By David Morgan, Associate Editor
The penultimate round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs rolls on to Texas Motor Speedway after a drama-filled race at Martinsville a week ago.
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 on the AAA Texas 500.
First joining the circuit in 1997, Texas has provided some great racing over the years as the original track surface wore down over the years. Prior to the 2017 season, Texas 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.
Heading into the weekend, one of the four spots in the Championship Four at Homestead have been filled and success here will go a long way in helping those remaining race their way into the season finale with their title hopes still intact.
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)
When: Sunday, November 3
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 3:00 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
March 2019 Race Winner: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota (Started sixth, 45 laps led)
November 2018 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started third, 177 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Kurt Busch (26.877 seconds, 200.915 mph – 11/3/2017)
Top-10 Driver Ratings at Texas:
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 103.0
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 102.2
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 97.3
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 95.9
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 94.1
- Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 91.8
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 90.0
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 89.2
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 88.5
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 87.8
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:
- Martin Truex, Jr. (Advances to Championship 4 with Martinsville win)
- Denny Hamlin (+24 over cut-off line)
- Kyle Busch (+17)
- Joey Logano (+14)
- Kevin Harvick (-14)
- Ryan Blaney (-15)
- Kyle Larson (-24)
- Chase Elliott (-44)
From Atop the Pit Box
“The new Texas surface combined with the 2019 aero package provides interesting racing and driving scenarios compared to other tracks this year,” said Chris Gayle, crew chief for Erik Jones’ No. 20 Toyota.
“Most of the cars seem to be a lot more wide open in for the lap, especially in the banked corner compared to most other 1.5 mile tracks. Combining that with the lack of lap time fall off from the tires allows some interesting choices to be made from a pit strategy and car setup standpoint. I think it will be very interesting to see how a lot of the teams/organizations choose to setup their cars for this particular track with the cooler fall conditions. I think it will provide an opportunity to do some unique pit strategy to try and gain track position for this event.”
Last Time at Texas
Denny Hamlin tried every which way he could to sabotage himself the last time the Cup Series was at Texas.
A pit road speeding penalty on lap 64, combined with a tire violation on lap 173 threatened to derail Hamlin’s shot at taking home the six-shooters and cowboy hat from victory lane, but the driver of the No. 11 Toyota would not be denied.
Hamlin was eventually able to work his way back to the front, taking the lead on lap 303, and staying out front for 28 of the final 32 laps to score the win, his third on the 1.5-mile track.
Clint Bowyer finished 2.743 seconds back in second place, followed by Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, and Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top-five.
“Our car was really, really fast,” said Hamlin. “We obviously saw that. Once we got out front, we were actually able to pull away from the pack a little bit. Just got a little bit loose right there when we were racing our teammates with the 18 (Kyle Busch) and the 20 (Erik Jones), so I wasn’t able to be as aggressive as I was earlier in the race. We had a super-fast car and that’s why we won. I missed pit road under green that cost us three or four seconds as well. We tried every way we could to just give it away and we found a way to do it with this FedEx Camry.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, November 1
- MENCS Practice (3:05 pm to 3:55 pm – NBC Sports Network)
- MENCS Final Practice (5:05 pm to 5:55 pm – Streaming on NBC Sports app)
Saturday, November 2
- MENCS Qualifying (7:05 pm – CNBC)
Sunday, November 3
- MENCS AAA Texas 500 (3:00 pm – 334 laps, 501 miles – NBC Sports Network)