Commentary

Johnson targets third Cup victory at Auto Club Speedway

The Eliminator: California

Updated: August 28, 2008, 11:16 PM ET
By Matthew Willis | ESPN.com

My beloved readers …

First of all, what's up? Are you as pumped as I am? We're getting close to the Chase, the driver lineup for 2009 is starting to come together, and we're starting to get a full-fledged rivalry going in NASCAR.

Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch? Both are young and masters of the new car. In an actual fistfight, it'd be a no-contest. In fact, I think I'd take The Carl over both Busch brothers -- Kyle and Kurt. On the racetrack, though … well, let's just say both of these boys are fast.

What I really like, however, is that this feud already has resorted to childish name-calling. OK, Carl, Kyle's referred to you as Mr. Ed. What's your response? You've gotta find something on Shrub to poke fun at.

But one thing's for sure. Right now, Mr. Ed-wards has all the horsepower (thanks to fellow NASCAR researcher Tom McKean for the joke).

This weekend the series goes back to California, where Carl Edwards won earlier this season, with Kyle Busch finishing a respectable fourth. In between them were the Hendrick power couple of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Who does The Eliminator like? Read on, my good friends.

Just 44 are on the entry list this week to take the long trip out West. Let's find ourselves a winner the only way I know how, and that's via The Eliminator. Here we go! But first …

Trivia break! California opened in June 1997. Jeff Gordon won the Cup series race, but the day before, the NASCAR West Series ran California (now Auto Club) Speedway's first race. Who won it?

First off, let's blow apart the entry list. From 2006 until now, every California Cup winner also has raced in the accompanying Nationwide Series race that weekend. In fact, each of those five Cup winners finished sixth or better in the Nationwide race, with two drivers winning both. Let's take out everyone who's not doing double duty this weekend -- a whopping 31.

You say to yourself, "Eliminator, sir, I'm sick of all these steps rewarding guys who have been successful in the past. Don't you have any for guys who stink?" Well, you're in luck. The past seven winners at California all finished no better than 12th in the last Cup race. That gets rid of five overachievers, including Kyle Busch and Edwards. We have eight lucky guys left.

We're all busy people, have places to go and people to see. So let's end this in style. The past five Sprint Cup winners at California each finished in the top seven in the most recent Cup race in Fontana. That takes out all but one guy, and ends Cinderella runs for Marcos Ambrose and Johnny Sauter.

Trivia break! If there were a race, you'd almost expect this guy to be in it. But Ken Schrader was the first driver to visit Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway, winning a NASCAR West Series race in 1997.

This weekend, look for California's own Jimmie Johnson to win his third race in Fontana, tying Jeff Gordon for the most Sprint Cup Series victories at the track. Maybe he'll spin somebody out after taking the checkered, too. Remember, the numbers don't lie.

Eliminator breakdown
  1. The past five California winners raced in the same weekend's Nationwide race. (31 drivers eliminated, 13 remaining)
    Drivers eliminated: AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Greg Biffle, Dave Blaney, Kurt Busch, Patrick Carpentier, Brad Coleman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Sam Hornish Jr., Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Travis Kvapil, Bobby Labonte, Casey Mears, Paul Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya, Joe Nemechek, Ryan Newman, Kyle Petty, Tony Raines, Scott Riggs, Elliott Sadler, Mike Skinner, Regan Smith, Reed Sorenson, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr. and Michael Waltrip.

  2. The past seven California winners finished no better than 11th in the prior week's race. (five drivers eliminated, eight remaining)
    Drivers eliminated: Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, David Ragan.

  3. The past five California winners finished seventh or better in the most recent California race. (seven drivers eliminated, one remaining)
    Drivers eliminated: Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton, David Gilliland, Jamie McMurray, David Reutimann, Johnny Sauter, Brian Vickers.

  4. And your winner is: Jimmie Johnson.

Matt Willis is a studio researcher at ESPN.