Preview: AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

The Round of 8 has now begun in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, and after a thrilling race on NASCAR’s shortest track, the series will head to one of the fastest.

Texas Motor Speedway, located in Fort Worth, Texas, is the fourth 1.5-mile track in the playoffs, and the last before the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Drivers will compete in the 334-lap race, broken into three stages ending each at laps 85, 170, and 334. The race is scheduled to run on Sunday at 3 p.m. on NBCSN.

The last time that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, reigning champion Jimmie Johnson won the race. In fact, Johnson comes to Texas as one of the favorites to win the race. Johnson has seven wins at Texas Motor Speedway, including six of the last ten races.

While Jimmie Johnson has been stellar at Texas, you can’t forget about Martin Truex, Jr., who has won six races on mile-and-a-half tracks this year out of the nine that have been run. Truex finished eighth in the spring race at Texas, he’s been unstoppable on 1.5-mile tracks, having won all three thus far in the playoffs.

 

CONTENDERS:

Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson has become a name you think about when NASCAR heads to Texas. With seven wins at the track, which includes the most recent event and four of the last six races, Jimmie Johnson could most certainly punch his ticket into the championship battle at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a win this weekend.

To further support Johnson, he’s finished in the top 11 in each of the playoff races that have been on 1.5-mile tracks this year, including a seventh-place finish at Charlotte, which is known to have similar characteristics to Texas. At just three points out of the final transfer spot, expect Johnson to take full advantage of any opportunity he gets this weekend.

 

Martin Truex, Jr.

This one’s a no-brainer for any person who isn’t under a rock, but not just for one reason. There’s no doubt that Martin Truex, Jr. has been the class of the field in 2017, especially on 1.5-mile tracks like Texas. He’s won six of the nine races on mile-and-a-half tracks, including all three that have been raced in the playoffs. His average finish on 1.5-mile tracks is 2.7. A win this week would punch his ticket into the final battle for the championship in Miami in a few weeks.

That isn’t the only way Truex can secure his spot in the final four though. He currently sits 67 points above the transfer cutoff; that’s one full race and then some. If Truex can have a good finish this weekend, just as he has at every other 1.5-mile race this year, he can secure his spot on points. To clarify, he needs to be 61 points above the fifth-place driver in the points after the race to automatically advance.

 

Kyle Busch

Because of his win at Martinsville, Kyle Busch has already secured a spot in the championship-deciding race in Miami. With that, he and his no. 18 team have nothing to lose at this point. He knows how to win at Texas; he’s done it twice. He can still benefit from a win though – it’d be a win that he takes away from other playoff drivers, including potentially his biggest threat for the championship, Martin Truex, Jr.

 

Chase Elliott

Opposite of Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott was the worst finishing playoff driver last weekend at Martinsville, putting him 26 points out of the fourth and final transfer spot. A win is crucial for the short-term future for Elliott because it is the only way he can 100% wipe out the 26-point deficit by the conclusion of this race.

Elliott does have fans and statistics on his side at the moment. His first Xfinity Series win came at Texas in 2014, and in the last three mile-and-a-half races, he’s finished second twice and finished fourth the other time. Hungry for his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win and fired up after the incidents at Martinsville, don’t be surprised if Chase Elliott makes aggressive moves to take home the trophy.

 

Brad Keselowski

He hasn’t won at Texas before, but a win this weekend for Brad Keselowski would have him join Kyle Busch in the championship race. He’s run strongly in these playoffs, highlighted by a win at Talladega a few weeks ago. Keselowski finished sixth the last time the series visited the Lone Star State, and he’s coming off of a strong run at Martinsville. If Keselowski wins, it would lock him into his first appearance in the final round of the playoffs since the format was adopted in 2014.

 

DARK HORSES:

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

In the past few weeks, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has strung together some good finishes, and it’s needless to say that Texas has been good to NASCAR’s biggest star – it’s where he won his first Xfinity Series race and his first Monster Energy Cup Series race. He’s also won poles there, and, maybe best of all for Earnhardt, his wife Amy is from the Lone Star State.

Dale Jr. finished fifth in the spring race at Texas earlier this season, and historically, Texas has been a good track for Earnhardt. However, he only has one cup win at the track and just seven top-five finishes in 29 starts. If Dale Jr. wins this weekend, it would be a popular one, to say the least – it would be his first win on a mile-and-a-half track since Chicagoland in the summer of 2005. It would also mark what could be his last win at the very place where he got his first. And remember the first time Dale Jr. had Batman on the hood of his car? He broke a winless drought of four years.

 

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson is another name fans think of anytime NASCAR heads to a 1.5-mile racetrack. While he doesn’t have a win at Texas in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, he finished second in the spring race, and if you look past his engine failure at Kansas, the last 1.5-mile track NASCAR raced at, his average finish in the other eight 1.5 mile races is 7.75. He’s had a few rough races in a row now, but because he is now out of the playoffs, he risks nothing with an aggressive strategy.

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