NASCAR Bracketology: Final Four

Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Larson

Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and Jeff Gordon have advanced to the Final Four in NASCAR Bracketology. (Photo: Getty Images)

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NASCAR Bracketology is down to its Final Four heading into Texas and what a quartet it is, a mix of old and new.

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

The Final Four features two former NASCAR Sprint Cup champions (Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon), one who has come close to a Cup title (Denny Hamlin) and a rookie (Kyle Larson).

Larson, the No. 23 seed, has the been the giant killer in this tournament. He finished ahead of No. 10 seed Kyle Busch at Bristol in the opening round, bettered No. 7 seed Matt Kenseth at Auto Club Speedway to advance to the Elite 8 and topped No. 2 seed Brad Keselowski last weekend at Martinsville Speedway to win the Dale Earnhardt Regional.

Jeff Gordon, the No. 5 seed, defeated Kurt Busch in the opening round, topped Greg Biffle in the Sweet 16 and finished four spots ahead of Brian Vickers last weekend at Martinsville to win the David Pearson Regional.

Denny Hamlin, the No. 8 seed, claimed the Richard Petty Regional. Hamlin defeated Martin Truex Jr. in the first round at Bristol. Hamlin got help from Sam Hornish Jr., who drove for him at Auto Club Speedway, to beat Aric Almirola and make it to the Elite 8. Hamlin advanced to the Final Four by defeating Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Martinsville.

Jimmie Johnson, the No. 3 seed, defeated Cole Whitt in the first round, topped Marcos Ambrose next and beat Carl Edwards at Martinsville to win the Junior Johnson Regional and advance to the Final Four. 

Here’s this weekend’s matchups.

Denny Hamlin (No. 8 seed) vs. Jeff Gordon (No. 5 seed)

Gordon has finished higher than Hamlin in three of the last four races they’ve both run at Texas Motor Speedway. Last month at Las Vegas - in the only race at a 1.5-mile track this season - Gordon finished ninth and Hamlin 12th. Gordon’s average finish this season is 8.3 compared to Hamlin’s 11.6. Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards are the only drivers to have completed every lap this season. Hamlin leads the series in laps run in the top 15 at 85.6 percent.

Kyle Larson (No. 23 seed) vs. Jimmie Johnson (No. 3 seed)

Johnson has led the most laps in the past two races (Auto Club Speedway and Martinsville Speedway) but not won. A tire issue cost him the win in California, and Kurt Busch passed him late to win at Martinsville. Larson and his Chip Ganassi Racing team have shown speed this season. Johnson has finished no worse than sixth in the last four Cup races at Texas. That includes two wins. He’s led 579 laps in the last four Texas races. Larson finished 23rd there last fall. 

Dustin Long’s Predictions (3-1 last week, 19-9 for tournament)

Denny Hamlin vs. Jeff Gordon - Denny Hamlin

Kyle Larson vs. Jimmie Johnson - Jimmie Johnson

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