FORT WORTH, Texas — The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes its first of two stops this season at Texas Motor Speedway with Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 (12:30 p.m. CT, TV: FOX, Radio: PRN, SiriusXM Channel 90 and 95.9 FM The Ranch locally).
Here are “5 Things You Need To Know” about the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 heading into this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
- NEW-LOOK TEXAS: What will be the result of Texas Motor Speedway’s off-season repave and re-profiling project that consisted of reducing the banking from 24 to 20 degrees and expanding the racing surface from 60 to 80 feet in Turns 1 & 2. Teams and drivers will get their first look at it Friday at 11 a.m. CT when the first practice session begins. NASCAR has added an extra hour of practice Friday for teams to get used to the new configuration.
- NO REPEAT: Since Texas Motor Speedway began hosting two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races beginning in 2005, no driver has successfully defended the title of this race. That contradicts results in the fall’s AAA Texas 500 where Jimmie Johnson won four consecutive times from 2012-15.
- LOOKING FOR THREE: Jimmie Johnson holds the all-time MENCS victory mark at Texas Motor Speedway with six and Carl Edwards was second with four. Edwards has since retired and now there are only three active drivers that have two MENCS wins at TMS – Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth.
- POWER OUTAGE: Through the first six races of the season, two of the perennial powerhouse teams are without a victory – Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing. The drought could end here for either as the two organizations have combined to win eight of the last nine Cup races at Texas. Hendrick has won five of those, but JGR is coming off a sweep last year with Busch winning this event and Edwards winning November’s AAA Texas 500.
- O, O, O, O’REILLY: This race has been re-titled the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, which was formerly the Duck Commander 500 for the past three years. O’Reilly Auto Parts and Texas Motor Speedway signed a multi-year agreement in May of 2016 for the national automotive aftermarket retailing leader to serve as the race entitlement sponsor. The agreement is O’Reilly Auto Parts initial race sponsorship venture on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level at Texas Motor Speedway, but the company boasts an expansive NASCAR race entitlement portfolio at this venue. Beginning with the O’Reilly 300 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in the fall of 1999, O’Reilly Auto Parts has been the title sponsor of six truck series races (1999-2004) and 27 XFINITY Series races (2002 through ‘16 season) at TMS. They will continue to sponsor the NASCAR XFINITY Series fall race at the track.
FIVE SPOT: Brad Keselowski is on a roll. He has had five top-five finishes in the first six races, including wins at Atlanta and last week at Martinsville. Even with all that success, he still trails points leader Kyle Larson by 34 points heading into this weekend’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. Keselowski is the only two-time winner this season, but if he wants to make it three in 2017 he is going to have to do something he has never done – win at Texas Motor Speedway. He came agonizingly close in the fall of 2015 when he led 312 of 334 laps only to finish runner-up to Jimmie Johnson. He has started in the top four in five of the last seven races at Texas Motor Speedway, including being the polesitter before that best finish in 2015. After a stretch of six top-10s in seven Cup races at TMS, the run was broken last year when he finished 18th in the spring and 14th in the fall.
OFF TARGET: After four consecutive finishes in the top two, including a victory at Fontana two weeks ago, Kyle Larson logged his worst finish of the year with a 17th last week at Martinsville. His Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points lead over Chase Elliott, who finished third, was trimmed from 29 points to just four. He arrives at Texas looking for his first top-10 Cup showing since 2014, but does carry the momentum of winning the XFINITY Series race there in November.
THE CHASE IS ON: Chase Elliott is doing his best to track down Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader Kyle Larson, who is now just four points ahead of the 21-year-old. Just as Larson has, Elliott is off to a hot start in 2017. He has four top-10 finishes, won the pole at Daytona and comes into the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 after tying his season-best finish of third at Martinsville. He also leads the Total Stage Points list with 79 and is one of only three drivers to have at least two stage wins this season (Martin Truex Jr. – 4, and Kevin Harvick – 3 are the others). He has proven to be at the top of his game when it comes to racing at Texas. He has two MENCS starts at TMS and finished fifth last spring and fourth in the fall. And remember, he won his first career XFINITY Series race at Texas in the spring of 2014.
