Mash The Gas: Texas Preview

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 Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

Everything is bigger in Texas including the huge wave of momentum the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rides into the Texas Motor Speedway for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 following the fireworks at Martinsville a week ago.

AAA Texas 500
Texas Motor Speedway
501 miles (334 laps)
Sunday, Nov. 8
2 p.m. (ET)
NBC, 1:30 p.m. (ET)
PRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
There are only two more chances left for the remaining Chase drivers to secure their spot in the Homestead finale so finding victory lane is at a premium this weekend. The AAA Texas 500 is the tenth of eleven races contested on 1.5 mile oval tracks and so far this season the Chevrolets, Toyotas, and lately the Fords have all taken turns scoring wins.

It should make for good competition this weekend and Series officials will be keeping a watchful eye over the on track action after Matt Kenseth delivered the ‘shot heard ‘round the NASCAR world’ on Joey Logano last week.

It may not be the ‘Wild, Wild, West’ anymore but the Chase intensity hasn’t gone away and with the Sprint Cup Final in sight, dust-ups are still likely to occur as the pressure to advance becomes greater. Here are some drivers and storylines to keep an eye on Sunday in the AAA Texas 500 from the Texas Motor Speedway…

Chase Grid Points Ahead/Behind Cutoff
1 Jeff Gordon 4,047 (in the final)
2 Kyle Busch 4,039 +9
3 Martin Truex Jr. 4,039 +9
4 Kevin Harvick 4,037 +7
— cut off —
5 Carl Edwards 4,030 -7
6 Brad Keselowski 4,013 -24
7 Kurt Busch 4,011 -26
8 Joey Logano 4,009 -28

Joey Logano (Dan Margetta)
It’s time to see just how good Joey Logano and the #22 team are this season. After brashly knocking Matt Kenseth out of the Chase in the closing stages at Kansas, Kenseth effectively returned the favor at Martinsville and now Logano finds himself in the same boat, needing a win to advance. Joey Logano is plenty capable of getting right back in the championship hunt as he has won the last two events held on 1.5 mile tracks and was fourth here at Texas in April. He already owns a Texas victory to go along with five top five finishes and sits at 5-1 odds to win heading into the AAA Texas 500. Plus as he makes his 250th Sprint Cup Series start, Logano should have a chip on his shoulder bent on proving to everyone he is down but not out. This is Joey Logano’s best shot to secure the needed victory to propel him into the final four at Homestead.

Carl Edwards (John Wiedemann)
This is the time and track for Carl Edwards to make a splash and lock himself into the Chase Finale with a win at Texas. Just like the position Jeff Gordon was in last weekend, Edwards is one of the statistically top drivers in the race this weekend and Texas is one of his best tracks. Edwards has three wins at Texas which is the most amongst his Chase competitors and also has the second best driver ranking at Texas in the Eliminator 8, just behind his teammate Kyle Busch. Edwards scored a top ten at Texas in the spring, his first top ten finish when he struggled with a slow start to the season. Since that race he has been running much better and more consistent with a finish no lower than 15th since the beginning of July and 12 top tens in those 16 races. Besides his teammates (Busch, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones), Edwards will need to watch out for Chase spoilers like Jimmie Johnson, but my pick is for Edwards to be completing a celebratory backflip after the checkers wave at Texas.

Kevin Harvick (DM)
After barely sliding by in the first two Chase rounds, Kevin Harvick enters Texas in fourth place in the championship standings, the final cut-off spot. Earlier this season, Harvick was the driver to beat on the 1.5 mile tracks and while he only secured a win at Las Vegas, he led the most laps in many of the other races. A win this weekend at Texas would send Harvick into the finals without having to rely on his old standby at Phoenix next week. Still seeking his first Texas victory, Harvick has 13 top ten finishes and was a strong second to Jimmie Johnson in the April race here. It’s enough for the Vegas odds makers to label him as the favorite this week at 5-2 odds to win. Harvick may need that victory more than he realizes as I don’t expect many drivers to cut him any slack over the next two weeks as his move that triggered the multi-car crash at the end of the Talladega race still weighs on their minds.

