FORT WORTH, Texas (October 31, 2018) — The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will visit Texas Motor Speedway for the second time this season. But this time, a trip to the Championship 4 will be on the line when the green flag falls on Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 Round of 8 Playoff race (2 p.m. CT, TV: NBC Sports Network; Radio: SiriusXM, PRN and 95.9 FM The Ranch locally).
Here are “5 Things You Need To Know” about the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the AAA Texas 500 heading into this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway:
- SIX SHOOTERS: Six of the remaining eight playoff contenders dominate all Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers in top-10 finishes over the last five races at Texas Motor Speedway. They own all top six spots for most top 10s during that span, with Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick a perfect 5-for-5. Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have four each. Kyle Busch is sixth with three top 10s, but two of those were victories including April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
2. TRIPLE THREAT: Kurt Busch will look for his third consecutive pole award in Friday night’s Salute to Veterans Qualifying fueled by Texas Lottery. Busch set a new qualifying record (200.915 mph, 26.877 seconds) in last year’s AAA Texas 500 and followed that record-setting effort by winning the pole for April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. No Cup driver has ever won three poles in a row at Texas and only two others had previous captured consecutive poles (Bobby Labonte 2003-’04, Ryan Newman, 2005).
3. TRACK SWEEPER: Kyle Busch, who won April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, will be chasing a single-season Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series sweep at Texas Motor Speedway come Sunday’s AAA Texas 500. Only three drivers have accomplished the feat since Texas Motor Speedway added a fall race in 2005 and only one in the past seven years. Carl Edwards scored the first Cup sweep in 2008 and two years later Denny Hamlin equaled the feat. Jimmie Johnson became the most recent, sweeping in 2015. Busch has pulled the broom out at Texas on two other occasions, sweeping the Cup and Xfinity Series races in the spring of 2013 and ’16.
4. RUBBER MATCH: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series teams will compete on a new tire set-up this weekend that aims to promote natural tire wear and better overall racing. Goodyear Racing officials announced Tuesday that both series will compete on the right-side rubber that has been used previously at Michigan International Speedway. The move was made to foster traction fall-off on the 1.5-mile track’s relatively new surface, which was repaved and reconfigured in time for the 2017 racing season. Texas Motor Speedway also chipped in by continuing to run the TMS Tire Monster and Kentucky Tire Dragon on a daily basis since Oct. 24.
5. WINNING THE WAR: Martin Truex Jr. made it clear following last weekend’s race at Martinsville that he didn’t appreciate the way Joey Logano raced him for the win. And while Truex Jr. is certainly going to be focused on advancing to the Championship 4, things could get interesting should the No. 78 and 22 get side by side at some point at over 200 miles per hour on Sunday.
“We sure have had our opportunities to cash it in at Texas, but have not been able to close the deal there. If we can stay away from mistakes, accidents and continue to have fast pit stops we should be right there battling it out as one of the contenders. I think strategy at Texas all depends on how the cautions fall, what’s going on in the race and what kind of day the playoff drivers are having. I try not to worry about all the things on the outside, what people are talking about. All the noise. Just try to block it all out. I feel like that’s one of my strong suits as a driver and, hopefully, that will work in my favor again.” – Defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr.
- “BIG 3” VS. EVERYBODY
Winners of 16 of the first 21 races, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. earned the moniker “The Big 3.” And while the trio has cooled off lately, it wouldn’t be surprising to see all all three out front at some point of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.
The three have combined to lead 355 laps in the last two races, with Busch winning April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 and Harvick getting his first win at Texas in last year’s AAA Texas 500. Truex Jr., still searching for his first win in the Lone Star State, has led 363 laps and registered a pair of top-three finishes in his last five starts here.
“There’s a lot of respect amongst the three teams, but we all want to beat each other. Ultimately, that’s why we’re here. We want to win and I feel like the same passion lives in those garage stalls next to us and they like you, but they want to beat you. And a lot of times, you do whatever you have to do for your team to go out and do that and that’s what makes it fun. But there’s also a lot of respect there. In the end, we all want to beat each other, but is has been a lot of fun racing with those guys.” – Kevin Harvick on “The Big 3.”
With Joey Logano earning an automatic bid into the Championship 4 thanks to his win last weekend at Martinsville, “The Big 3” occupy the final three spots based purely on their championship points standing.
The points following Martinsville have Busch (+46), Truex Jr. (+25) and Harvick (+25), respectively, above the cutline. Below the cutline are Kurt Busch (-25), Chase Elliott (-31), Clint Bowyer (-42) and Aric Almirola (-50).
A victory by any of the above seven playoff contenders will provide them with an automatic berth in the Championship 4 title race at Homestead-Miami on Sunday, Nov. 18. It also would wrap up two of the four berths – with Logano having them other — and leaving six drivers vying for two positions to advance.
