Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Up to Speed – AAA Texas 500 Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

After a barn burner of a finish at Martinsville last weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Lone Star State and Texas Motor Speedway for Sunday’s running of the AAA Texas 500 and the second race of the playoff semi-finals.

First joining the circuit in 1997, the 1.5 mile Texas track has provided some great racing over the years as the surface wore down as each season passed. For the second time the season, drivers will get a crack at the track that was repaved and reconfigured prior to its 2017 race dates. If the spring race is any indication, this weekend will be as much of a wild card as ever and could have huge effects on which drivers make it to the Championship Four and which ones are left on the outside looking in.

As a refresher, the reconfiguration affected Turns 1 and 2, dropping the banking in that section of the track from 24 degrees to 20 degrees, as well as widening the racing surface from 60 feet to 80 feet. Meanwhile, Turns 3 and 4 remain banked at 24 degrees and 60 feet wide, giving the track two distinct corners that the drivers will have to navigate.

By the Numbers

What: AAA Texas 500, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 34 of 36

Where: Texas Motor Speedway – Fort Worth, Texas (Opened: 1997)

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 2:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 1.5-mile quad oval

Race Length: 334 laps, 501 miles

Stage Lengths:  First two stages: 85 laps each; Final stage: 164 laps

Pit Road Speed: 45 mph

Pace Car Speed: 55 mph

April 2017 Race Winner: Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet (Started 24th, 18 laps led)

November 2016 Race Winner: Carl Edwards – No. 19 Toyota (Started ninth, 36 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Tony Stewart (26.985 seconds, 200.111 mph – 10/31/2014)

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Texas:

  • Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 107.3 (7 wins)
  • Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota – 103.6 (2 wins)
  • Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 101.5 (2 wins)
  • Chase Elliott – No. 24 Chevrolet – 98.3 (Best finish: 4th)
  • Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 94.1 (Best finish: 2nd)
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – No. 88 Chevrolet – 93.6 (1 win)
  • Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 91.4 (Best finish: 2nd)
  • Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 88.8 (2 wins)
  • Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 88.1 (Best finish: 2nd)
  • Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 87.8 (1 win)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:

  1. Kyle Busch (Advanced with Martinsville win)
  2. Martin Truex, Jr. (+67 over elimination)
  3. Brad Keselowski (+29)
  4. Kevin Harvick (+3)
  5. Jimmie Johnson (-3 under cut line)
  6. Ryan Blaney (-6)
  7. Denny Hamlin (-8)
  8. Chase Elliott (-26)

From the Driver’s Seat

“Texas is one of those big, fast, high-banked tracks,” said Clint Bowyer. “You just have to go. We’ve been close there a number of times over the years. At Texas, it’s all about having the sheer speed. On those 1.5-mile tracks, you have to have a car that unloads fast. You can be a little bit tight or a little bit loose but, if that car isn’t making grip, making downforce and having the speed on the racetrack, then you are going to struggle. Unloading a fast hot rod right off the truck is going to be so important because you are going to have to qualify well and have that track position to be a contender.”

Last Time at Texas

Even having to start at the back of the pack and a track reconfiguration couldn’t stop Jimmie Johnson from visiting Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway back in April.

Johnson spun in qualifying and flat-spotted his tires, forcing the team to have to change them for the race and sending him to the back of the field for the green flag. He methodically worked his way toward the front as the race played out with Ryan Blaney leading the most laps (148) before fading in the final stage.

As Joey Logano led with 18 laps to go, Johnson was able to power his way into the lead and never looked back en route to his seventh win at the track.

The only thing that hindered Johnson a bit was his in-car drinking system that stopped working mid-race, causing him to become dehydrated and start to cramp up late in the race. After his victory lane celebrations, Johnson went to the Infield Care Center for fluids to rehydrate.

Kyle Larson finished second, Logano ran third, followed by Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to round out the top-five. Blaney would finish the day back in 12th.

“I guess I remembered how to drive; and I guess this team remembered how to do it!” said Johnson. “I’m just real proud of this team. What a tough track and tough conditions. We were really in our wheelhouse and we were just able to execute all day. Thanks to everybody at Lowe’s and Chevy and the fans and a ton of sponsors. Oh, it was hot in there. I got cooked in the car today. I didn’t have any fluids so I’m not feeling the best, but we got into Victory Lane. I’m so proud of the fight in this race team. I can’t wait to celebrate during this off-weekend with my family and friends and really enjoy this.

“It was just a really tough day. A lot of just trying to manage the slick surface that we had on the track and the lack of grip that was out there, but kind of once we got about the third run things really started coming together and our car was super-fast. The end of the second stage kind of played a weird game on us with guys pitting and not pitting. And I still drove up through there, passed all those cars and won this thing. An awesome car, big thank you to Lowe’s just a spectacular day.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, November 3

  • MENCS Practice (1:00 pm to 2:25 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Qualifying (6:15 pm – No Live TV, NBC Sports App – Tape-delayed on NBC Sports Network at 11:30 pm)

Saturday, November 4

  • MENCS Practice (3:00 pm to 3:55 pm – CNBC)
  • MENCS Final Practice (5:00 pm to 5:50 pm – CNBC)

Sunday, November 5

  • MENCS AAA Texas 500 (2:00 pm – 334 laps, 501 laps – NBC Sports Network)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.