SEVEN-TIME CUP CHAMP JOHNSON’S SILVER BULLET IN NASCAR PLAYOFFS COULD BE AAA TEXAS 500
FORT WORTH, Texas (November 1, 2017) – Seven-time and defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson may not be his dominant self in the NASCAR Playoffs, but don’t count him out just yet.
Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (1 p.m. CT, TV: NBC Sports Network, Radio: PRN, SiriusXM, 95.9 The Ranch locally) could easily fuel his pursuit of a record-breaking eighth Cup championship.
A win at Texas in the Round of 8 segment provides that automatic berth in the Championship 4 set for Sunday, Nov. 19, at Homestead-Miami Speedway and then it comes down to Johnson having to outperform three other drivers for another series crown. That is where he excels, but the difficult part is getting that berth right now.
Johnson has not registered a win since June at Dover and has not shown his usual flashes of brilliance since the post-season began in September.
Through seven playoff races, he has finished better than eighth just once (3rd at Dover). Heading into Texas, he finds himself below the cutline in fifth and Kyle Busch won at Martinsville to secure one of those four berths. He is behind locked-in Busch, 67 points behind standings leader Martin Truex Jr., 27 back of Brad Keselowski and three behind Kevin Harvick in the transfer spot.
But now he arrives at a track where he owns a record seven victories, including five of those coming in this annual fall playoff race. He won four in a row from 2012-15 before the streak ended with an 11th-place finish last year. He rebounded from that misstep by winning April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 on the newly repaved and reconfigured 1.5-mile oval.
How dominant has he been at Texas? In addition to his record number of wins, consider this in his 28 career starts:
- Ranks first for career average starting position (9.42)
- Ranks first for career average finishing position (8.1)
- Ranks first for career laps led (1,041)
- Ranks first for top-five finishes (15)
- Ranks first for top-10 finishes (21)
“Last weekend was such a bummer, we had such high hopes for Martinsville,” said Johnson, referring to his 12th-place finish. “We maintained points, but we are now in must-win situations. These next two weeks are going to be high pressure. We’ve had success at Texas in the past, but again, it’s must win.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series opens Friday with an 85-minute practice beginning at Noon CT followed by the Salute To Veterans Qualifying Days Fueled by Texas Lottery at 5:15 p.m.
Tickets are available for the AAA Texas 500 as well as Friday’s JAG Metals 350 Driving Hurricane Harvey Relief and Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com or by calling the speedway ticket office at 817.215.8500.
- ON THE SURFACE
Texas Motor Speedway repaved and reconfigured its 1.5-mile oval prior to April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 and the new surface proved challenging for all of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers.
So how did the current Round of 8 playoff contenders fare?
Five of the eight logged top-10 finishes led by Jimmie Johnson’s win. Kevin Harvick was fourth, Brad Keselowski sixth, Martin Truex Jr. eighth and Elliott ninth. Outside of the top 10 were Ryan Blaney (12th), Kyle Busch (15th) and Denny Hamlin (25th).
“Yeah, it’s a whole new deal with the repave,” said Busch, who has two NASCAR Cup Series wins at Texas. “It’s a part of our schedule; it’s a part of our sport. Five years from now, six years from now, it’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to that aspect of it. We struggled there in the spring, but I have heard the track has changed color a bit, so maybe the summer wore down the surface just a bit. Right out of the gate, going there, we’ll still be trying to put rubber down. It was slick, man. It was so treacherous, hard to get ahold of, hard to understand what you were feeling with your car because you would think you’re tight, that you’ve got all the grip in the world, that you’re going around the corner, and then, ‘Boom,’ it just busts loose right out from under you with no warning.”
- GOING TO BAT
NBC Sports will be showcasing the BatCam for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 Round of 8 NASCAR Playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.
The robotic camera system will soar from above Turn 2 and down the backstretch of Texas Motor Speedway on more than a quarter-mile of cable to catch all the playoff drama of the AAA Texas 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. The technology also will be used for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 XFINITY Series playoff race Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
The BatCam is truly the superhero of television cameras as the system, which houses a Panasonic AK-HC1500G HD box camera, can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about a second and reach speeds exceeding 100 mph.
Mike Wells, the director of the NBC NASCAR broadcasts, has used the lightning-fast camera to show stock cars exiting Turn 2 or turned the camera around and had it head toward the cars for another dramatic view. The stock cars will be in excess of 195 miles per hour on the Texas Motor Speedway backstretch.
