NASCAR Bracketology: The Finals
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on April 10, 2014 | 8:30 A.M. EST
Jeff Gordon is a seven-time Darlington winner. (Photo: Getty Images)
One can only imagine the odds of this NASCAR Bracketology championship taking place, but it’s happening. Sure, Jeff Gordon in the finals isn’t surprising, but who would have expected rookie Kyle Larson here when this tournament started last month at Bristol?
For those unfamiliar, I took the top 32 in driver points after last month’s Las Vegas race and seeded them (based on their points at the time) in a tournament bracket. The driver who finished the best in each one-on-one matchup advanced. The champion will be crowned after this weekend’s Southern 500.
Gordon, the Sprint Cup points leader, has been steady in dispatching Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers and Denny Hamlin to reach the finals. Gordon, the No. 5 seed, cruised, finishing at least 10 places ahead of each except Vickers. The David Pearson Regional champion, Gordon beat Vickers by four spots at Martinsville.
Larson has been the giant killer in this tournament. He opened as the No. 23 seed and defeated 10th-seeded Kyle Busch, seventh-seeded Matt Kenseth, second-seeded Brad Keselowski and third-seeded Jimmie Johnson to reach the finals.
Larson has had some close calls. His second-place finish at Auto Club Speedway barely was good enough to beat Kenseth, who placed fourth that day. Despite a tough day at Martinsville - Larson finished 27th - he advanced because Brad Keselowski placed 38th after contact on pit road with Kurt Busch. Early issues at Texas put Johnson two laps down and Larson, the Dale Earnhardt Regional winner, reached the finals with his fifth-place finish.
Jeff Gordon (No. 5 seed) vs. Kyle Larson (No. 23 seed)
During the past four races of NASCAR Bracketology, Gordon has finished better than Larson three times. Gordon’s average finish in this tournament is 8.5; Larson’s average finish is 11.0. Although Gordon has seven wins at Darlington Raceway, his last victory there came in 2009. Since, he’s had more finishes of 30th or worse (four) than he’s had top-10 results (two). Larson has never run in a Cup race at Darlington. He finished sixth in the Nationwide race there last year, his only Darlington start.
Dustin Long’s Prediction (0-2 last week, 19-11 for tournament)
Jeff Gordon vs. Kyle Larson - Kyle Larson