THIS WEEK’S VIDEO: Jimmie Johnson on Texas Motor Speedway’s repave and re-profiling project.
POLE CLIMBERS: While three drivers will be looking for their third MENCS win at Texas Motor Speedway, there also will be only three drivers searching to register their third pole at the 1.5-mile facility. There are currently seven drivers that have won the pole for a Cup series race but only these three – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman and Martin Truex, Jr. – will have the chance to take the lead all by themselves.
SPINNING THEIR WHEELS: With the Texas repave and re-profiling being completed in early-March, Goodyear opted to not conduct a tire test at the facility and then build the quantities needed for this race weekend. Given the commonality of the asphalt mix, along with the results of the Kentucky race last July, the decision was made to bring a tire set-up with the same tread compounds as raced at Kentucky.
Teams in both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series will run the same tire set-up at Texas this weekend. This is the same left-side tire code (D-4688) teams in all three national NASCAR series ran at Kentucky in 2016. This is a brand new right-side tire code (D-4718), which features the same tread compound as the right-side Cup teams ran at Kentucky last July, with a minor construction change. As on all NASCAR ovals greater than one mile in length, teams are required to run liners in all four tire positions at Texas.
MILESTONE FOR TEAM PENSKE: A few weeks ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his 600th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start at Fontana and last week another icon of the sport surpassed a milestone. The race at Martinsville was Team Penske’s 1,000th NASCAR start and it was fitting that the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford driven by Brad Keselowski, was in Victory Lane after the race to truly ring in the massive milestone. Remember Roger Penske won the Verizon IndyCar Series title last year with Simon Pagenaud last September. Could he follow that with a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title this year? It could happen based on how Keselowski and Joey Logano are running thus far. Keseslowski is the only driver with two wins on the season and his car his fourth in the owners standings, 34 down to the No. 42 of Chip Gannasi Racing driven by Kyle Larson. Logano’s No. 22 is 27 points behind Keselwoski in fifth.
LONGEST TIME: There are six drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series that have made at least 20 starts without a win at Texas. They are Kevin Harvick (28), Jamie McMurray (26), Martin Truex Jr. (23), Clint Bowyer (22), Paul Menard (21) and David Ragan (20).
TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY TRACK RENOVATION BY THE NUMBERS
20 – Degree of banking in Turns 1 & 2 after re-profiling
24 – Degree of banking in Turns 3 & 4
80 – Width of racing surface in Turns 1 & 2 that was expanded from 60 feet
800 – Truckloads of asphalt delivered to TMS for repave
3,000 – Feet of tire packs added to inner wall areas that did not have safer barrier
10,000 – Tires used on inner walls for energy-absorbing barriers
10,500 – Tons of stone used for fill for re-profiling of Turns 1 & 2
19,982 – Tons of asphalt used to repave the 1.5-mile oval and pit lane
24,000 – Linear feet of drainage tile and ditches for enhanced French drainage system
Source: Texas Motor Speedway
DOWN AND DIRTY: Three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart will be joined by NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Christopher Bell, former NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace, three-time World of Outlaws Champion Slammin’ Sammy Swindell and WoO legend Danny “The Dude” Lasoski for the Tony Stewart’s Texas Sprint Car Nationals Presented by Machinery Auctioneers event Friday and Saturday evening at the Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track.
FANDANGO RETURNS: Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage and Kyle Petty will co-host the FANDANGO fan event beginning at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the frontstretch grandstands. FANDANGO is a raucous, entertaining, talk-show style event that will feature special appearances by Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer during the 90-minute show that also includes the guests racing office chairs powered by fire extinguishers and fan giveaways. FANDANGO is free for season ticket holders and just $10 at the gate for the general public.
BLOG RETURNS: The Texas Motor Speedway website and mobile app will feature the “What’s Trending At The O’Reilly Auto Parts 500” blog during race weekend. Beginning Thursday through Sunday, the blog will provide up-to-the-minute updates and stories from on-track action and off-track activities. The blog will feature veteran motorsports writer John Sturbin throughout the weekend. Visit http://www.texasmotorspeedway.com or download the app to stay on top of all the weekend activities.