Jeff Burton the man to beat as Chase turns to Kansas

9/26/2007 - NASCAR

The Eliminator had a rough week at Dover, but seriously, who didn't? Just about every Chase driver had an issue this week, some even bordering on profound. You pick the poison: a blown engine here, a loose wheel there, flat tires everywhere, and wrecks that made the track that resembles a big Bristol look like, well, regular Bristol.

We even had a confrontation involving Kyle Petty. Seriously, Kyle Petty. That ponytail isn't just for the bad-boy image. The man can slam a visor like few others -- just ask Denny Hamlin. He also alerted much of the NASCAR audience that, indeed, Kyle Petty is still in these races.

Now, after two weeks at New Hampshire International Speedway and Dover International Speedway, NASCAR is getting far less international. The Cup boys are heading to Kansas Speedway, which, thankfully, doesn't have international in its name. It really doesn't need it, either, being smack-dab in the middle of the country. No offense to Juan Pablo Montoya.

Kansas, where the land is flat but the turns are banked at 15 degrees, where last year Tony Stewart proved you don't need 400 miles worth of fuel to win a 400-mile race. The Eliminator might be sputtering after Dover, but we'll draw inspiration from Smoke and do it the only way we know how.

Allow me to make the first of many Wizard of Oz jokes this week when I say it's time to click my heels together and get eliminating. That joke would be a lot less applicable if I weren't wearing my ruby red slippers right now. You laugh, but I'm all about style.

In 2004, the first year of the Chase, Joe Nemechek won here in an upset. He was 24th in the Nextel Cup points heading into the race, the furthest back in points a winner here has ever come from. We won't be seeing anyone from further back this week, so we'll take out the Paul Menards and Robby Gordons and go from 47 to 24.

Kansas is a fairly new track for NASCAR, having hosted only six Nextel Cup races. So a little extra work in the Busch Series might come in handy. In fact, the last three winners here have all run in the Busch race, and run well, with none of them finishing worse than 14th. The Buschwhackers aren't just my favorite all-time tag team, they're drivers to watch for this weekend. We'll take out the 10 left not running Saturday, like points leaders Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, and have 14 left.

NASCAR returns to the 1.5-mile tracks this weekend, the start of five 1.5-mile tracks in the Chase. Success at these tracks does tend to roll over -- all six Nextel Cup winners at Kansas finished in the top 20 at Texas earlier in the season, with four of them in the top five. We'll take out the six remaining drivers who were outside the top 20 at Texas, including Stewart and Kyle Busch, leaving us with eight.

Now, we'll take out everyone who finished worse than 16th at Atlanta. That's because all six Kansas winners also finished no worse than 16th there earlier in the season. The last two winners were each in the top five there earlier in the season. Three more are out -- Hamlin, Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne -- so we're down to the last five.

It's hard to eliminate the hometown boy, but this is The Eliminator, and it's what we have to do. No winner at Kansas has gone into the race with fewer than three career Nextel Cup wins. Two of those left, Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray, haven't yet reached that mark, so we'll be down to just three.

From three to one when I tell you this. I hate to come back to it again, but prove me wrong, Chevrolet has won every race on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Roush Fenway looked dominant last week, and you have to love the Penske horsepower at the intermediate tracks. Facts are facts, though, and we'll have to take out the Fords of Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth, and we're down to one.

Short of a tornado whisking him away this week into a land where everything's in color and there are flying monkeys all over the place, look for Jeff Burton to take the win at Kansas. Remember, the numbers don't lie.

Eliminator breakdown

  1. No winner at Kansas from further back than 24th in the points (23 drivers eliminated, 24 remaining).
    Drivers eliminated: A.J. Allmendinger, John Andretti, Dave Blaney, Ward Burton,
    David Gilliland, Robby Gordon, Jeff Green, Dale Jarrett, Jeremy Mayfield, Paul Menard,
    Joe Nemechek, Kyle Petty, Tony Raines, David Reutimann, Scott Riggs, Elliott Sadler,
    Johnny Sauter, Ken Schrader, David Stremme, Brian Vickers, Kenny Wallace, Michael Waltrip,
    Jon Wood.

  2. Last three Nextel Cup Kansas winners ran in the Busch race the day before
    (10 drivers eliminated, 14 remaining).
    Drivers eliminated: Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson,
    Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Reed Sorenson,
    Martin Truex Jr.

  3. Every Kansas winner finished in the top 20 at Texas earlier in the season (six drivers eliminated, eight remaining).
    Drivers eliminated: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, David Ragan,
    Tony Stewart, J.J. Yeley.

  4. Every Kansas winner finished no worse than 16th at Atlanta earlier in the season (three drivers eliminated, five remaining).
    Drivers eliminated: Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne.

  5. Every Kansas winner had at least three previous Nextel Cup wins
    (two drivers eliminated, three remaining).

    Drivers eliminated: Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray.

  6. Chevrolet has won every race on 1.5-mile tracks in 2007
    (two drivers eliminated, one remaining).

    Drivers eliminated: Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth.

    And your winner is: Jeff Burton.

Matt Willis is a studio researcher at ESPN.