The AAA Texas 500 today at Texas Motor Speedway may lock up another playoff spot for a driver in the Round of 8. At the very least it will make crystal clear what each competitor must do to earn one of the 3 remaining positions in the Championship 4.
Currently, only Joey Logano(22) is safe. His win, last week at Martinsville, locked up the first Playoff Final entry. Kyle Busch(18), 46 points above the cut line looks safe and could clinch on points based on the finishing order today. Kevin Harvick(4) and Martin Truex Jr.(78) both sit 25 points above the cut line. Provided they both have solid runs it will be difficult for any of the remaining 4 to close the point gap significantly.
|Position||Car||Driver||Points vs Cut Line|
|1||22||Joey Logano||In With Win|
|3||78||Martin Truex Jr.||+25|
The 4 remaining drivers each need a win to move forward. Sweeping stages and a top 5 finish might pull one of the drivers close. That would certainly add some drama to Phoenix next week.
The AAA Texas 500 is made up of 334 laps around the 1.5 mile Texas Motor Speedway. Stages lengths are 85 laps for Stage 1 and 2. The final stage runs for 164 laps. Ryan Blaney(12) won the pole with a speed 200.505 mph. Clint Bowyer(14) starts beside Blaney on the front row. With Bowyer’s Stewart-Haas teammates Kevin Harvick(4) right behind him on the 2nd row.
Chase Elliott(9) was the slowest of the playoff contenders, qualifying in 16th. Martin Treux Jr.(78) qualified 13th but will move to the rear of the field after an engine change Sunday morning.
Truex Jr. started 33rd last week at Martinsville. He drove to the front and led the race at the white flag. Logano bumped Truex Jr. out of the way in Turn 4 and passed him to take the win. All eyes will be on the pair today to see if retaliation affects the outcome.
Bowyer drove down into Turn 1 and complained his car was pushing badly. His inability to turn left forced him up the race track where he made contact with Denny Hamlin(11). Somehow both driver’s avoided wrecking. But, 10 laps in their cars were on pit road to replace tires damaged in the incident. The pit stop cost each driver 2 laps to the field. Critical for Bowyer’s hopes of advancing in the playoffs.
NASCAR scheduled a competition caution for Lap 30. Heavy rains last night at the track washed all the rubber off the racing surface. The stop will allow crews to change tires and check wear patterns.
Blaney led the first 32 laps until cars entered pit road for the competition caution. He opted to change 4 tires and came out in 6th position. Harvick, Kurt Busch(41), Erik Jones(20), Ricky Stenhouse Jr(17), and Truex Jr. all changed 2 tires and beat Blaney out of the pits. Kyle Busch was caught for speeding on pit road. Forcing him to restart from the rear of the field.
Harvick took the lead on the restart and held on to the top spot to win Stage 1.
Stage 1 Results
Harvick held his advantage exiting pit road first. He was followed by Kurt Busch, Jones, Logano, and Blaney. Kurt Busch made a strong run for the lead into Turn 1 and down the backstretch. Harvick held off the charge. Ultimately, Logano snuck past Busch to take over 2nd. Green flag racing did not last long as Jimmie Johnson(48) and William Byron(24) made contact. Byron ending up sliding down the banking of Turns 3 & 4. Johnson saved his car but took some damage from Byron on his rear bumper.
Harvick starting on the inside again fended off a challenge for the lead. This time from Logano. The bottom line proving to be the advantage in restart battles for the lead. Harvick, Logano, and Kurt Busch led the way until leader green flag pit stops started at Lap 133.
Pit Stop Issues
Kyle Busch developed a vibration after his pit stop. He returned to pit road fearing a loose tire. After the 2nd stop, Busch returned to the track 2 laps down. Truex Jr. also complained of a vibration but he opted to stay on the track. Logano waited until the last minute to pit, hoping to catch some of the contenders a lap down. He finally pitted on Lap 153.
When pit stops cycled through, Harvick was back on top. Blaney and Truex ran 2nd and 3rd. That is the way Stage 2 ended.
Stage 2 Results
The Final Stage
After pit stops during the stage ending caution, Logano returned to the track with the lead. Logano’s Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski(2) restarts beside him. Surprisingly, Logano chose to start in the outside lane. That proved to be a bad decision as Keselowski used the preferred line to capture the top spot.
