Here’s your chance to envision what a tournament with 64 of the best NASCAR drivers would look like.
As March Madness officially kicks off Tuesday with the play-in games for the 2018 NCAA tournament, we figured it would be a good time to design our own bracket featuring drivers throughout the history of NASCAR.
You can take a look at the bracket above and look at a high-resolution version of it here. The criteria for inclusion was based largely on wins and championships and just like the real tournament, the NASCAR bracket included both automatic and at-large bids.
• Any driver with a Cup Series championship was guaranteed a spot in the bracket. That means Richard Petty (with 200 wins and seven titles) was just as much of an automatic inclusion as Bill Rexford (one win, one title).
• Drivers with multiple Xfinity Series or Truck Series championships were automatically included as well. A combination of those titles qualified for inclusion, so Johnny Benson, Greg Biffle and Austin Dillon — each with one Xfinity Series and one Truck Series title — were in the bracket.
• Forty-three drivers qualified for the bracket under that criteria, leaving 21 at-large spots. The at-large spots were largely determined by Cup Series wins, though strength of era and other factors were taken into consideration by the secret society selection committee. The drivers that just missed out on the field are, in no particular order, Jack Smith, Kasey Kahne, Speedy Thompson, Marvin Panch and Fonty Flock.
• Seeding was fairly straightforward, with drivers getting bumps for championships. Denny Hamlin ranks 25th all-time in Cup Series wins but was a nine seed behind championship drivers with fewer wins like Terry Labonte and Brad Keselowski.
• Drivers were seeded primarily on an S-curve, meaning Jeff Gordon at No. 4 overall and the final No. 1 seed was given the No. 5 overall seed David Pearson in his bracket. The committee determined Bobby Allison was the “weakest” of the top eight drivers with his one championship, so he was placed in Petty’s region.
• Much like the bottom of the real tournament is filled with automatic qualifiers from smaller conferences, those who got in via their Xfinity and Truck championships largely populate the bottom quarter of the field.
We also realize many people believe this tournament would go largely according to seed with Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson all making the Final Four thanks to their seven titles. Gordon, with four championships, would be the favorite for the other spot, but would probably get a heavy challenge from Pearson in many fans’ minds.
With that in consideration, we also made a second bracket that leaves out the top four seeds entirely and named the regions for them. You can view a high-resolution version of it here.
This adds a twist. Pearson may immediately become the favorite in this scenario but the field is much more wide-open. You may find yourself having more fun with the matchups and seedings without the four legends in the field. Without Jimmie Johnson in the region, suddenly a Matt Kenseth run to the Elite Eight seems a lot more plausible.
Let us know your bracket combinations in the comments below or hit us up on Twitter with your Elite Eight picks. And don’t forget to sign up for Yahoo’s Tournament Pick’Em before the first round tips off on Thursday.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.