Posted: Thursday March 15, 2012 12:01PM ; Updated: Thursday March 15, 2012 12:01PM
Dustin Long

NASCAR Bracketology

Story Highlights

Think March Madness and brackets are just for college basketball? Think again

Top 32 drivers were seeded, paired up; driver that finishes higher advances

Sweet 16 will be determined at Bristol; champion will be named after Kansas

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NASCAR Bracket
Heinz Kluetmeier/SI; Icon SMI; George Tiedemann/SI; George Tiedemann/SI

Dale Earnhardt Jr. on a three-plus year winless drought? Not so.

He won last year's NASCAR Bracketology Tournament, modeled after the college basketball version, and is back to defend his title.

The premise is simple. Take the top 32 drivers, seed them and pair them in one-on-one matchups. The driver who finishes the highest in the next race -- beginning with this weekend's race at Bristol -- moves on to the next round. Survive and advance.

It's what Earnhardt did last year, eliminating both Busch brothers, Brad Keselowski and David Ragan before defeating Matt Kenseth in the championship (based on who finished better at Talladega).

The drivers are seeded based on where they are in the points after last weekend's Las Vegas race. Thus, points leader Greg Biffle is the No. 1 seed with Kevin Harvick, second in the points, the No. 2 seed.

See a larger version of the NASCAR Bracket here

A twist this year is that Mark Martin, 10th in points, is not racing this weekend at Bristol. Thus, every driver behind Martin moved up one spot, allowing David Reutimann, 33rd in the points, to take the 32nd and final seed.

The Sweet 16 will be determined by the results at Bristol. The field then will be cut to the Elite 8 based on what happens at Auto Club Speedway. The Final Four will be set based on results at Martinsville. The championship pairing will be determined by the results at Texas and the champion will be crowned based on the results at Kansas.

Also, instead of noting each region as East, West, etc., the regions are named after a Hall of Fame driver. Thus, regions are named for Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, David Pearson and Richard Petty.

Enough of the explanations, let's get to the matchups:

David Pearson Regional

First Round

Greg Biffle (No. 1 seed) vs. David Reutimann (No. 32 seed)

Biffle, the points leader, has finished third in each of the season's first three races. His average finish of 11.7 is among the best for active drivers at Bristol. Reutimann's average finish is 22.5.

Jeff Gordon (No. 16 seed) vs. Marcos Ambrose (No. 17 seed)

Gordon has the second-best average finish at Bristol among active drivers at 11.5. Ambrose's average finish there is 15.1. Gordon has finished better than Ambrose in five of the last six Bristol races.

Joey Logano (No. 9 seed) vs. Jamie McMurray (No. 24 seed)

Logano's best finish at Bristol is 13th. He has only two top-20 finishes in six career starts there. McMurray has four top-10 finishes at Bristol in the last five races there.

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 8 seed) vs. Kasey Kahne (No. 25 seed)

Truex finished second at Bristol in August, the first time he had scored a top-10 there in 12 starts. Kahne has five top-10 finishes in his last nine starts at the track.

Second Round

Biffle-Reutimann winner vs. Gordon-Ambrose winner

Logano-McMurray winner vs. Truex-Kahne winner

Richard Petty Regional

First Round

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 4 seed) vs. AJ Allmendinger (No. 29 seed)

Earnhardt, the defending champion of this tournament, has a career average finish of 11.6 at Bristol. Allmendinger's career average finish at the track is 28.1, among the worst in this field, although he's with a new team this year.

Clint Bowyer (No. 13 seed) vs. Brad Keselowski (No. 20 seed)

Bowyer has struggled lately at Bristol, posting four finishes outside the top 20 in the last five races there. Keselowski won last August's Bristol race, his first top-10 finish in four starts there.

Ryan Newman (No. 12 seed) vs. Jimmie Johnson No. 21 seed)

Newman has six top-10 finishes in his last seven Bristol starts and an average finish of 16.7 at the track. Johnson's average finish at Bristol is 14.8. Johnson has finished higher than Newman in six of the last 10 Bristol races.

Matt Kenseth (No. 5 seed) vs. Kurt Busch (No. 28 seed)

Kenseth, who lost in the finals last year, is paired against a former Roush teammate. Kenseth has an average Bristol finish of 11.9. Busch's average Bristol finish is 12.9. In their last 10 races at Bristol, they've both finished better than the other five times.

Second Round

Earnhardt-Allmendinger winner vs. Bowyer-Keselowski winner

Newman-Johnson winner vs. Kenseth-Kurt Busch winner

Junior Johnson Regional

First Round

Kevin Harvick (No. 2 seed) vs. Landon Cassill (No. 31 seed)

Harvick, who reached the Final Four last year, has an average finish of 12.4 at Bristol. Cassill has an average finish of 39.5 in two Bristol starts.

Bobby Labonte (No. 15 seed) vs. Regan Smith (No. 18 seed)

Smith has finished better than Labonte five of the seven times they've raced against one another at Bristol.

Paul Menard (No. 10 seed) vs. Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 23 seed)

Although Montoya has only two top-10 finishes in his last seven Bristol starts, he's finished better than Menard in five of those races.

Tony Stewart (No. 7 seed) vs. David Gilliland (No. 26 seed)

Stewart's average finish at Bristol is 17.4. Gilliland's average finish is 28.8, but Gilliland has finished better than Stewart in two of the last four Bristol races.

Second Round

Harvick-Cassill winner vs. Labonte-Smith winner

Menard-Montoya winner vs. Stewart-Gilliland winner

Dale Earnhardt Regional

First Round

Denny Hamlin (No. 3 seed) vs. Casey Mears (No. 30 seed)

Hamlin, who was upset in the first round last year, has finished better than Mears in each of the last eight Bristol races.

Jeff Burton (No. 14 seed) vs. Dave Blaney (No. 19 seed)

Burton's career average finish at Bristol is 17.8, while Blaney's career average finish is 30.3.

Kyle Busch (No. 11 seed) vs. Aric Almirola (No. 22 seed)

Busch, who reached the Final Four last year, has the best finishing average at Bristol among active drivers at 9.0. Almirola has an average finish of 26.2 and has placed 30th or worse three times in five Bristol starts.

Carl Edwards (No. 6 seed) vs. David Ragan (No. 27 seed)

Another meeting of former teammates. Edwards has finished higher than Ragan in nine of the 10 races they've both competed in at Bristol.

Second Round

Hamlin-Mears winner vs. Burton-Blaney winner

Kyle Busch-Almirola winner vs. Edwards-Ragan winner
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