“It goes 0-60 mph in about a second,” Wells said. “From a mechanical standpoint, I can’t go into detail about how it works, but it’s based on a ball-bearing system. It is connected to fiber and does not use an RF signal, like our cameras on pit road. The BatCam is hooked to fiber cable, and the picture is solid and spectacular.”
Texas Motor Speedway will be the fifth of only six tracks where the BatCam will be utilized this season. Beginning in July at Daytona when NBC Sports took over the coverage from FOX Sports, the BatCam also was used at Michigan, Charlotte and Talladega. It also will be featured during the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“As far as racing, this is groundbreaking because it’s never been done before” Wells said. “We want to show people how cool that pack racing is from a new vantage point.”
NBC Sports also will enhance its coverage with 10 robotic cameras around Texas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval.
- WORDS OF WISDOM
“Texas is a track where I really enjoy racing and where I’ve seen a lot of success in both the XFINITY and Truck Series. I’ve had Texas circled on the calendar as a place where we should run well and contend for a win. We didn’t have the best finish earlier this season at Texas, but as a team we’ve come a long ways since April and I think with a little luck, we can run up front and have a shot at the end in the Sport Clips Camry. I got my high school diploma at Texas a few years ago and my first win in the XFINTY Series, so Texas holds a lot of special memories for me and it would be cool to add my first Cup win to the list.” – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie Erik Jones on his connection with Texas Motor Speedway over the years.
- LOCKED AND LOADED
Kyle Busch is the one Round of 8 playoff contender who can run Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 and next week’s race at Phoenix without any trepidation. His win last week at Martinsville locked him into the Championship 4 race on Sunday, Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but his fellow competitors had better not expect him to be taking these two races lightly. He is strong at Texas with two wins (spring of 2013 and ’16) and 11 top-five finishes in 23 career Cup starts. His 15th-place finish in April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 snapped a streak of five consecutive top-five finishes at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I think the biggest thing we can do is to allow ourselves to look at the next two weeks and try to keep on winning and allowing the anxiety level of these guys to keep amplifying each and every stage and each and every race and to keep them on their toes as to whether they are going to advance or not,” said Busch, who won the series crown in 2015. “If they all have to race for points and race for positions, that’s just going to make it harder for them.
“Anytime anyone automatically punches their ticket through, that gives them a breather and an opportunity to work on Homestead and what you need to focus on for that race. We’ll just keep racing hard and try and keep winning the next two weeks even though the pressure is off and see what we can do at Homestead.”
Kevin Harvick arrives at Texas Motor Speedway for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 in the fourth and final playoff transfer position as the Round of 8 moves to the second of three races in the segment.
Harvick holds a slim three-point lead over fifth-place Jimmie Johnson as the Round of 8 will determine which four playoff drivers will advance to the Championship 4 to vie for the title on Sunday, Nov. 19, at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Interestingly, Texas Motor Speedway is one of three Cup tracks on the schedule that Harvick has yet to record a win, but the 2014 series champ arrives at the 1.5-mile oval with optimism.
In the last 10 races on 1.5-mile tracks, Harvick has scored the second-most points of any driver on the strength of nine top-10 finishes, including five among the top five. He also has led 748 laps, which also ranks second.
“Right now, our best tracks have been the 1.5-mile tracks,” Harvick said. “I feel like we are in contention to run with about anyone at those tracks and I think we’ve proven that as we’ve gone through the playoffs so far. I think Texas is a great opportunity for us to really get to Victory Lane, so (track president) Eddie Gossage will leave me alone about it, finally.
“If I had to pick one of the three to win in this round, I would have picked Texas, just so Eddie will get off my back about not having a win at Texas. It’d be great as a team and for myself personally to kind of cross that one off the list, so then I’d just have Kentucky and Pocono to worry about as far as tracks left to win at. Performance-wise, I think Phoenix is going to be good for us, but Texas leans toward our strong suit right now.”
Harvick arrives with a string of six consecutive top-10 finishes at Texas Motor Speedway, including four of those finishes among the top five. In his most recent visit during April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, he sat on the pole, led 77 laps and finished fourth. He also has had success in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series at the venue with five wins and two poles.
- BURGER RUN
Houston native David Starr has ordered a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series/XFINITY Series double at his home track this weekend.
Starr will drive the No. 99 Whataburger Chevrolet for SS Green Light in Saturday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 XFINITY Series race and the No. 66 Moore Freight Services Chevy for MBM Motorsports in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 Cup Series race.
“It’s really special to have the opportunity to run both races at my home track with longtime partner Whataburger and newcomer to the sport, Moore Freight Service. I couldn’t be more blessed,” Starr said. “I’m also pretty excited that Whataburger opened a location across from Texas Motor Speedway, it’s become a staple of mine and I’m sure the race fans will love it as well!”
