Commentary

The master of Martinsville? Short-track specialist Hamlin gets the nod

The Eliminator: Martinsville

Updated: October 17, 2008, 1:27 PM ET
By Matthew Willis | ESPN.com

Hey there, Eliminator readers -- or what's left of you.

You see, sometimes the numbers get a little out of control. You've seen what's happening on Wall Street.

Well, sometimes the numbers do crazy things, no doubt about it. They do things like tell me to pick a Dodge … a Petty Enterprises Dodge … but not in 1976. But don't forget that the two "last cars out," Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch, finished second and third at Charlotte, so I wasn't too far off.

But, Bobby Labonte? Groan. At least he came home with a quality 17th-place finish. It's evidence that I don't pick the drivers ahead of time, but … seriously, Bobby Labonte? Why didn't somebody stop me?

Not that I have anything against the guy. I would love to see him get back into Victory Lane -- how about at Martinsville?

(Nice segue; pats self on back)

We're halfway through the Chase, and we're moving into a personal Eliminator favorite, a short-track race, the last one of the season. There's beating, banging and so many turns it makes the spin cycle on my washer look like a joke. I laugh at you washer. Ha!

Enough of this jibber-jabber -- it's time to just eliminate. But, hold on just a second …

Trivia break! Five short-track races this season, and five different winners. But what driver has accumulated the most points on the short tracks this season?

Let's look back into the past. All the way back to August. Yeah, Bristol plays a role at Martinsville. In fact, the past 18 even-year winners at Martinsville finished no worse than 18th in their last Bristol race. That instantly trims the list of possibilities to 18.

Here's a streak that just keeps on keeping on. The past 10 Sprint Cup winners this year have all finished in the top 13 in that race last season. We look back one year ago to take out another eight drivers, leaving an even 10.

Instead of a short track, let's look at a flat track. Phoenix is flatter than year-old soda. It's flatter than a cracker that's been steamrolled. How are these analogies working out for you? Anyway, the past five fall Martinsville winners all finished among the top dozen in the last Phoenix race. That takes out another five, including Chasers Gordon, Stewart, Kenseth and Harvick. A mere five are left.

But, as clichéd and Yogi Berra-ish as it sounds, you have to be good at Martinsville to run well at Martinsville. The past six Martinsville winners finished in the top six in the last Martinsville race. That will finish us off, because that takes out Edwards, Biffle, Bowyer and Kyle Busch.

And who does that leave? Here's a hint …

Trivia break! Nobody's put up more points on the short tracks this year than Denny Hamlin. He's 14 ahead of Clint Bowyer.

Pick up on that subtle hint? The Eliminator likes Denny Hamlin to sweep this year at Martinsville. Should make him feel better after that Talladega hit. Remember, the numbers don't lie.

Eliminator breakdown
  1. The past 18 Martinsville winners in even years finished in the top 18 in the last Bristol race. (27 drivers eliminated, 18 remaining)
    Drivers eliminated: AJ Allmendinger, Dave Blaney, Mike Bliss, Jeff Burton, Derrike Cope, Bill Elliott, David Gilliland, Robby Gordon, Sam Hornish Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Travis Kvapil, Bobby Labonte, Sterling Marlin, Chad McCumbee, Casey Mears, Juan Pablo Montoya, Joe Nemechek, David Reutimann, Scott Riggs, Elliott Sadler, Ken Schrader, Reed Sorenson, Scott Speed, Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers, Michael Waltrip.

  2. The past 10 Sprint Cup winners finished 13th or better in that race last season. (Eight drivers eliminated, 10 remaining)
    Drivers eliminated: Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, David Ragan, Tony Raines, Regan Smith.

  3. The past five fall Martinsville winners finished in the top 12 in the last Phoenix race. (Five drivers eliminated, five remaining)
    Drivers eliminated: Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart.

  4. The past six Martinsville winners finished in the top six in the last Martinsville race. (Four drivers eliminated, one remaining)
    Drivers eliminated: Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards.

  5. And your winner is: Denny Hamlin.

Matt Willis is a studio researcher at ESPN.

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