AAA TEXAS 500 NASCAR TRIPLEHEADER POST-WEEKEND NOTEBOOK

MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES – AAA TEXAS 500

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series AAA Texas 500
Kevin Harvick celebrates in Sunoco Victory Lane  after winning the AAA Texas 500.

Kevin Harvick took home his second consecutive silver cowboy hat trophy on Sunday, winning the AAA Texas 500 to advance to the Championship 4 for the fifth time in six years.

“We’ve been working day after day to make speed,” said Harvick, who has now won two of the last three races at TMS after an 0-for-29 drought. “This place has been really good to me. We finally knocked that barrier down.”

Harvick won the first two stages and the race, leading 177 of the 337 laps. It was the most laps led by a race winner at TMS since Jimmie Johnson led 191 laps en route to the win in the Nov. 2, 2014 AAA Texas 500.

He joins a list of nine drivers with multiple race wins at TMS:

Driver                                 Wins
Jimmie Johnson                  7

Carl Edwards*                    4
Kyle Busch                           3
Kevin Harvick                   2
Denny Hamlin                    2
Greg Biffle*                         2
Jeff Burton                          2
Tony Stewart                      2
Matt Kenseth                      2

*No longer active

“This place has been really good to me” said Harvick. “I’m glad we got the win again here.”

NEAR SPOILER

Ryan Blaney was eliminated from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs after the Round of 12. But that didn’t stop the 24-year-old driver from being a factor in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series AAA Texas 500
Ryan Blaney goes door-to-door with Kevin Harvick during the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday.

Blaney, whose 200.505 qualifying run was good enough to take the pole for Sunday’s playoff race, led 40 laps, including the first 32 of the race.

And while Blaney led seven laps late in the race, the No. 12 Team Penske Ford didn’t have enough to stay ahead of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Kevin Harvick during a pair of late restarts.

They were hard, they were challenging for sure. That was really the only shot we had to beat him, to be honest with you,” said Blaney, following the race. “I just couldn’t hold him off. He was really good.”

The runner-up finish was a career-best at TMS for Blaney, who now has back-to-back top-five finishes (he was fifth in April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500). But Blaney was racing for more than just pride on Sunday.

“We were second-best for sure, and that was a fun race,” said Blaney, “but I really wanted to win one for Dwayne Felkel and his family. He passed away earlier this week and was a fabricater in our show (at Team Penske). I wanted to win one for him and his family, but maybe we’ll get one for him (before the end of the season).”

DOWN TO TWO

Championship contenders who were relegated to postseason also-rans after being eliminated after the Round of 16, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin are down to just two more chances to keep their winning streaks alive. 

Johnson has won at least two races in every one of his previous 16 full-time seasons, while Hamlin has also won at least one race in his previous 12 full-time Monster Energy Series seasons.

After a 15th-place finish from Johnson and a 30th-place finish from Hamlin in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, that leaves only ISM Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. and Homestead-Miami Speedway in Miami, Fla., as the only tracks left to keep the streaks alive.

Johnson’s best chance might come at the track near Phoenix, where he’s won four times. Hamlin’s shot may be South Florida, where he’s been to victory lane twice.

THAT JONES BOY LIKES TEXASMonster Energy NASCAR Cup Series AAA Texas 500While Erik Jones has been racing for pride since being eliminated from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in the Round of 16, his fourth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday isn’t much of a surprise.

Jones swept both NASCAR Xfinity Series races here in 2017 and earned a fourth-place finish in April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. 

All told, Jones now has three top-10 finishes in five Cup starts at the track and has led 64 laps. It was also his fourth top-10 in his last five races this season.

“Texas is a good place and I’ve always been a pretty big fan of the race track and the area,’’ said Jones, who drives the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. “I always look forward to (coming here). We’ve had a lot of success at Texas in Truck and Xfinity, and in Cup as well we’ve ran really well.”


NASCAR XFINITY SERIES – O’REILLY AUTO PARTS 300

With his dramatic last-lap pass of Tyler Reddick in Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, Cole Custer became the first full-time Xfinity Series driver to win a race in the series at Texas Motor Speedway since Chase Elliott in the spring of 2014.