- HALL PASS
Retiring Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame on Saturday in the Grand Ballroom of The Speedway Club. Earnhardt Jr. will become the 19th inductee into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame at the luncheon that benefits Speedway Children’s Charities-Texas. The event, which begins at 11:30 a.m., also will include the presentation of awards to Kyle Busch (TMS Racer of the Year), James Hinchcliffe (Sportsmanship) and Mike Helton (Bruton Smith Legend). Note-Media spots are available for this event by contacting Louis Mora at (817) 215-8500 or by visiting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Texas Motor Speedway will distribute bobbleheads of 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick to the first 30,000 fans attending Sunday’s AAA Texas 500. Harvick is the final bobblehead in the three-driver series for 2017, following fellow Stewart-Haas Racing driver Danica Patrick (April) and Verizon IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal (June). Last year, Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner and three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart was featured as a bobblehead.
- PACE CAR MAKES GAINES
Chip Gaines, who co-stars with his wife Joanna on HGTV’s hit television show Fixer Upper, will serve as the honorary pace car driver for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway. Gaines will lead a pack of 40 drivers, including the Round of 8 championship contenders, to the green flag in the official 2017 Chevrolet SS pace car in his role as the honorary pace car driver. Note-Gaines will be available to the media following his pace car practice at 8:30 a.m. CT Sunday on pit road.
- HOT DOG
George Shea, the master of ceremonies for the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest held in Coney Island, N.Y. on the Fourth of July, has been tabbed to introduce the Round of 8 playoff contenders during the pre-race activities for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
- TEXAS STRONG
NASCAR teams in all three national series will honor the state of Texas following the devastation from Hurricane Harvey with “Texas Strong” decals for all the race vehicles competing during the AAA Texas 500 race weekend. In the aftermath of the hurricane, NASCAR began an industry-wide drive for donations through its NASCAR Foundation. Donations through The NASCAR Foundation http://www.nascarfoundation.org provided truckloads of disaster relief supplies, such as bottled water, ready-to-eat food, hygiene items and more through the Foundation’s support of children and families being directly impacted by the storm.
- NEED FOR SPEED
Defending co-champions E.P. Rayzor and B.B. Owen, along with newcomer Marsalis, were perfect in Turn 1 of Texas Motor Speedway’s Speeding To Read competition with 100 percent of their elementary school students achieving their reading goals.
Lantana’s E.P. Rayzor (Denton ISD), The Colony’s B.B. Owen (Lewisville) and Dallas’ Marsalis (Dallas ISD) paced the program-record 21 Dallas/Fort Worth elementary schools and more than 12,000 students that are participating for the entire 2017-18 school year.
Seven schools overall had 90 percent or more of their entire student bodies reach the pre-set Turn 1 reading goals with the above trio being joined by Roanoke’s Hughes (Northwest ISD) at 99 percent, Fort Worth’s Diamond Hill (Fort Worth ISD) at 96 percent, The Colony’s Peters Colony (Lewisville ISD) at 95 percent and Flower Mound’s Vickery (Lewisville ISD) at 94 percent.
The schools combined to read 218,244 books in the five-week Turn 1 scoring period.
Diamond Hill swept the Turn 1 individual and classroom honors. Second grader Eliam Guardado was the top individual reader in the KG-2nd grade division with 765 books read. Third-grader Leonardo Garcia led the 3rd-5th grade division with 172 books read.
Lina Reyes’ second-grade class averaged 394 books per student as the top KG-2nd grade classroom and Vianey Lemus Martinez’s fourth-grade class led 3rd-5th with an average of 42 books read per student.
Guardado and Garcia earned prize packs that also included four tickets each to Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway. Each student in the winning classrooms earned two tickets each to Saturday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race as well as a cupcake or cookie party in their class courtesy of Levy Restaurants.
Since Speeding To Read began in 2011-12 with one pilot school, the program has impacted nearly 24,000 children from the 43 schools that competed in the first six years. Those students have combined to read nearly 3.7 million books in the program’s existence. Last year alone, the 10 schools and 5,049 students combined to read 678,887 books.
Texas Motor Speedway’s Speeding To Read program is supported by the following partners: Speedway Children’s Charities-Texas, NASCAR, Verizon IndyCar Series, Lionel Racing, Speedway World, Levy Restaurants, The Speedway Club, aai Trophies and Awards of Plano, Woolley’s Frozen Custard and Team Texas High Performance Driving School.
- TMS, JUNIOR NATION REFLECT ON EARNHARDT JR.’S CAREER