By David Morgan, Associate Editor
The Lone Star State comes calling this weekend when the NASCAR Cup Series rolls into Texas Motor Speedway to kick off the penultimate 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.
As has been the case in recent years, a traction compound will be used again this weekend at Texas, but instead of using the PJ1 compound that has been used previously, the newer resin that was used earlier this season at Nashville and Bristol will be used to add grip to the track.
After last weekend at Charlotte, the Playoff field has been cut to eight remaining drivers vying for a shot at taking home the championship trophy at season’s end. Regular season champion and seven-time winner in 2021 Kyle Larson leads the championship field into Texas, joined by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, and Brad Keselowski.
When the green flag drops on Sunday, a pair of six-shooters, a cowboy hat and a berth in the Championship 4 will be on the line should any of the Playoff drivers find themselves in victory lane at the end of the day.
Larson and Hamlin will start the 334-lap race on the front row, followed by Kyle Busch, Blaney, Logano, Elliott, Keselowski, Truex, Tyler Reddick, and Chris Buescher.
By the Numbers
What: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 33 of 36
Where: Texas Motor Speedway – Fort Worth, Texas (Opened: 1997)
When: Sunday, October 17
TV/Radio: NBC, 2:00 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: 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 2020 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started ninth, 90 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 – 97.3
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 94.5
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 93.6
- Erik Jones – No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet – 92.3
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet – 90.4
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 90.2
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 88.9
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 88.3
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Team Penske Ford – 85.9
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:
- Kyle Larson (+42 over cut-off line)
- Denny Hamlin (+7)
- Martin Truex, Jr. (+6)
- Ryan Blaney (+1)
- Kyle Busch (-1 under cut-off
- Chase Elliott (-2)
- Joey Logano (-11)
- Brad Keselowski (-16)
From the Driver’s Seat
“Texas is kind of its own animal, as far as 1.5-mile tracks go,” said Erik Jones. “All four turns are just so different that it’s hard to get your car to handle well. You have to really have your car so high in the air, especially in (turns) 3 and 4, that it’s hard to get through (turns) 1 and 2 and have your car driving good.
“It’s a tough balance, but I like Texas. I enjoy racing there. Since the repave, it’s been a little bit narrow. But I think in the last year or so, it’s started to widen out a bit. Hopefully it continues to go that way so we can start to move around a little bit more. I think that is going to help the racing a lot.”
Last Time at Texas
This weekend’s race will be the first points-paying race of the season at Texas following the All-Star Race at the track back in June, won by Kyle Larson.
The last time Texas hosted a points-paying race, last Fall, it was a doozy. Postponed by rain/mist on three separate occasions, the race stretched from Sunday afternoon into Wednesday night, with Kyle Busch eventually coming away as the winner of the marathon event.
After getting eliminated from the 2020 Playoffs two weeks prior, Busch was still nursing a winless streak dating back to the 2019 season finale in Homestead, but by playing the fuel mileage game, he and his No. 18 team were able to best their Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. for the victory, while future teammate Christopher Bell came home third for Leavine Family Racing.
“It was obviously much needed and very much a lot of relief, as well, too,” Busch said. “For me having the opportunity to continue that win streak was certainly high on our list, and when you fall out of the playoffs and you’ve got nothing else to race for, that’s all you have to race for is trophies and getting wins for the rest of this year, and it feels really good to be able to come here to Texas and score that win.
“We haven’t been the best on mile-and-a-halfs this year but we’ve been working on it and strategizing on things that we can do to improve and it was nice to see some of that in that fruit pay off tonight.”