AAA Texas 500 Preview

We know at least one of the 4 Championship drivers at Miami will be Joey Logano, leaving 3 spots up for grabs over the next two races. Say what you will about the conclusion at Martinsville, but I’m certain neither Martin Truex, nor any other driver for that matter, would’ve left the leader’s bumper untouched coming out of turn 4 on the final lap of a playoff race. After all, a spot in the Championship was literally on the other side of that car. To me, the racing in the closing laps was amazing, and this was hardly controversial. It’s racing, and precisely why NASCAR needs to get back into its roots at these smaller venues. Of course, as soon as I say that, let’s head to another cookie cutter.

TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY

Texas Motor Speedway is a 1.5 mile quad-oval, most similar in shape and design to Charlotte and Atlanta. The track was resurfaced and reconfigured for the 2017 season, which is reason to distinguish between the old era and the new. In 2017, teams were afraid to be the first on the track for practice, and the fresh asphalt made for very slippery and unpredictable conditions. Several cars spun and/or got into the wall, but the chaos was mostly sorted out by the time they raced. The surface has now had 3 Cup races to weather in, but it’s still a bit of a challenge to measure trend and talent. The reconfiguration widened turns 1 and 2 from 60 to 80 feet, and reduced the banking from 24 to 20 degrees. While this has tempered average lap speed a bit compared to the Texas of old, the track remains very fast.

PIT STALL PICKS: THE DOWNFORCE, THE DRAFT, & THE DRAG

This section is less about prognostication, and more about highlighting drivers catching my eye at a given moment. We all play in different formats and have different strategies, but hopefully this adds some value to your results. Good luck!

THE DOWNFORCE (start ’em)

Martin Truex Jr. – I’m sure it’s possible, but you’d be hard pressed to prove anyone is more motivated for the next 3 races than Martin Truex at this point. When asked how he would retaliate after Martinsville, he essentially said he’s not going to let Logano win. Upon further clarification, he meant by winning the championship himself, not necessarily a looming payback attempt. We’ll see what that actually ends up meaning. Surprisingly, Martin has never won at Texas, but nobody will be shocked if he does this Sunday. He finished runner-up in this race last season, and we all know his 1.5 mile record.

Kevin Harvick – The next 3 races set up perfectly for Kevin. According to my ranking methods, he’s #1 at Texas, #1 at Phoenix, and #1 at Homestead, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to most of you. On the new surface at Texas, Kevin has finished 4th and 1st in 2017, and 2nd last April. During these 3 races, Kevin has an average loop rating of 129.2, which leads the series. Over his career, Kevin’s numbers are exemplary; he’s finished 29% of his starts in the top-five, and 61% in the top-ten, including 1 win.

Kyle Busch – Let’s see what I wrote about Kyle back in April: “I’m not about to start hating on Kyle Busch, especially the way he’s running this season. However, a word of caution: he finished 15th and 19th on the new surface in 2017, which is an obvious contrast to his prior old-surface record. This section is all about avoiding big names in bad spots, and I think this is a wise week to find a better option until Kyle and the #18 team show they’ve figured out this new configuration.” Of course he won the race. #FiguredOut.

Joey Logano – A victory at Martinsville allows this team to relieve a little pressure and focus on preparing for November 18th at Homestead. This is a nice perk to supplement an already impressive resume at Texas. Joey has a 5.3 average finish of the last 3 races with a loop rating of 188.49. In his 20 starts at Texas, he has 1 win, 8 top-fives, and 10 top-tens.

Next Level – There are several drivers who could take this final spot, all with valid claims. Brad Keselowski, for example, is the only driver among the aforementioned to have an 80% top-ten rate if we add Atlanta ’18 and Charlotte ’18 to the 3 Texas races. Chase Elliott has won 2 races in the playoffs, ranks 4th in driver momentum right now, and his Pit Stall Rating of 98.6 ranks 5th over the last 3 Texas events. Jimmie Johnson is a 7-time winner at Texas, including a win in 2017. Hard to turn one’s back on him. Kurt Busch is 2nd in driver momentum, and has finished all 3 races at ATL, CLT, and TEX in the top-ten this season. His Pit Stall Rating of 115.86 ranks 4th over the last 3 Texas events. Denny Hamlin is a 2-time winner at Texas, and finished 3rd in this race last season. Erik Jones finished 4th earlier this spring, and has 3 top-tens in the most recent 4 races this season.

THE DRAFT (dark horse)

Ryan Blaney – Ryan has been racing at Texas since 2015, and here’s what I see: 42nd –> 43rd –> 29th –> 12th –> 12th –> 6th –> 5th. In the last 3 races, Ryan’s Pit Stall Rating of 140.52 ranks 3rd overall. His average finish of 7.7 ranks 3rd overall. His average loop rating of 108.2 ranks 2nd overall. By rights, he should be listed up above too, but I wanted to focus of the playoff guys.

THE DRAG (use caution)

Kyle Larson – Kyle has finished 2nd, 37th, and 36th on the new surface at Texas. While those 2 DNFs could’ve been bad luck, let’s take deeper look under the hood here. To me, his 37th place DNF at Martinsville (after being eliminated from playoff contention) reeked of last year. If we recall from 2017, Kyle entered Kansas 3rd in the Round of 12 standings. He encountered engine trouble, finished 39th, and was shockingly eliminated from the Round of 8. How did he respond? 37th DNF at Martinsville, 37th DNF at Texas, and 40th DNF at Phoenix. It’s very possible this kid simply checks out mentally when his season’s over. Be careful, because an unignorable trend is building.

AVERAGE FINISH POSITION @ TEXAS (last 5 track events)

4.2, #22 Joey Logano
4.6 #4 Kevin Harvick
7.4, #9 Chase Elliott
8.2, #18 Kyle Busch
11.0, #41 Kurt Busch

AVERAGE LOOP RATING @ TEXAS (last 5 track events)

119.1, #4 Kevin Harvick
113.1 #78 Martin Truex Jr.
109.1, #22 Joey Logano
101.7, #18 Kyle Busch
95.9, #12 Ryan Blaney

2018 PTS MOMENTUM (last 5 overall races this season)

46.0, #22 Joey Logano
38.4, #41 Kurt Busch
36.4, #11 Denny Hamlin
36.4, #9 Chase Elliott
35.8, #4 Kevin Harvick

 

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