Leave the car at home this weekend, hop on your trusty steed and ride out west because NASCAR is riding into the Lonestar State.
This week, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Fort Worth, Texas for the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. It will be the 34th race of the season, eighth of the Chase and second of the Eliminator Round.
I’m just going to say this up front. If you expect to see a good race at Texas, don’t. Speaking only for myself, Texas is near the bottom of my list of favorite tracks. I’ve seen very few races that could pass as good here. I’ve seen so much nothing here over the years that I’ve set my expectations for Texas at zero. The aero package we used this year didn’t make it any better.
The only thing that gives me hope that this will be worth watching is that it’s the middle race of this round. As we’ve seen the last two years, the middle race of the Challenger, Contender and Eliminator Rounds have the biggest water-cooler moments.
New Hampshire last year had the second half wreck fest, Charlotte had the hauler scuffle between Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski and Texas had the pit road brawl involving Jeff Gordon and his crew fighting Keselowski and his crew.
This season we saw Kevin Harvick dominate Loudon before running out of gas with two laps to go and needing to win Dover to advance and then we had Joey Logano turning Kenseth to win Kansas.
Each race of this year’s Chase has given us moments to talk about for days (be it good or bad) and that alone gives me hope that Texas will be watchable.
Kevin Harvick enters the weekend at 9/2 as the odds-on favorite (Vegas Insider). While he’s been dominant this season, his stats at Texas are hit or miss. He’s finished in the top-10 in 52 percent of his 25 starts, has 13 top-10 finishes in 25 starts, but he has only finished in the top-five in 20 percent of his starts (five top-five finishes in 25 starts). He’s also only led 104 laps at Texas in his career and until this past April, he never led more than two laps in a single race. In his last two starts at Texas, Harvick has finished runner-up in both and led 96 laps when NASCAR was last in Denton County, Texas. Expect to see the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet to be up front on Sunday.
Next is the 5/1 driver that’s been on the biggest hot streak as of late, Joseph Tomas Logano. His stats at Texas technically aren’t stellar (only five top-five and five top-10 finishes in 14 starts) but his five races at Texas with Team Penske have been among his best of any track. In his last five races, he’s finished fifth, third, first, 12th and fourth. That’s an average finish of fifth. While he’s only led 159 laps at Texas, 129 of those were in the last five races. In the nine intermediate races this season, Logano has a 5.1 average finish. With a 37-point hole to dig out of and Phoenix being Harvick’s playground, expect the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford to race like hell for the checkered flag Sunday.
Next at 6/1 is Brad Keselowski. Like Logano, his career stats at Texas aren’t great. With only five top-10 finishes and three top-five finishes, you might be quick to write him off. However, in his last five starts, he’s finished ninth, sixth, 15th, third and fifth. That’s a 7.3 average finish. He’s led 273 laps in his career, 164 in the last four races. While he’s not toward the top of my picks to win, I’d expect to see him near the front Sunday.
Finally, we come to the driver who’s both 6/1 and the all-time wins leader at Texas Motor Speedway. His name is Jimmie Kenneth Johnson. In 24 starts, he’s finished in the top-five in half of his starts and 75 percent in the top-10. In the last seven races, he’s finished second, first, sixth, first, 25th, first and first. He’s also won the last three fall races at Texas, and in pretty dominant fashion. In the five races he led a lap in, he led no fewer than 128 laps. His laps led total in each race has been 156, 168, zero, 255, zero, 191 and 128. That’s an average of 128 laps. I know Johnson hasn’t been up front much since winning at Dover in May and he’s only led 41 laps since Daytona in July, but my money is on the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to continue his streak of being the only driver to have won at least one Chase race every year.
To find out who’ll fire off the six-shooters in victory lane, tune into the AAA Texas 500 Sunday at 2:00 p.m. on NBC. The radio broadcast can be heard on the Performance Racing Network and Sirius XM radio (subscription required). You’ll hear Doug Rice, Mark Garrow and Wendy Venturini in the booth, Rob Albright and Pat Patterson in the turns and Brad Gillie, Brett McMillan, Jim Noble and Steve Richards on pit road. The lineup is always subject to change.