OK, everyone, take a deep breath. We're through with Talladega, a track that is truly deserving of the name Eliminator.
Needless to say, this one is still holding its spot on my DVR, just in case I don't catch it when it re-airs on ESPN Classic. A few teams exhaled when they didn't get caught up in the "big one" but ended up getting caught up in the second "big one" -- including my pick, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Of course, if you didn't get caught up in either "big one," your tire might have exploded, a la Denny Hamlin. Other than that, it was just your typical Sunday drive.
I think it's time to go inside the numbers:
" Sixteen drivers failed to finish, including half of the Chasers.
" Only 18 drivers finished on the lead lap, the last of whom, Regan Smith, nearly pulled off a Tampa Bay Rays-esque upset. We can debate whether he actually won, or the timing of his move, another time. Let's set a date. Call my secretary. (Note to ESPN.com editors: Can I get a secretary?)
" There were 64 lead changes, most in a Cup race since 1984, also at Talladega.
" There were also 28 leaders, most in Cup Series history.
Getting tired of numbers? Well, too bad, because this is The Eliminator! Just a quick reminder of what we do here. This week, 47 drivers will attempt to qualify at Charlotte, but only one will end his week in Victory Lane (unless he sneaks in to party with the winner). I'll use only the finest in streaks, stats and trends to figure out who that'll be … not by just picking a winner, but by finding reasons 46 drivers won't win.
In short, I don't get to pick a winner. The numbers tell me who the winner will be. And we call this The Eliminator. But before we start …
Trivia break! It's easy to pick Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson here, mostly because each has won at Charlotte five times. That's the most among active drivers, but they still rank behind two drivers on the all-time list. What two drivers lead the way with six Charlotte wins each?
First off, in each of the past five years, we've had a manufacturer sweep at Charlotte. In four of those years, it was Chevy. But this year, Kasey Kahne won the first Charlotte race in a Dodge. Dodge might not have a driver in the Chase, but it'll have a winner this weekend. That takes out 34 right off the top, and we're down to just 13.
Last year, Tony Stewart was eighth in the second Talladega race before winning it this year. That continued a streak of nine straight winners this year who finished no worse than 13th in that race one season ago. Looking back to last year at Charlotte, only three Dodges were in the top 13, and one of those, David Stremme, won't be racing this weekend. So that means we're already down to two.
To finish it off, let's look at another 1.5-mile track, Atlanta. The past five winners of the fall Charlotte race finished in the top dozen in their last Atlanta race, and that fact will be enough to end Kahne's quest of a Charlotte sweep. But what Dodge is left?
Trivia break! No, it's not Dale Earnhardt or Richard Petty -- they're both tied with Gordon and Johnson with five Charlotte wins. Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip have both won at Charlotte six times apiece, most in Cup Series history.
This weekend, the upset that we were oh-so-close to last week will be pulled off. The Eliminator's got Bobby Labonte winning his third Charlotte race. Remember, the numbers don't lie.
There's been a manufacturer sweep at Charlotte in each of the past five seasons. (34 drivers eliminated, 13 remaining)
Drivers eliminated: AJ Allmendinger,
Dale Earnhardt Jr.,
Martin Truex Jr.,
The past nine Sprint Cup winners all finished in the top 13 of that race last season. (11 drivers eliminated, two remaining)
Drivers eliminated: Kurt Busch,
Sam Hornish Jr.,
Juan Pablo Montoya,
The past five fall Charlotte winners finished in the top 12 in the last Atlanta race. (One driver eliminated, one remaining)
Driver eliminated: Kasey Kahne
And your winner is: Bobby Labonte.
Matt Willis is a studio researcher at ESPN.