NASCAR Bracketology: Elite 8

Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski faces Kyle Larson in a matchup for a Final Four spot in NASCAR Bracketology. (Photo: Getty Images)

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The favorites are taking shape and if the seedings hold this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, it could make for a powerful Final Four in NASCAR Bracketology.

For those new to this, I took the top 32 in driver points after the Las Vegas race and seeded them in a tournament bracket. The driver who finishes the best in each one-on-one matchup advances. The champion will be crowned after the Southern 500.

If you’re looking for an underdog - and who isn’t in March? - Kyle Larson is the lowest remaining seed left at No. 23. Larson has played giant killer in this tournament, defeating Matt Kenseth last weekend at Auto Club Speedway and Kyle Busch two weeks ago in the first round at Bristol.

Larson sights now are set on No. 2 seed Brad Keselowski, the highest remaining seed left in a tournament.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the No. 1 seed. He lost at Bristol to No. 32 seed David Gilliland, who finished higher than Earnhardt that race. Gilliland’s Cinderella run ended in Fontana. He finished 38th and was eliminated by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who finished 34th.

Should Martinsville’s results go based on the seedings, next week’s Final Four would feature Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin.

Although Hamlin didn’t race at Auto Club Speedway, he still advanced. NASCAR is a team sport and Hamlin’s team, with Sam Hornish Jr. driving, finished 17th. That was better than Aric Almirola, who placed last, so Hamlin advances.

Here’s a look at this weekend’s matchups:

Richard Petty Regional

Elite 8

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 16 seed) vs. Denny Hamlin (No. 8 seed)

Hamlin has been cleared to race after vision problems caused him to miss last weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway. Unless something dramatic happens Sunday, it’s hard to see Hamlin not advancing. He has 12 top-10 finishes in his last 14 starts at Martinsville. Stenhouse’s best finish at Martinsville is 25th in two starts. 

David Pearson Regional

Elite 8

Brian Vickers (No. 20 seed) vs. Jeff Gordon (No. 5 seed)

Gordon is tied with Jimmie Johnson for most wins at Martinsville among active drivers with eight, including last fall’s race. Gordon has 20 top-10 finishes in his last 22 starts there. Vickers has three top-10 results there in 16 career starts. 

Dale Earnhardt Regional

Elite 8

Brad Keselowski (No. 2 seed) vs. Kyle Larson (No. 23 seed)

Keselowski has four consecutive top-10 finishes at Martinsville in a matchup of top-10 seeds. This will be only Larson's second start at Martinsville. He finished 42nd last fall, retiring early because of engine problems.

Junior Johnson Regional

Elite 8

Jimmie Johnson (No. 3 seed) vs. Carl Edwards (No. 6 seed)

Johnson’s average finish in his last 10 starts at Martinsville is 4.9 and includes three wins. Only once has he finished worse than 12th at this track and that was in his first visit there in 2002 when he placed 35th. That’s also the only time he’s failed to finish a Martinsville race. Edwards has not finished better than eighth at Martinsville since the fall 2008 race when he was third. 

Dustin Long’s Predictions (6-2 last week, 16-8 for tournament)

Richard Petty Regional

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. vs. Denny Hamlin - Denny Hamlin

David Pearson Regional

Brian Vickers vs. Jeff Gordon - Jeff Gordon

Dale Earnhardt Regional

Brad Keselowski vs. Kyle Larson - Brad Keselowski

Junior Johnson Regional

Jimmie Johnson vs. Carl Edwards - Jimmie Johnson 

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