Crunching numbers: It's tourney time!

March, 15, 2012
03/15/12
12:20
PM ET

What a great time to be a sports fan! NASCAR is in full swing, but right now, it gets overshadowed by the NCAA tournament.

But why let the college hoops fans have all the fun and enjoyment that brackets can bring?

For the past few years, I've had a little NASCAR bracket this time of year, humbly called the Bracket of Massive Significance.

Simply put, the top 32 in points are matched up bracket-style, going head-to-head, with the top finisher advancing. And in the spirit of the tournament, all the craziness of the first weekend begins with Bristol.

The matchups:

Petty Bracket
(1) Greg Biffle vs. (32) Landon Cassill
(16) Bobby Labonte vs. (17) Jeff Gordon
(9) Joey Logano vs. (24) Juan Pablo Montoya
(8) Martin Truex Jr. vs. (25) Jamie McMurray

France Bracket
(4) Dale Earnhardt Jr. vs. (29) Kurt Busch
(13) Ryan Newman vs. (20) Dave Blaney
(12) Kyle Busch vs. (21) Brad Keselowski
(5) Matt Kenseth vs. (28) David Ragan

Earnhardt Bracket
(2) Kevin Harvick vs. (31) Casey Mears
(15) Jeff Burton vs. (18) Marcos Ambrose
(10) Brian Vickers vs. (23) Jimmie Johnson
(7) Tony Stewart vs. (26) Kasey Kahne

Allison Bracket
(3) Denny Hamlin vs. (30) AJ Allmendinger
(14) Clint Bowyer vs. (19) Regan Smith
(11) Paul Menard vs. (22) Aric Almirola
(6) Carl Edwards vs. (27) David Gilliland

Some intriguing matchups in the first round. Let's start the conversation in the comments section, and fill out your brackets.

Smoke-free zone at Bristol?

Coming off a nice win at Las Vegas, Tony Stewart is heading to one of his worst tracks statistically. Sure, he won the fall race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2001, but his top-10 percentage of just more than 30 percent is his worst at any Cup track he has raced at more than once.

Dating back to 2005, his overall driver rating at Bristol is an 89.5, which is 10th best at the track, and doesn't seem that bad.

But let's just look at the past three years, in his time with Stewart-Haas Racing, when Stewart has had a driver rating of 80.4 or lower in five of six starts there.

Last fall at Bristol, Stewart's driver rating was a paltry 46.6, and he didn't run a single lap in the top 15. Over the past six races at Bristol, his average driver rating is a 72.1. If that were his career mark at the track, it would rank him 24th among all drivers.

Looking for trouble

Every week, our stats and analysis team compiles a breakdown of the wrecks at the next track on the schedule. Here's this week's takeaway:

Although Bristol has undergone a major facelift recently, the fact remains that there are more accidents at Bristol than any other track.

In fact, Bristol has averaged 7.7 accidents per race since 1990, two more per race than the next-highest track, Martinsville.

And there's no breathing room, as each area of the half-mile track accounts for no more than 20 percent of the total accidents there, but also no fewer than 14.8 percent of the total accidents.

The Eliminator: Bristol

For those of you new to my little blog, every week I use a device called The Eliminator to make my race pick. It's pretty simple. Instead of telling you why one guy will win, I point out why everybody else has to lose. The driver remaining, by process of elimination, is the projected race winner.

1. Seventeen of the past 18 Bristol winners had a previous top-four finish at the track (23 eliminated, 23 remaining).

2. The past seven spring Bristol winners finished 18th or better in the previous Richmond race (11 eliminated, 12 remaining).

3. The past 11 Bristol winners finished in the top 20 in both of last year's Bristol races (five eliminated, seven remaining).

4. Six of the past seven Bristol winners had a top-four finish in one of the previous two races (six eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Ryan Newman.

Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.

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