Commentary

The Eliminator: Yeley wins starring role at California

The Eliminator: California

Updated: September 2, 2007, 12:02 AM ET
By Matthew Willis | ESPN.com

Consistent top-10 finishes win championships. When it comes to The Eliminator, however, it's all about winning races.

Kyle Busch gave us a ninth-place finish last week, which would be solid if I was in any sort of points race, but I'm not.

So it left me with an empty feeling inside that I tried to fill with some candy, chips and burgers. I also had a number of beverages to choose from -- mostly adult -- to wash that down with. But only clichés can explain what I really need: I'm hungry for victory, baby!

So it's back to crunching the numbers for California. We're out in the land of Tinseltown, and this race might supply a bright, young face to star on NASCAR's silver screen. It has the past couple years, last year was commercial pretty boy Kasey Kahne (soccer moms just love him), the year before was 20-year-old Kyle Busch (I'm not sure how soccer moms feel about him). A star will be born, and all without the hassle of a Los Angeles traffic jam.

Forty-six drivers are on the entry list for California, and only one will be ready for his close-up. But we won't just guess at a winner; we'll tell you why 45 of those drivers are no more than extras, key grips and gaffers this weekend. This is The Eliminator.

Big Race Weekend

This race weekend is one of the biggest of the year, with every major series except for Fomula One on the track. Here's what to watch, all times Eastern.

Friday

1 p.m. Busch Series practice -- SPEED
2:30 p.m. Nextel Cup practice -- SPEED
6 p.m. Nextel Cup qualifying -- SPEED
11 p.m. Busch Series qualifying -- SPEED

Saturday

2 p.m. NHRA qualifying -- ESPN2
5:30 p.m. Craftsman Truck Series -- SPEED
8 p.m. Nextel Cup practice -- SPEED
10 p.m. Busch Series race -- ESPN2

Sunday

7 a.m. Champ Car race -- ESPN Classic
2 p.m. NHRA qualifying -- ESPN2
3:30 p.m. IndyCar Series race -- ABC
8 p.m. Nextel Cup race -- ESPN

Monday

7 p.m. NHRA finals -- ESPN2

-- Staff and wire reports

First of all, it's a long trip from Charlotte, N.C. to Fontana, Calif. Drivers will have to make sure to avoid jet lag, stretch well and run the Busch race. That's right, in this season and last season, winners of the Nextel Cup race at California ran in the Busch race the day before. In the case of the last two winners, Kahne and Matt Kenseth, they won the Busch race the day before. We'll take out the 26 Cup drivers who won't be bright-eyed and Busch-y-tailed this weekend -- including June 24 Sonoma winner Juan Pablo Montoya -- and that'll leave us with 20.

Like I mentioned earlier, this race can make stars. In fact, the winner of the Labor Day weekend race at California has never come into the race with more than five career Cup wins. That includes Kyle Busch picking up his first career win two years ago. Keep that fact in mind while you're amazing friends and family over your Labor Day grill.

That will take out eight Victory Lane veterans such as Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Burton and Kenseth, and leave us with just 12 left in contention.

There's only two races to go before the Chase for the Nextel Cup, although the spread between those in and out is looking a little too wide. However, over the last two seasons, a driver from outside the Chase field has won this race. Last season, Kahne used this win to climb to just 30 points behind 10th, an amount he'd make up the next race. Kyle Busch, the year before, won his first career race when he wasn't even in the top 20 in points. We'll take out the remaining Chasers, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer, and be down to nine.

Let's be simple here. Toyota hasn't won a race yet in the Nextel Cup, and it's not going to happen this week at California. No additional elaboration. Three more are gone, and we're down to just six now.

Since California expanded to having two races in a season, we've never had a manufacturer sweep both races in a season. Kenseth's win earlier this season dooms the hopes of Jamie McMurray, David Ragan, Robby Gordon and David Gilliland. Two, and only two, are left.

Every race winner in 2007 has put up at least a top-10 finish previously in his career at the track he later won at. That excludes Montoya, who had never raced a Cup car at Sonoma before his win. It stands true for the other 23 races this season. Reed Sorenson has never had a top-10 finish at California, and that leaves us with just one.

You want the upset?! You can't handle the upset!

Sorry, had to get the extra Hollywood out there (my apologies to Jack Nicholson).

We are giving you an upset this week, and this one would be straight out of Hollywood. It's also proof that we don't predetermine a winner. Your winner is the future free agent, No. 18 J.J. Yeley.

Remember that the numbers don't lie, and upsets do happen.

Eliminator breakdown

  1. The last three California Nextel Cup winners ran in the Busch race (26 drivers eliminated, 20 remaining).
    Drivers eliminated: A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, John Andretti, Dave Blaney, Ward Burton, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bill Elliott, Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon, Jeff Green, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Jeremy Mayfield, Casey Mears, Paul Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya, Joe Nemechek, Kyle Petty, Tony Raines, Scott Riggs, Ricky Rudd, Elliott Sadler, Johnny Sauter, Tony Stewart, David Stremme, Martin Truex Jr., Michael Waltrip.

  2. All winners of the fall California race had five or fewer wins coming in (eight drivers eliminated, 12 remaining).
    Drivers eliminated: Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman.

  3. The last two years, the fall California winner was not in the Chase field coming in (three drivers eliminated, nine remaining).
    Drivers eliminated: Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin.

  4. Toyota has never won a Cup race (three drivers eliminated, six remaining).
    Drivers eliminated: A.J. Allmendinger, David Reutimann, Brian Vickers.

  5. There hasn't been a manufacturer sweep at California since the track started hosting two races a season (four drivers eliminated, two remaining).
    Drivers eliminated: David Gilliland, Robby Gordon, Jamie McMurray, David Ragan.

  6. All 2007 winners have had a previous top-10 at the track they won at if they had raced there before (one driver eliminated, one remaining).
    Driver eliminated: Reed Sorenson.

    And your winner is: J.J. Yeley

Matt Willis is a studio researcher at ESPN.

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