NASCAR Bracketology Round 2: Cinderella Emerges

David Gilliland

David Gilliland pulled off the biggest upset in the first round, knocking off No. 1 seed Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Getty Images)


Cinderella is alive in NASCAR Bracketology! In the years I’ve done this, never has the No. 1 seed lost in the first round - until this year.

Cinderella has a name and it is David Gilliland.

A brief refresher if you are 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 next month’s Southern 500. 

Last weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway was the first round. David Gilliland, the lowest seed, upset No. 1 seed Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gilliland finished 22nd at Bristol to beat Earnhardt, who placed 24th. 

Gilliland also was the lowest-finishing driver to advance. He wasn’t the only one to pull off an upset. Justin Allgaier, the 29th seed upset Joey Logano, the fourth seed. Allgaier finished 17th to beat Logano, who placed 20th.

Four of the top 10 seeds were eliminated at Bristol.

Tony Stewart nearly pulled off an upset. He was seeded 27th. He finished fourth but that wasn’t good enough to defeat his opponent, Carl Edwards, who won.

Now it’s on the Auto Club Speedway where the Sweet 16 will be trimmed to the Elite 8. Here’s a look at the second-round matchups:

Richard Petty Regional

Second Round

David Gilliland (No. 32 seed) vs. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 16 seed)

After dispatching Earnhardt, can Gilliland’s run continue? He has never finished better than 17th in 12 races at Auto Club Speedway. In his last three races there, he’s finished 29th, 30th and 31st. Stenhouse placed 20th last year. Two weeks ago the series raced at Las Vegas. Some things from there can be relevant at Auto Club, Stenhouse finished 27th, hurt by a pit road speeding penalty. Gilliland was 30th. 

Aric Almirola (No. 24 seed) vs. Denny Hamlin (No. 8 seed)

Two years ago, a decision to pit cost Hamlin a second-place finish in the rain-shortened race at Auto Club. Last year, he raced Joey Logano for the win on the last lap when they made contact and he crashed. Hamlin says the one track he wants to win the most is this one. The JGR cars were OK at Vegas (finishing 10th-12th). Richard Petty Motorsports was 24th and 25th at Vegas. Is two weeks enough time to turn those results around for RPM? 

David Pearson Regional

Second Round

Justin Allgaier (No. 29 seed) vs. Brian Vickers No. 20 seed)

This will be Vickers’ first time in a Cup car at this track since 2011 (he was 34th in the Nationwide race there last year). MWR cars seemed to have been off a bit at Vegas.  This will be Allgaier’s first Cup race at this track. He placed 11th in last year’s Nationwide race. 

Greg Biffle (No. 12 seed) vs. Jeff Gordon (No. 5 seed)

Gordon is hot. He’s opened the season with four consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time in his Cup career. Auto Club Speedway hasn’t been as kind. Gordon last had a top-10 finish there in 2010. Biffle has two consecutive top-10s at this track. 

Dale Earnhardt Regional

Second Round

Brad Keselowski (No. 2 seed) vs. Kasey Kahne (No. 15 seed)

One of the weekend’s top matchups. Keselowski has been fast all season. He won at Las Vegas two weeks ago. Kahne placed eighth at Vegas. Kahne hasn’t shown the pure speed Keselowski has but Kahne has finished 11th or better each of the last three races. Also consider Keselowski’s record at Auto Club. He’s never finished better than 18th. Kahne has finished better than 18th in his last four starts at the track. 

Kyle Larson (No. 23 seed) vs. Matt Kenseth (No. 7 seed)

Kenseth was strong on the big tracks last year but was a little off at Las Vegas. Larson has shown speed but has had stumbles on the track or pit road at times. Larson enters after his first career top-10 finish, a race he said he and the team avoided any problems. Kenseth has 11 top-10s in his last 14 starts at Auto Club Speedway.

Junior Johnson Regional

Second Round

Jimmie Johnson (No. 3 seed) vs. Marcos Ambrose (No. 19 seed)

Johnson’s average finish at Auto Club is 5.7 - best among all active drivers. Ambrose’s average finish there is 28.8. 

Clint Bowyer (No. 22 seed) vs. Carl Edwards (No. 6 seed)

Edwards‘ average finish at Auto Club is 8.4 - better than every active driver by Johnson. Bowyer’s average finish there is 12.7. Edwards has finished better than Bowyer there in each of the past three races there. 


Dustin Long’s Predictions (10-6 last week)

Richard Petty Regional

David Gilliland vs. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Aric Almirola vs. Denny Hamlin - Denny Hamlin

David Pearson Regional

Justin Allgaier vs. Brian Vickers - Brian Vickers

Greg Biffle vs. Jeff Gordon - Jeff Gordon

Dale Earnhardt Regional

Brad Keselowski vs. Kasey Kahne - Brad Keselowski

Kyle Larson vs. Matt Kenseth - Matt Kenseth

Junior Johnson Regional

Jimmie Johnson vs. Marcos Ambrose - Jimmie Johnson

Clint Bowyer vs. Carl Edwards - Clint Bowyer


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