This was the first year that NASCAR enforced its new rule regarding the participation of higher-level drivers competing in lower series during the playoffs.

Custer’s 16 laps led were also the fewest by an Xfinity Series race winner since Trevor Bayne led only six laps led on Nov. 5, 2011. It was the first-career win for Custer at Texas Motor Speedway and just the second overall in 69 career Xfinity Series starts.

“We haven’t won all year but we have been so close. It starts to frustrate you,” Custer said. “We kept going and this is a perfect time to do it.”

The win locks Custer into the Championship 4. He is the only driver to earn an automatic berth into the season finale with just one race remaining.

BELL SPINNING DOWN THE STANDINGS

Christopher Bell started from the pole on Saturday, but it didn’t take long for the Xfinity Series wins leader to lose his spot.NASCAR Xfinity Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 300Bell spun out in Turn 2 on the opening lap and fought his way back to the front in the middle of the race. But another late skid sent Bell’s No. 20 Toyota to the garage and into serious jeopardy of missing the cut for the Championship 4 in two weeks.

“I don’t know if it’s the tire combination or what,” said Bell, who has now finished 37th and 32nd in his last two races. “It caught me off-guard at the start of the race. I didn’t feel I was up to speed and all of a sudden I spun out.”

Bell, who came to Texas ranked fourth in points, leaves the Lone Star State in seventh. With 34 points separating he and Daniel Hemric from the final transfer spot, Bell – winner of a series-high six races this year – heads to Arizona in a must-win situation.

TWO TITLES FOR TYLER?

With his runner-up finish in Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, Tyler Reddick is nearly a lock to advance to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami. He is also the favorite to take home the Rookie of the Year title.

For most of the season, Christopher Bell has run away with the NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings lead, but back-to-back sub-par finishes for Bell at Kansas and Texas has JR Motorsport’s Tyler Reddick now sitting comfortably on top by 42 points.

Reddick, who announced earlier last week that he’d be moving to Richard Childress Racing in 2019,  has six top fives and 18 top 10s. He has also produced an average finish of 13.5 and has finished in the top 10 in four of the five races this postseason.

THROW THE YELLOW

The O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 featured an Xfinity Series track record 13 cautions, breaking the previous mark of 10 set on March 29, 2003.

The 13 cautions also tied the 2014 Cup Series AAA Texas 500 for the most single race yellow flags in any of NASCAR’s three national series run at Texas Motor Speedway.


NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES – JAG METALS 350

Justin Haley‘s third win of the season locked him into the Championship 4. He joins Johnny Sauter, who saw his two-race winning streak at Texas Motor Speedway come to an end on Friday night. Sauter earned an automatic berth last week with a win at Martinsville Speedway (Va.).

But the win might have more implications than Haley realizes. Recent history has shown that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship goes through the Lone Star State.

The most recent four seasons, each of the drivers who eventually won the series title found their way to Sunoco Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway that year.

Matt Crafton won the summer race in 2014
Erik Jones the fall race in 2015
Johnny Sauter also won in the fall in 2016
Christopher Bell won the summer race in 2017
Todd Bodine* won the summer race in 2006 and 2010
Jack Sprague* won the summer race in 2001
Greg Biffle* won the summer race in 2000

*Prior to the playoff format 

NEWBIES AT TEXAS

Six drivers made their NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debuts at Texas Motor Speedway in Friday night’s JAG Metals 350, including Cory Roper, Codie Rohrbaugh, Tanner Thorson, Brennan Poole and Harrison Burton.

Burton, the son of 21-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race winner Jeff Burton, was the top overall finisher with a sixth-place finish. Poole, a native of The Woodlands, Texas, was next on the list, placing 15th.

Rohrbaugh, Thorson and Roper finished 17th, 21st and 28th, respectively.

BAD LUCK POLE

Winning the pole in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series hasn’t led to many successful finishes when it comes to Texas Motor Speedway.

Justin Haley became the 23rd consecutive driver to win a Truck Series race from outside the pole position.

Johnny Sauter, who earned just the fourth pole of his career, was trying to become the first driver to win a race from the pole since Todd Bodine in the summer of 2007. But Sauter, who was trying to win at TMS for the fourth time in the last five races, finished 11th.

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