After a dramatic race last weekend at Martinsville, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for the AAA Texas 500; the thirty-fourth round out of thirty-six for the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series. Including this weekend’s race, just two races remain until the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Texas Motor Speedway is amongst the fastest non-restrictor plate tracks on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. At 1.44-miles in length, the quad-oval features twenty degrees of banking through turns one and two, with an increase to twenty-four in turns three and four.
The circuit opened at the start of 1996, with the first NASCAR Cup race taking place a year later in April 1997. Jeff Burton took the race win for Roush Racing, with the team doubling up the next year when Mark Martin took them to victory lane again.
In 2005, NASCAR added a second Texas race to the Cup series schedule; an event that’s been a permanent fixture for the closing stages of the championship ever since.
To date, thirty-three NASCAR Cup Series races have been run at Texas Motor Speedway. Seven of those races have been on by Jimmie Johnson; two of which coming in 2015 when he swept both races that year. He took the win at the last Texas race back in April, so he’ll be gunning for a second sweep this weekend. If he can give Hendrick Motorsports their tenth Texan win, he’ll have a shot at defending his championship at the Homestead finale.
Last time out:
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last raced at Texas Motor Speedway back in April for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. Ford brought their A-game in qualifying, with the blue ovals locking out the top five positions of the grid. Kevin Harvick took pole position, with Ryan Blaney and Clint Bowyer setting identical lap-times to each other to take second and third ahead of the Team Penske‘s of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.
Ford remained the manufacturer to beat throughout the race, with Blaney and Wood Brothers Racing taking both stage wins in stage one and two. It would all come undone in the final stage, however, with Blaney sliding through his pit-box during a pit-stop which caused him to fall further back into the pack.
A caution with thirty-five laps to go would see the all the front-runners pit except for Logano; who would assume the lead in the #22. With sixteen to go, Johnson would take his #48 Chevrolet to the front and would edge out an advantage during the closing laps. Kyle Larson tried to hunt down Johnson for the lead, but he would run out of laps to find a way by.
Johnson would take his seventh win at Texas Motor Speedway. The win would be his first of the 2017 season and would, therefore, earn him a spot in the playoffs. After a rather inconspicuous start to the season, Johnson would use the momentum of the victory to win a second consecutive race two weeks later at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Last weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway was a chaotic one. Playoff contender Kyle Busch managed to weave his way through a series of late-race wrecks to take his third win of the playoffs; a win that gives him a guaranteed spot in the championship four.
Martin Truex Jr pressurized Busch for the lead on the last lap of the race, but he’d ultimately have to settle for second. Nevertheless, Truex is all but certain of a spot in the championship four thanks to his sixty-seven point gap to the cut-line position of fifth as things stand heading to Texas. However, we saw how close Kyle Busch came to elimination in the round of twelve despite his strong circumstances entering the playoffs, so Truex may want to take a win this weekend or at Phoenix to be absolutely stress-free.
Brad Keselowski enters the weekend in a strong points position for Team Penske. If he can have two more decent finishes then he is very likely to make it into the championship four.
It’s the remaining five playoff contenders who are on much shakier ground. Just eight points separate Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin, with Chase Elliott a further eighteen points back from Denny and basically now in a must-win position if he wants to make it to Homestead. All five of the aforementioned drivers ended last weekend’s race with damaged cars. All five will be hoping to end this weekend’s race in a much better condition or in victory lane.
Going by the form book, Hendrick Motorsports’ playoff contenders Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott could be in with a good chance of victory this weekend. A win for either of them would put them into the championship four, and with both currently below the cut-line, it’d be a massive pressure release for either. However, it remains unclear as to whether both cars have the pace to go to victory lane on a mile and a half race track. Elliott may well do after consistently fighting inside the top five for the last few races, but Johnson’s #48 car has been off the pace in recent weeks.
The ever-present contenders of Martin Truex Jr and Kyle Busch have to be in consideration. Busch enters this race with no pressure having already gotten a spot in the championship four, with Truex all but confirmed thanks to his points tally. Both seem to be fast week in, week out.
Ryan Blaney could also be a dark horse to get to victory lane this weekend. Ford were on the money back in April and Blaney led the most amount of laps and won the first two stages before a pit-stop problem put him out of contention. If he and his team can execute on Sunday, he could reach the championship four thanks to a second-career victory.
Track action for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Texas Motor Speedway will be televised by Premier Sports, NBCSN, CNBC and the NBC Sports App this weekend. First practice and Coors Light Pole qualifying will take place on Friday ahead of two further practice sessions on Saturday. The O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 will take place on Sunday afternoon.