifying every week, but this season, every race winner has started no worse than ninth.

Here's the real Eliminator Step 1 … six of the past seven winners of the spring Richmond race finished seventh or better at the Martinsville race earlier in the season. The other finished 15th. From the entry list of 46, we'll take out everyone except the Martinsville top 15.

But don't think all short tracks are created equal. Winners at Richmond actually tend to have struggled several weeks before at Bristol. Dating back to Dale Jr. in 2000, every spring Richmond winner finished outside the top 10 at Bristol. Five of our remaining drivers had top-10 runs at Bristol, and we have to hold it against them (it's the rules). We take out Junior, Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick to leave only 10.

I already mentioned that it takes a good qualifying run to win this year, but it also takes a good run in the previous race. The past seven race winners this year all finished no worse than 11th in the previous Sprint Cup race. Seven of the remaining 10 didn't do that at Talladega. So what was once 10 is now only three.

Chevy has won four in a row at Richmond, but don't count on the brand's making it five straight Saturday night. No manufacturer has won five straight at Richmond since … you guessed it … Plymouth did it from 1970 to 1972. Casey Mears is the only bow tie left in the field, so we're down to the final two.

No one as young as 22 has won a Cup event at Richmond in the 103-race history of the track. The youngest winner, in fact (not this week's trivia) was Richard Petty, who was 23 years, 9 months old when he won at Richmond in 1961. Well, David Ragan is younger than that, so he's the last driver out for the week.

Trivia break! Bobby Allison, in 1982-83, was the last driver to win three straight at Richmond.

Mears? Ragan? I hinted at the possibility of an upset this week, and I won't let my loyal readers down. The Eliminator likes Juan Pablo Montoya to pick up his second Sprint Cup win this weekend at Richmond. Remember, the numbers don't lie.

Eliminator breakdown

  1. The past seven spring Richmond winners were in the top 15 at the previous Martinsville race.
    (31 drivers eliminated, 15 remaining)
    Drivers eliminated:
    A.J. Allmendinger,
    John Andretti,
    Greg Biffle,
    Dave Blaney,
    Kurt Busch,
    Kyle Busch,
    Patrick Carpentier,
    David Gilliland,
    Robby Gordon,
    Sam Hornish Jr.,
    Kasey Kahne,
    Matt Kenseth,
    Travis Kvapil,
    Bobby Labonte,
    Mark Martin,
    Michael McDowell,
    Paul Menard,
    Joe Nemechek,
    Ryan Newman,
    Kyle Petty,
    David Reutimann,
    Scott Riggs,
    Johnny Sauter,
    Ken Schrader,
    Reed Sorenson,
    Martin Truex Jr.,
    Brian Vickers,
    Michael Waltrip,
    Scott Wimmer,
    Jon Wood,
    J.J. Yeley.

  2. The past eight spring Richmond winners finished outside the top 10 at the previous Bristol race.
    (Five drivers eliminated, 10 remaining)
    Drivers eliminated:
    Clint Bowyer,
    Jeff Burton,
    Dale Earnhardt Jr.,
    Denny Hamlin,
    Kevin Harvick.

  3. The past seven winners this year finished at least 11th in the previous Sprint Cup race.
    (Seven drivers eliminated, three remaining)
    Drivers eliminated:
    Carl Edwards,
    Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson,
    Jamie McMurray,
    Elliott Sadler,
    Regan Smith,
    Tony Stewart.

  4. No manufacturer has won five straight Richmond races since Plymouth from 1970 to '72. (One driver eliminated, two remaining)
    Driver eliminated:
    Casey Mears.

  5. No driver younger than 23 has won a Cup race at Richmond. (One driver eliminated, one remaining)
    Driver eliminated:
    David Ragan.

  6. And your winner is: Juan Pablo Montoya.

Matt Willis is a studio researcher at ESPN.