- THE CHASE IS ON
Although Chase Elliott finds himself sixth among the eight remaining drivers in the championship points standings, he still remains the only one among the group with multiple Playoff victories.
He won two of the three races in the previous Round of 12 (Dover, Kansas) and has a average Playoff finish of 12.3, third among all Playoff drivers. If the blemish of a 31st-place finish at Talladega due to an accident is taken out of the equation, his average Playoff finish improves to 9.6.
Texas Motor Speedway looks promising for Elliott to improve that average finish in this middle race of the Round of 8. He earned his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win at Texas Motor Speedway in 2014 and has four top-10 finishes in five Cup starts here, with a best showing of fourth in this event of his 2016 rookie year.
- TO THE VICTOR GO THE SPOILS
Even with all the playoff excitement and anticipation headed into Texas Motor Speedway, there are a pair of drivers that fell out of championship contention that boast some of the best driving resumes at this track. Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin could play the role of spoiler should history repeat itself this weekend.
Johnson, a seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion who was eliminated in the opening round of the Playoffs, currently is mired in a career-long winless streak of 56 races. He’s never gone a full season without winning since his full-time debut in 2002. So perhaps no one is looking more forward to Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 than Johnson, who owns a track-record seven Cup wins. He also holds the track records for career top 10s (21), top 5s (15) and laps led (1,041) in 30 starts.
Hamlin, who also was eliminated from Playoff competition in the opening round, has two career wins at the Fort Worth track. He became just the second driver at the time to complete a single-season Cup sweep, winning the spring and fall races in 2010. He also ranks fifth all-time at Texas with an average finishing position of 13.0. Like Johnson, he also is trying to end a winless streak that dates to Sept. 3, 2017, at Darlington.
- SHOW ME THE MONEY
In a concerted effort to attract new young fans to NASCAR, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have contributed $10,000 of their own money to host a “Kids Dash for Cash” presented by Mega Moto event beginning at 12:55 p.m. prior to Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race.
The money will be spread out in a defined area on the Turn 1 side of the infield ballfield with the children dashing around and collecting all the coins until they are all accounted for in that age group. To make it more interesting, Larson and Stenhouse Jr. will have large Sunoco fuel cans filled with 50-cent pieces and silver dollars from which they will sprinkle around the smaller coin denominations for each age group.
Any child 12 and under with a AAA Texas 500 ticket can sign up for the “Kids Dash for Cash” that will distribute $10,000 to 500 children across three age groups (3-4, 5-7 and 8-12. Parents can register their children through http://www.texasmotorspeedway.com/tickets/kyle-larson-ricky-stenhouse-jr-10-000-kids-dash-for-cash/
The event coincides with the ongoing kids’ initiative by Speedway Motorsports, Inc., the parent company of Texas Motor Speedway, of offering a 12-and-under children’s ticket to a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in any seating price range for just $10.
“This is pretty cool to team up with my good friend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Texas Motor Speedway to put on this event. I think it’s important to connect with the younger fans. We want to spread the word to other tracks and encourage them to continue to get kids out to the races. Getting kids to the race track will only help the sport in the future. We thought Texas would be a great place to start since Texas does everything BIG.” – Kyle Larson on Sunday’s pre-race Kids Dash for Cash event at Texas Motor Speedway.
- KEEPING GOOD COMPANY
In scoring his third victory of the season two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway, Chase Elliott joined a lengthy list of highly esteemed drivers that won the first three races of their career in the same season.
The list includes 26 drivers, headed by NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Glen Wood, who both earned their first three wins in the 1960 season. Fellow Hall of Famers David Pearson followed them with three victories in 1961 and Bobby Allison in 1966.
Cup champions Bobby Labonte (1995), Jimmie Johnson (2002) and Tony Stewart (1999) are on the list as are former Cup champ Kurt Busch (2002) and Carl Edwards (2005), who actually won their first four races in that season.
Jeff Burton (1997), the first one coming in the inaugural Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway that year, and Geoff Bodine (1984) also won their first three races in one season. For Bodine, his first win at Martinsville in 1984 also was the first ever for the legendary Hendrick Motorsports organization.
- GAS ’N GO
- Former World Wrestling Entertainment Superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin will narrate the opening montage for the AAA Texas 500 on NBC Sports Network on Sunday.
- The tripleheader weekend will truly be just that for one driver. Ross Chastain, who competes full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, will pull triple duty over the weekend, starting with the JAG Metals 350 on Friday night, O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 on Saturday afternoon and AAA Texas 500 on Sunday.
- Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 will be the final time that crew chief Chad Knaus will sit atop the box for Jimmie Johnson at Texas Motor Speedway. The two – which have shared a track-record seven Cup victories at this venue – will part ways at the end of the year. Knaus will be moving to the No. 24 team and crew chief for William Byron while Johnson will have Kevin Meendering on the No. 48 pit box in 2019.