Brad Keselowski (JW)
Somewhat forgotten in the dust-up between Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano was the fact that Brad Keselowski was knocked down at Martinsville as well. The wreck involving himself and Kenseth left Keselowski 24 points out of the cutoff for the Chase and possibly on the outside looking in when the series hits Homestead for the finale. 24 points are a lot to make up and leap over two drivers in two races. A win at Texas or Phoenix just may be Keselowski’s only hope. A fifth place finish at Texas after qualifying third in the spring race are signs of hope for Bad Brad, but he has yet to find victory lane after fourteen races at Texas. Phoenix should be a better chance for Keselowski to do well, but there is no time to wait. Keselowski needs a great finish this weekend.

Kyle Busch (DM)
Kyle Busch is the farthest along he has ever been in Chase competition as he enters Texas second in the points with a slim but not comfortable points cushion to advance to the next round. He has already scored a 1.5 mile track victory this season at Kentucky but did not race here in April due to injuries. Busch’s Texas record includes one victory to go with eight top fives and nine top tens and he is listed at 6-1 odds to win on Sunday. Kyle Busch owns the third best driver rating at Texas and he knows all too well a victory this weekend would give him his first shot at a Sprint Cup championship. The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas were dominant on the 1.5 mile tracks as the Chase began so Busch should have a fast ride, only now the Penske Fords and even the Stewart-Haas Chevrolets have seemed to have caught up. That leaves it up to the driver’s skill to make the difference and Kyle Busch is one of the best wheelmen out there. Don’t forget about him on Sunday.

Kurt Busch (JW)
Kurt Busch started on the pole for the April race in Texas and led 45 laps early before falling back and eventually finishing 14th. This weekend’s results will need to be much better as Busch finds himself in a deep hole through no fault of his own. With his car ending up as collateral damage in the Matt Kenseth/Brad Keselowski wreck at Martinsville, Busch saw a top five/ten finish disappear and now has a huge 26 point deficit from the Chase cutoff. Busch has a win and thirteen top ten finishes in twenty-five races at Texas and is needing to up the win total by one this weekend. Typically for Kurt, his results in the fall Texas race are better than the spring, so that could be good news heading into this race. Busch is still having the best year of his career and should have the tools to get the job done this weekend. The pressure is ratcheted up high this weekend and we will see how Busch deals with it.

Martin Truex Jr. (DM)
In one of the best underdog stories of the season, Furniture Row Racing, the single car team from Colorado, and Martin Truex Jr. are on the verge of competing for their first championship. Truex enters the Texas race in third place in the point standings and needs solid runs the next two weeks to advance to the Homestead final. The team has ran strong all season and has been in the mix on the 1.5 miles tracks as well and Truex has nine top ten finishes at Texas while still seeking his first Lone Star State victory. He’s listed at 12-1 odds this week and should have plenty of muscle behind him to stay with the lead pack. Together with first year crew chief Cole Pearn, Martin Truex Jr. has enjoyed the best season of his career and a solid run on Sunday puts them one step closer to the Sprint Cup, something the Vegas odds makers set at 60-1 odds as the season began.

Spoilers and Rookies (JW)
One of the top spoilers to watch this weekend is Jimmie Johnson. A roller coaster season has left him knocked out of the Chase at this point, but statistically there is no better driver at Texas than Johnson with five wins at the track. Could he take away a ticket to the Chase with a win? Well, he did it last season. Also, the future is now with drivers like Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones in the race this weekend. Blaney has shown all season that he is Cup ready with great runs in the Wood Brothers Ford and it would be awesome to see them get sponsorship to run an entire season in 2016. Jones is set to make his second Cup start after filling in for Kyle Busch earlier this season at Kansas. A winner in his first Xfinity Series race at Texas in June, Jones now readies for his first Sprint Cup Series race at Texas. In the meantime, Jones looks to continue his points lead in the Camping World Truck Series at Texas on Friday night.

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