Mash The Gas: NASCAR Playoffs At Texas Motor Speedway

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers race into the night under the lights at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. [Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images]

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers race into the night under the lights at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. [Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images]

by John Wiedemann

On to Texas. That was the sentiment of Chase Elliott after an extremely disappointing end to the race at Martinsville, and pretty much the thoughts of everyone in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, with the exception of Kyle Busch.

AAA Texas 500
Texas Motor Speedway
501 miles (334 laps)
Sunday, Nov. 5
2 p.m. ET
NBCSN, 1:30 p.m. ET
PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Stage 1 (Ends on lap 85)
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 170)
Final Stage (Ends on lap 334)
The AAA Texas 500 on Sunday at the Texas Motor Speedway is the second of three races in the Round of 8 as the playoffs look to set the final four drivers to run for the Championship at Homestead. The 1.5 mile oval speedway is a familiar layout for the drivers and should be a big benefit to the Toyota drivers who have excelled on the intermediate ovals and maybe a problem for the Fords who have not.

With only two shots left to grab a “golden ticket” automatic spot in the playoff finale, we may see the drama from Martinsville carry over to Texas this weekend. Right now the points are tight at the cutoff spot, but as we saw last weekend, the point standings can change in an instant.

Kyle Busch (In the Championship Round)
Kyle Busch is the only one safe after a late race move to take the win at Martinsville and secure a spot in the Final 4. Busch and his team can now prepare for Homestead and not worry about the next two races. But, as Busch explained in a post race interview, winning at Texas or Phoenix can help increase the pressure on the other competitors and not allow them the comfort that he has right now. So, don’t expect Busch to cruise around mid-pack and not care about where he finishes. In fact, a Kyle Busch with nothing to race for but the win just maybe a more difficult competitor than one who has to worry about points. And, you know how much Kyle loves to win.

Martin Truex Jr. (67 points above cutoff, +15 from last week)
While Martin Truex is pretty safe after adding another 15 points to his lead in the standings, most of us thought Kyle Larson was pretty safe to make the championship round. Truex returns to the type of track he has excelled at the last two seasons, the mile and a half.

Jimmie Johnson (3 points below cutoff, -3)
Jimmie Johnson was supposed to be the king at Martinsville, but instead, he was just one of the crowd and dropped three points in the standings. Texas is another track that Johnson is “pretty good” at. “Pretty good” meaning that Johnson has the all-time track records for wins (7), top fives (15) and top 10s (21). And some of that is recent with Johnson winning the spring race this season and four of the last six races at the Texas Motor Speedway. This is the track that Johnson can make up some of the lost ground and get into the top four. Of course, most people expected that to happen last weekend at Martinsville.

Ryan Blaney (6 points below cutoff, +2)
Last weekend wasn’t bad for Ryan Blaney and the Wood Brothers. Running in the top ten most of the day, Blaney was able to gain two points and get a bit closer to the top four in the playoff standings. This weekend should be another chance for the young driver to gain some ground. In the spring race at Texas Blaney captured the first two stage wins while leading a race-high 148 laps. Blaney is on a good roll right now and needs to continue that at Texas. His third place finish at Kansas shows that the mile and a half track program is working good. Look for a solid run this weekend.

Chase Elliott (26 points below cutoff, -15)
Chase Elliott got the raw end of the deal at Martinsville and it will be interesting to see how he responds at Texas. Texas Motor Speedway has been a good track for him, arguably better than Martinsville where he almost won. In the three starts, he’s placed fifth (spring 2016), fourth (fall 2016) and ninth (spring 2017). Among active Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers at Texas, Elliott ranks first in average finish (6.0), second average running position (9.6) and fourth in driver rating (98.3). This will be a good test for the young driver and I expect that he will do well this weekend.

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