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Mash The Gas: Texas Preview

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. [Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

After a few weeks visiting tracks with different characteristics, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is back on the familiar 1.5 mile oval layout as the Texas Motor Speedway hosts the AAA Texas 500 Sunday afternoon.

AAA Texas 500
Texas Motor Speedway
501 miles (334 laps)
Sunday, Nov. 6
2 p.m. ET
NBC, 1:30 p.m. ET
PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
The Texas race is the tenth event contested on a 1.5 mile oval and so far this season the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have proven to be strongest on these type of circuits while the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets have made significant gains late in the year.

The Texas race is also the middle race of the final qualifying round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup and the winner will get an automatic berth in the season championship finale at Homestead in two weeks.

The past two seasons a non-Chase driver has won this Texas event (although that same driver (Jimmie Johnson) is currently in the Chase with his ticket already punched to Homestead) so a good finish is still imperative for the Chasers if they want to have a shot at the Sprint Cup title. The pressure is definitely rising as the season nears its end and there could be some fireworks late in this race as time is running short for the drivers to position themselves for the opportunity to race for the Sprint Cup in two weeks.

Another spot in the finals is up for grabs on Sunday in the AAA Texas 500 and here are some drivers to watch.…

Matt Kenseth (Dan Margetta)
In the last 20 races at Texas Matt Kenseth has been the best statistically as his 8.4 average finish barely edges Jimmie Johnson to lead the garage. Overall Matt Kenseth owns two Texas victories to go along with thirteen top five finishes and seventeen top ten results and he enters this weekend’s event at enticing 10-1 odds to win. Kenseth finished 11th here in the Spring and did not compete in this race a year ago due to penalties imposed by NASCAR after his run in with Joey Logano. He’s back this year and is solidly in the Chase currently tied for second in points, nine positions above the cut-off line. He also finished a strong second in the last race held on a 1.5 mile track a few weeks ago at Charlotte. Texas represents Matt Kenseth’s best opportunity to claim his spot in the Chase finals and I expect him to be tough to beat on Sunday afternoon.

Carl Edwards (John Wiedemann)
Carl Edwards is in a precarious predicament after his tire issues put him 32 points out of the fourth and final spot for the Championship at Homestead, currently held by his teammate Kyle Busch. Without another Chaser or multiple Chasers having catastrophic issues in the next two races, it looks like Edwards is going to need to win rather than rely on good finishes. And, good finishes have been hard for the Toyota driver to find recently as Edwards has only two top ten runs in the last nine races and a single top five run since July. Both Phoenix and Texas are good tracks for Edwards but they are good for other drivers as well. Now is the time to get the victory and Texas Motor Speedway is the place. Edwards has three wins in 23 starts at Texas with seven top five runs, twelve top ten finishes and an average finishing position of 14.2.

Kyle Busch(DM)
Kyle Busch used a late charge to win the last race held at Texas earlier this Spring and he comes into this weekend’s event still alive in the Chase, four positions ahead of the cut-off spot. Busch and his Toyota teammates have been strong all year on the 1.5 mile circuits and here at Texas Busch owns two victories, ten top five finishes, and eleven top tens. He enters this weekend’s race as one of the favorites at 5-1 odds and he should be considered one of the top threats to win on Sunday. Like Matt Kenseth, Texas presents Kyle Busch with his best opportunity to claim his place in the finals to defend his championship and a determined Kyle Busch will be tough to beat in the AAA Texas 500.

Joey Logano (JW)
It has been kind of a quiet regular and Chase season for Joey Logano. No one crashed him out at Martinsville and his victory at Talladega was a bit overshadowed by who didn’t make the next round of the Chase. Currently only three points out of the final transfer spot in the Chase, Logano could make a big splash at Texas and knock another potential Joe Gibbs Racing driver out of a shot at the Championship. And looking at past issues/confrontations, that would be a sweet prize for the lone Team Penske Ford driver. Logano has won at Texas in the past and finished third at the track in April of this year. Logano has been in the mix all season long at the 1.5 mile tracks and this weekend should be no different. In fact, I am going to crawl out a little bit on a limb and say Joey Logano will win at Texas this weekend. Sorry Joey.

Martin Truex Jr. (DM)
A driver outside the Chase has won this event the last two years and currently the best driver on the outside looking in is Martin Truex Jr. who has also been the best on the 1.5 mile circuits as well. Truex has dominated most of the previous 9 races on the 1.5 mile layouts and has victories at Charlotte and Chicago to show for it. In the Spring here at Texas, Truex laid the smack down on the field until a late pit error cost him the victory. After being knocked out of the Chase as a championship favorite with a blown engine, Truex and the #78 team, have been racing with a chip on their shoulder, eager to prove they are still one of if not the best team on the circuit and I look for them to try to kick some tail this weekend. Truex is listed as the 9-2 odds on favorite and he could be out to make a statement on Sunday.

Denny Hamlin (JW)
There are only three spots left in the Championship Round for four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers. And, even though the complaining at Martinsville hinged around the fact that Denny Hamlin wasn’t a good teammate during the race, you know the JGR drivers want those final three spots. They might even wreck each other to get there… wait, we will leave that storyline for next week. Hamlin should have a good shot at the victory this weekend even though he will be once again forced to battle his teammates for the top spot. Even though I would give Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch better odds, you can just never count out Hamlin. Hamlin’s sixth best average finish of 12.1 with two wins, five top five and ten top ten finishes give him a great statistical shot to have a great run and at least maintain his Championship eligibility.

Kurt Busch (DM)
Kurt Busch has been known for his consistency this season but after a poor showing at Martinsville, he now finds himself twenty positions behind the cut line and in “must win” territory. The stat sheet for Kurt Busch at Texas isn’t too bad either as he has one victory to go along with three top fives and fifteen top tens and he was 9th here in the Spring and 7th in this race last year. Busch is listed at whopping 30-1 odds to win on Sunday and he and his team know they pretty much have to swing for the fences if they want to have any shot at being a part of the Sprint Cup finale. Kurt Busch performs his best when his back is against the wall with the only viable strategy being to go the front and win so he could be a driver to watch on Sunday. If you are looking for somewhat of a surprise long shot pick this weekend. Kurt Busch is your guy.

Kevin Harvick (JW)
This probably won’t be Kevin Harvick’s week. Next week will probably be Kevin Harvick’s week. Harvick is much better at the Phoenix International Raceway than he is a Texas Motor Speedway and he does seem to have a knack for a dramatic advancement to the next round during the Chase. Although he probably would be happy to just get the win this weekend, there must be a part of Harvick’s personality that loves the drama. So, can he get it done this weekend? Last weekend was an all around bad showing for the entire Stewart-Haas Racing team and one would expect that not to happen two weeks in a row. They were just out to lunch at Martinsville. Harvick also won the most recent “cookie-cutter” track race at Kansas and finished tenth at Texas in April. So, yes he has a shot, a good shot. But, I expect him to win next week and capture a top ten this weekend.

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Dan Margetta

Dan Margetta

Dan Margetta

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