Photo: Justin R. Noe/ASP Inc.

Up to Speed: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

After a much needed weekend off to recharge the batteries, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back to business as they head to the Lone Star State and Texas Motor Speedway for Sunday’s running of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.

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.

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.

Just as they did last year, TMS officials have been working to lay down rubber on the track in an effort to provide as much of a racing groove as possible for the competitors. Goodyear is also bringing a new tire this weekend that should help those efforts.

By the Numbers

What: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 7 of 36

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

When: April 8, 2018

TV/Radio: FOX Sports 1, 2:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 1.5-mile quad oval

Banking: Turns 1-2 banked 20 degrees, Turns 3-4 banked 24 degrees

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 2017 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started third, 38 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford (26.877 seconds, 200.915 mph – 11/3/2017)

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Texas:

  • Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 105.5
  • Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 100.5
  • Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 97.1
  • Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 95.5
  • Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 93.0
  • Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 90.0
  • Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 88.8
  • Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 88.7
  • Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford –88.4
  • Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 85.5

From the Driver’s Seat

“It’s a new Texas now with the repave,” said Paul Menard. “As the track goes into its second year with the new surface it’s going to open new opportunities for trying to find the right lines and manipulate the car through different lines on the track.

“It’s really narrow. It’s really flat. Turns 3 and 4 have so much banking that you have to set the car up for 3 and 4 height-wise which makes it less than ideal for 1 and 2 because it has less banking. Ideally, if both ends were the same you’d have a better handling car in 1 and 2 but you just can’t physically get the car where you want it in 1 and 2 because it will be dragging the bottom of it.

“Turn 1 margin for error last year was inches. If you missed it by half a foot, you were holding on trying to get the car held down and stay in the grip. It got better in the fall race. Instead of inches, it may be a couple of feet this weekend, but that makes all the difference in the world.”

Last Time at Texas

Kevin Harvick had been 0 for 29 at Texas heading into last November’s race, but that all changed after 500 miles around the 1.5 mile track, with the 2014 Cup Series champion serving notice that he was still a force to be reckoned with in the championship battle.

After Martin Truex, Jr. was in full domination mode, leading a race-high 107 laps, a caution in the waning stages of the race changed everything and gave Harvick the opening he was looking for.

Truex pulled out to a half-second lead on the restart, but Harvick was coming in a hurry, picking off driver after driver, climbing up the leaderboard as the laps wound down, setting his sights on Truex with 20 laps to go.

Thanks to some lapped traffic, Harvick was able to close the gap on Truex, making the final pass for the lead on lap 325 and setting sail on to the win.

“This feels so good,” said Harvick. “We have been qualifying well here and racing well ever since I have been at Stewart-Haas Racing and just never got it to work out to go to victory lane. Today we had to earn it.

“To be able to pass the 78 car for the win is something that is huge for our confidence and team knowing we need to go to another 1.5 mile at Homestead to race for the championship. I am really proud of everyone on our Mobil 1 Ford. This thing was a hot rod today.”

While it wasn’t a win, Truex still got the consolation prize of clinching a spot in the Championship 4 as a result of his finish.

“I knew he (Kevin Harvick) was quicker – once he got around the 11 (Denny Hamlin) I guess it was, he started coming really fast and that’s all I had,” said Truex. “Just struggled a little on the long run today, which was normally where we’re our best. He seemed to be better when he got out front – we were good when we got out front toward the middle of the race and we just got too loose in those long runs.

“I did all I could do on the inside, but we had the 6 (Trevor Bayne) and some other dummy racing side-by-side in front of us and I was way loose in traffic and I got loose going into one and Harvick jumped to my outside. One of those deals, I think we could have held them off on a clean race track, but the 6 car is in the damn way every week – that’s pretty normal.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, April 6

  • MENCS Practice (1:00 pm to 1:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Qualifying (5:45 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, April 7

  • MENCS Practice (11:00 am to 11:55 am – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Final Practice (1:30 pm to 2:20 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Sunday, April 8

  • MENCS O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 (2:00 pm – 334 laps, 501 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.