The NASCAR World Cup: Previewing the first round matchups

Michigan is the perfect place to start our knockout rounds in the NASCAR World Cup. It's a track that demands the whole package from a race team and there's plenty of space for good cars to make their way to the front.

We've got some pretty good cars in the final 16, as well as a couple, um, surprises. Certainly Brad Keselowski would be the favorite if this was for the Nationwide Series, but given his Cup performance, his group win is a little surprising. And we also have David Ragan, who took advantage of David Reutimann's slide to beat Paul Menard in a tiebreaker to advance to the second round.

The Matchups:

Brad Keselowski vs. Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson vs. Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards vs. Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon v. Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart v. Mark Martin, Jeff Burton v. AJ Allmendinger, Kevin Harvick v. Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer v. David Ragan.

(Here's an explanation, and here's the bracket and final standings)

Jay's Picks:

Busch: Jet Ski just isn't a threat this year to outrun Kyle this close to the Chase.

Newman: I think that he'll hold off Vader, who seems to be playing it safe and smart a little back in the pack.

Edwards: I'm picking him to win, so in most cases that means he'd hold off McMurray.

Gordon: Toughest pick of the bunch, but I don't get the sense that Hamlin is clicking right now, despite earlier success.

Stewart: Martin is desperate right now, but Stewart is absolutely dialed in.

Burton: Few guys on the track are running better than Burton, and Dinger ain't one of them.

Harvick: Kenseth always seems to go on a long slow fade once summer hits, and here we are.

Bowyer: How the hell did Ragan sneak in? Hope he's taking pictures, because he won't be here long. Chase-hungry Rawhide FTW.

Nick's Picks:

Busch: I would have almost guaranteed this earlier in the week, but given the way that the Gibbs cars have been running so far at Michigan, I'm not so sure.

Johnson: Newman hasn't had a run so far this season where he's consistently improved throughout the race.

Edwards: I don't think he's going to win, but McMurray hasn't found much speed this weekend.

Gordon: Talk about two drivers who have struggled. Gordon wins, but doesn't win the race. However, don't count out miracle changes from Hamlin's crew chief Mike Ford.

Stewart: This may be the most competitive matchup of the weekend and Stewart takes it, but not by much.

Burton: RCR may get three cars in the final four.

Harvick: Sorry Matty Ice, you're done.

Bowyer: This is the most lopsided matchup of the first round, and Bowyer advances easily. Of course at this rate, a dragon may leap out of the grandstands and grab Bowyer's car.

(Jay and I both went 11-16 in our predictions for the knockout round. We both completely whiffed on Group A and David Reutimann, while I thought I was being smart by going with Marcos Ambrose)