Numbers don't lie: Hamlin's the man at Richmond

Sometimes the numbers do odd things. Last week, instead of giving you a race winner, they gave you the driver most likely to sign with Hall of Fame Racing for the 2008 season. I did not see that one coming.

If you thought The Eliminator had a rough week, though, take a look at anybody driving an 88 car last weekend. Brad Keselowski will be seeing his hit on replays for a while now, which might be good, seeing as he probably doesn't remember it.

At least he'll be racing this week. Ricky Rudd will be sitting this one out, which says a lot about a driver who once raced with his eyelids taped open. I could make up any medical ailment that's affecting me this week as I write, but I can't think of a whole lot worse than taping your eyelids open.

This is another week, and another week means another race, which means another Eliminator. And speaking of The Eliminator, I recently found out that "American Gladiators" (cheap plug: you can now watch classic episodes on, where else, ESPN Classic) will have new episodes. Well, the show's final event is an obstacle course also called The Eliminator. But if Gemini or Nitro comes to my door trying to work out some legal issues, I think it's safe to say that the gladiators are going to get the name. However, I will get an Atlasphere in the settlement.

But, I digress, even more than usual this week, it's time to eliminate!

First of all, look to past success when picking a winner at Richmond. The last four Richmond night race winners, and seven of the last eight Richmond winners in either race, finished in the top 15 in the prior year's race. You'd think that would take us down to 15, but we'll be without Ken Schrader this weekend, so we have 14 left to start with.

When the pressure's on, the Chase drivers tend to prove why they've been on top of the standings all year. In all three years of the Chase for the Nextel Cup, a driver still mathematically alive for the Chase has won this race. The most notable example was in 2004, when Jeremy Mayfield won the race, and moved from 14th to ninth to make the Chase. Now, well, let's just hope he gets free samples from his sponsor. I wish him the best of luck in finding a ride for 2008 as I eliminate the eight drivers not sniffing the Chase, and we have six left.

In the last 13 fall Richmond races, we've had 13 different winners. That goes all the way back to Terry Labonte's win in 1994, back in the days before The Eliminator, the Car of Tomorrow and the Colorado Avalanche. Who doesn't miss the Quebec Nordiques? And who misses the three drivers eliminated? Now we have three drivers left in contention.

Not since Rusty Wallace swept Richmond in 1989 has a team won both Richmond races in a single year. Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag here earlier this season, and that means Kyle Busch won't be doing the same. Now, we're down to our two finalists.

When you're setting your fantasy lineup this week, take a gander at the results at other short tracks. That's because the last three Richmond winners finished in the top 10 in their previous race at Martinsville. Clint Bowyer didn't do that, so he's out, but one driver did.

Look for the hometown boy Denny Hamlin to roll into Victory Lane Saturday night. Remember, the numbers don't lie -- Hamlin's the way to go at Richmond.

Eliminator breakdown

  1. The last four fall Richmond winners finished in the top 15 in the previous year's race (33 drivers eliminated, 14 remaining).
    Drivers eliminated: A.J. Allmendinger, John Andretti, Ward Burton, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Bill Elliott, David Gilliland, Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon, Jeff Green, Dale Jarrett, Jimmie Johnson, Bobby Labonte, Kevin Lepage, Jeremy Mayfield, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya, Joe Nemechek, Ryan Newman, Kyle Petty, David Ragan, Tony Raines, David Reutimann, Elliott Sadler, Johnny Sauter, Tony Stewart, David Stremme, Martin Truex Jr., Brian Vickers, Kenny Wallace, Michael Waltrip.

  2. All three years a Chase-eligible driver has won (eight drivers eliminated, six remaining).
    Drivers eliminated: Greg Biffle, Dave Blaney, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, Casey Mears, Scott Riggs, Reed Sorenson, J.J. Yeley

  3. Thirteen different winners in the last 13 fall Richmond races (three drivers eliminated, three remaining).
    Drivers eliminated: Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth.

  4. No team has swept at Richmond since 1989 (one driver eliminated, two remaining).
    Driver eliminated: Kurt Busch.

  5. The last three Richmond winners finished in the top 10 in the last Martinsville race (one driver eliminated, one remaining).
    Driver eliminated: Clint Bowyer.

    And your winner is: Denny Hamlin

Matt Willis is a studio researcher at ESPN.