By David Morgan, Associate Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas – The Lone Star State comes calling this weekend when the NASCAR Cup Series rolls into Texas Motor Speedway to kick off the second round of the Playoffs with Sunday’s running of the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500.
Texas first joined the circuit in 1997, but back in 2017 went through a reconfiguration, dropping the banking in Turns 1 and 2 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.
After last weekend at Bristol, the Playoff field has been cut to 12 remaining drivers vying for a shot at taking home the championship trophy at season’s end.
Regular season champion and four-time winner in 2022, Chase Elliott, leads the championship field into Texas, joined by Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez, and Austin Cindric.
As has been the case for the majority of the season, drivers and teams will have limited time in practice to get their cars dialed in on the tricky Texas layout, which will make the data they gathered at the NASCAR All-Star Race this summer all the more valuable.
However, a full-length, points-paying Playoff race is a completely different beast and will be a challenge down the stretch on race day as those both in and out of the championship fight battle it out for the right to don the cowboy hat and fire the six shooters in Victory Lane at the end of the day.
By the Numbers
What: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 30 of 36
Where: Texas Motor Speedway – Fort Worth, Texas (Opened: 1997)
When: Sunday, September 25
TV/Radio: USA Network, 3:30 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: 105 laps each – Final stage: 124 laps
Pit Road Speed: 45 mph
Pace Car Speed: 55 mph
May 2022 All-Star Race Winner: Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford (Started second, 84 laps led)
November 2021 Race Winner: Kyle Larson – No. 5 Chevrolet (Started on pole, 256 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Kurt Busch (26.877 seconds, 200.915 mph – 11/3/2017)
Top-10 Driver Ratings at Texas:
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 103.3
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 97.5
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 93.6
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 95.1
- Erik Jones – No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet – 91.1
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 90.0
- Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 89.8
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 89.5
- William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 89.0
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 88.8
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:
- Chase Elliott (+31 over cut-off)
- Joey Logano (+16)
- Ross Chastain (+11)
- Kyle Larson (+10)
- William Byron (+6)
- Denny Hamlin (+4)
- Christopher Bell (+4)
- Ryan Blaney (+4)
- Chase Briscoe (-4 under cut-off)
- Alex Bowman (-6)
- Daniel Suarez (-6)
- Austin Cindric (-7)
From the Driver’s Seat
“I’m interested to see how racing at Texas (Motor Speedway) goes this weekend,” said William Byron. “We’ve always had speed there but I think in the spring we just were a little off on our setup since it was the first time at Texas in the Next Gen car. Our mile-and-a-half program is the one I think we needed to work on the most this season but I think, especially after Kansas (Speedway) a few weeks ago, that we’ve really improved on those style of tracks.
“With how this round shapes up there’s a lot of emphasis on Texas and leaving there with as many points as possible and that will be our goal, just like how we did last round. As long as we have a good Saturday, I think we’ll be in a good place for the race and then it’s all about execution on Sunday.”
Last Time at Texas
The NASCAR Cup Series got its first look at Texas Motor Speedway with the Next Gen car in late May with the running of the NASCAR All-Star Race, which was won by Ryan Blaney, who has yet to bank a points-paying win this season.
Blaney led 84 laps en route to cashing in on the $1 million payday, but the victory almost didn’t happen. As Blaney neared the finish line, the yellow flag waved mere seconds before he crossed the line. Believing the race was over, Blaney undid his window net as is customary after the race is over, but the call was made by NASCAR that the yellow flag waved before the checkered, meaning the race would be sent into overtime.
After frantically trying to get the window net back up on his own from inside the car, which as any driver will tell you is no easy feat, the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford was able to get it secured enough for NASCAR’s liking and lined up for the overtime restart.
In overtime, Blaney pulled away from Denny Hamlin and set sail out front, crossing the line again two laps later. This time, securing the win and the paycheck that comes with it.
“Coming off of 4, I guess caution came out, 300 feet or so before the line, and none of us knew that you had to see the checkered flag, I guess,” Blaney said afterwards. “I don’t know, I think we just got locked in our heads of the leader takes the white flag, the next flag ends the race. I guess that wasn’t the case. But we all thought it. I thought it. Josh said we won. Jonathan got on the radio and said congrats. So I got to the backstretch and I took the window net down. Then Josh told me off of 4, they’re saying that the race isn’t over, and you need to end under green.
“Yeah, I think that caught all of us off guard, and so it was kind of short-lived panic mode in my spot of like how the hell am I going to get this window net back up because it almost takes two people to do it outside the car, let alone me and my scrawny arms inside the car sitting down and not being able to get a lot of leverage on it.
“I could get millimeters away from latching it and I had to give up. My shoulders are going to be junk in the morning. I was able to get it latched finally enough to where it was up and sealed, and NASCAR deemed it safe.
“Yeah, very, very odd, wild, but luckily it worked out for us that the best car ended up winning the race.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, September 24
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (12:35 pm – USA Network)
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (1:20 pm – USA Network)
Sunday, September 25
- AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas (3:30 pm – 334 laps, 501 miles – USA Network)