A new NASCAR Bracketology champion will be crowned after defending champ Dale Earnhardt Jr. was eliminated last week in the Final Four.
Martin Truex Jr. became the first driver in two years of NASCAR Bracketology to defeat Earnhardt in a head-to-head matchup. Truex's reward is that he'll face Denny Hamlin for the title this weekend at Kansas Speedway. Whoever has the best finish will be the new champion. Hamlin advanced to the finals by eliminating Tony Stewart last weekend at Texas.
Truex enters the finals after top-10 finishes at Bristol, Auto Club Speedway, Martinsville and Texas that eliminated Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, points leader Greg Biffle and Earnhardt respectively. Truex's average finish in those four races is 5.5.
Seeded eighth, (the seedings were based on where drivers were in the points after Las Vegas), Truex won the David Pearson Regional.
Hamlin's trip to the finals was more difficult.
Hamlin was nearly upset by 30th-seed Casey Mears at Bristol. Hamlin finished 20th to advance, while Mears was 25th. That wasn't Hamlin's closest call, though. He faced 22nd-seed Aric Almirola at Martinsville with a spot in the Final Four at stake. Almirola finished eighth, but Hamlin was sixth to advance and also win the Dale Earnhardt Regional. Hamlin's other victory in this tournament came against Jeff Burton. Hamlin's average finish during NASCAR Bracketology is 12.2.
If Truex wins the title, it would mark the second consecutive year the champion has come from the David Pearson Regional. Each regional is named for a Hall of Fame driver. The other regionals are named for Richard Petty, Junior Johnson and Earnhardt.
Here's a look at Sunday's final:
No. 3 seed Denny Hamlin vs. No. 8 seed Martin Truex Jr.
This is a matchup of two drivers who were both eliminated in the first round in last year's tournament.
Hamlin has an average finish of 15.8 in eight starts at Kansas with no wins, two top-five finishes and two top-10 finishes. His best finish there is third. Truex's average finish at Kansas is 26.3 in seven starts with no wins, no top-fives and no top-10s. His best finish there is 11th.
Hamlin has finished better than Truex in the last six races at Kansas. The only time Truex finished better than Hamlin at Kansas was in 2006, the first time they raced against each other there.
While those numbers would seem to indicate that Hamlin should coast to the title, look deeper. Kansas is a 1.5-mile speedway and Truex has run well at such tracks lately. Going back to last season, Truex has finished better than Hamlin in each of the last four races on 1.5-mile speedways.
Another thing in Truex's favor is that he's won the past two rounds (defeating Earnhardt and Biffle) when he was the lower seed. He enters this matchup with Hamlin as the lower seed (Hamlin is seeded third, Truex is seeded eighth).