By David Morgan, Associate Editor
The penultimate round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs hits the halfway point as Texas Motor Speedway and the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 comes calling this weekend.
On Sunday, the stock car racing elite will take on the 1.5-mile track with a pair of six-shooters, a cowboy hat and a berth in the Championship 4 on the line should any of the remaining playoff drivers find themselves in victory lane when the checkered flag falls.
After last weekend at Kansas, which saw Joey Logano claim the victory, one of the four spots in the championship race at Phoenix has been filled and success here will go a long way in helping the remaining contenders their way into the season finale with their title hopes still intact.
The track 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.
As has been done in recent trips to the Lone Star State, traction compound will be applied in the corners in an effort to make more of the track surface usable during the race.
When the green flag drops, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano will lead the field to the green. The front row start is advantageous for Harvick, who has won the last three fall races at Texas.
Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex, Jr, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, and Ryan Blaney will round out the top-10 starters.
By the Numbers
What: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 34 of 36
Where: Texas Motor Speedway – Fort Worth, Texas (Opened: 1997)
When: Sunday, October 25
TV/Radio: NBC Sports 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
July 2020 Race Winner: Austin Dillon – No. 3 Chevrolet (Started 21st, 22 laps led)
November 2019 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started on pole, 119 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 Toyota – 102.4
- Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chevrolet – 102.3
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 101.3
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 97.8
- Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 94.3
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 93.4
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 91.4
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 90.5
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 90.0
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 88.6
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:
- Joey Logano (Advances to Championship 4 with Kansas win)
- Kevin Harvick (+41 over cut-off line)
- Denny Hamlin (+20)
- Brad Keselowski (+8)
- Chase Elliott (-8)
- Alex Bowman (-27)
- Martin Truex, Jr. (-31)
- Kurt Busch (-73)
From the Driver’s Seat
“With both ends of Texas being different, you have to find a compromise some on your handling instead of focusing on one set of turns over the other,” said William Byron.
“I think in (turns) 3 and 4, speed makes the biggest difference through there. When you’re in (turns) 1 and 2 it’s more about the handling of your car but still having good speed out of (turn) 2 so you can get down the backstretch and set up your entry to turn 3 with a good pace.
“It’s a lot different of a racetrack than we’re used to and compared to how it was. Now it’s very unique and makes for an interesting challenge, especially as the race progresses.”
Last Time at Texas
Postponed from its normal spring date to July due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Cup Series finally hit the track, Austin Dillon snookered the field by scoring his first win since the 2018 Daytona 500 to punch his ticket into the Playoffs.
Here’s how it all went down: