Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Preview

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 for Sunday’s running of the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400.

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.

The trip to the 1.5-mile quad oval marks the first time the Cup Series has raced on a track larger than a mile in more than a month following a slate of short tracks and road courses that preceded this weekend’s race.

Through the first eight races of the season, seven of those events have been won by either Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing and if recent history is any indication, the driver that dons the cowboy hat in Victory Lane at the end of the day on Sunday will have to go through those two organizations to get there.

Defending race winner William Byron is also on a heater coming into the weekend having won three races so far in 2024 with no signs of slowing down.

By the Numbers

What: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 9 of 36

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

When: Sunday, April 14

TV/Radio: FOX Sports1, 3:30 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 1.5-mile quad oval

Race Length: 267 laps, 400.5 miles

Stage Lengths:  First stage: 80 laps, Second stage: 85 laps, Final stage: 102 laps

Pit Road Speed: 45 mph

Pace Car Speed: 55 mph

September 2023 Race Winner: William Byron – No. 24 Chevrolet (Started 18th, six laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Kurt Busch (26.877 seconds, 200.915 mph – 11/3/2017)

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Texas:

  1. Jimmie Johnson – No. 84 Legacy Motor Club Toyota – 100.4
  2. Kyle Busch – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 99.9
  3. Tyler Reddick – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 94.7
  4. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 94.0
  5. William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 93.1
  6. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 92.7
  7. Erik Jones – No. 43 Legacy Motor Club Toyota – 91.0
  8. Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 90.9
  9. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 90.4
  10. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 89.7

From Atop the Pit Box

“Texas (Motor Speedway) is such a fun track,” said Cliff Daniels, crew chief for Kyle Larson and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. “Our team loves going there. It is a challenging place because both ends are so different. You have (turns) one and two that are a little bit flatter and have a different turn radius, while (turns) three and four are high banked and you carry a lot of speed through them.

“It’s fun to watch Kyle drive there. He has a natural knack for places with a bit of character like Texas has. We enjoy the challenge of setting up a car to go fast. There are going to be handling adjustments you have to make and track conditions you have to keep up with. That said, we always enjoy going there and certainly look forward to going back this weekend.”

Last Time at Texas

Everything appeared to be going Bubba Wallace’s way last Fall at Texas, but a multi-car crash inside of 10 laps to go changed everything.

Wallace had led 111 laps up until that point and seemed to be headed toward a win to advance to the next round of the Playoffs, but with late race restarts, nothing is guaranteed.

Rolling off alongside William Byron for the restart with six laps to go, the driver of the No. 23 23Xi Toyota stumbled on the restart, allowing Byron and his No/ 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to get past him and take over the lead.

And that was all she wrote.

Byron would lead the final six laps of the day – his only laps led – to score his six win of 2023 and the 300th win in total for Hendrick Motorsports.

“Man, that’s badass. I finally got a good restart at the end,” Byron said. “Just ooh, it was hot today. I think it’s finally hitting me. But No. 300 for Hendrick Motorsports. Kyle (Larson) really deserved this one, got to say. Those guys were really fast all day, and hate it for them at the end.

“Man, it was awesome to get our car to the front. I loved clean air. We just fought through traffic all day and our Liberty University Chevy was just tight back in traffic but had good pace. This was one of those hot days, it felt like I was playing football and went through two a days, just wanted to quit.

“It was a grind it out day and our team was there at the end. I’m really proud of this one as hot as it was and as tough as it was. We’ll take it and go on to the next round.”

Ross Chastain would finish the day in second place, with Wallace falling to third and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin rounding out the top-five.

Afterwards, Wallace was playing the “What if?” game wondering what more he could have done to keep himself in the lead over Byron at the end.

“We’re racing for a win. I just hate it. I should have just kept my line into 3, and forced William to get tight. But we’re so vulnerable in these cars, right.

“But just upset with myself. Really needed a win there, and it was a good showing. I don’t know where that puts us. I don’t really care. But I know what I did and I choked.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, April 13

  • NASCAR Cup Series Practice (10:35 am – FOX Sports 1)
  • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (11:20 am – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, April 14

  • AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas (3:30 pm – 267 laps, 400.5 miles – FOX Sports 1)

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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.