As drivers swapped spots on the restart, the front pack following Keselowski settled in. Blaney took 2nd, Logano was 3rd, Kurt Busch was 4th, and Harvick 5th. Playoff drivers Truex Jr. and Almirola ran 6th and 7th. Elliott ran 12th and Kyle Busch 17th. With 130 laps to go there were 22 cars on the lead lap. Playoff contender Bowyer, after 1st lap trouble, ran in 29th, 3 laps down.
Trouble for Kyle Busch
After the trouble with the loose wheel, Kyle Busch stayed out on the track during the stage ending caution to take the wave around. While it got Busch back on the lead lap he had to stop early in the final stage for fuel. That stop put him off cycle with the leaders and left him 2 laps down. If a caution occurs before leader pit stops it could be devastating for Kyle Busch.
That is exactly what happened as Daniel Suarez(19) lost a right front tire, slammed the wall, and brought out the caution. Logano, Blaney, Keselowski, Johnson, and Harvick led the race off pit road. Johnson took only 2 tires in an attempt to gain track position.
Despite losing the lead the last time, Logano again chose the outside line. On the restart, he drove away from Blaney and towed Harvick with him from 3rd to 2nd. With 100 laps to go, another pit stop will be required to finish the race.
Truex Jr. had to pit with 85 laps to go. He complained of a loose right rear wheel so the team changed all 4 tires. Truex Jr. made a huge mistake entering his pit box. He drove through too many pit stalls. The drive-through penalty dropped him to 26th position, 2 laps down. Keselowski also complained of a bad vibration, he pitted for tires also and lost a lap. Both cars were outside their pit window to finish the race. Meaning both will have to make 2 more pit stops.
With contenders having pit issues, Harvick drove past Logano to take the lead with 80 laps to go. Leader pit stops began with just over 50 laps to go. With 41 laps to go, Harvick was back in the lead. No issues on the final pit stop for any of the race leaders.
A spin by David Star(77), running 47 laps down to the leaders, brought out the caution with 38 laps to go. Truex Jr. got his lap back courtesy of the lucky dog. The leaders, having just pitted, decided to stay on the track. Kyle Busch used the wave around to get 1 of his 2 laps back.
Truex in 15th is the last car on the lead lap. Any car he passes gives him another point in the standings. So returning to the lead lap has a huge impact on the standings. The caution waved again with 28 laps to go when Matt Dibenedetto spun on the backstretch. Harvick held off a challenge from Blaney on the last restart. He will no have to do it again.
Harvick again lined up on the inside next to Blaney. However, this time he could not hold off the young gun as Blaney took the lead going down the backstretch. With 20 laps to go the top 5 were Blaney, Harvick, Kyle Larson(42), Logano, and Kurt Busch. With 17 laps to go Harvick regained the lead. He cut low going into Turn 1 and completed the pass exiting Turn 2.
With 3 laps to go, Joey Gase(51) running 18 laps down to the leaders spun off Turn 2. Sending the race to overtime. The caution gave Kyle Busch the lucky dog, returning him to the lead lap.
The top 5 remained the same. After watching Blaney drive past him on the previous restart, Harvick chose the top lane for the green-white-checkered finish. Blaney, with a push from behind from Larson, drove into Turn 1 side-by-side with Harvick. Then, showing he had the superior car, Harvick drove away through the corner. He never let anyone get close, beating Larson to the line by almost a half second.
After stopping at the flag stand to give the winner’s interview with NBC, Harvick spotted a young man in the stands. He pulled the youngster through the access hole in the fence and with the kid’s cell phone took a picture of the 2 on the hood of Harvick’s car. He also gave the young man the checkered flag, a memory that fellow will never forget.
The win locks Harvick into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Kyle Busch lost 18 points to the cut line. Martin Truex Jr. stayed level at 25 points above the cut line. Kurt Busch at 25 below the line could move forward if Kyle Busch or Truex Jr. stumble at Phoenix.
The biggest impact could be if one of the bottom 4 wins at Phoenix. That would leave Kyle Busch and Truex Jr. battling for the final spot on points.
|Position||Car||Driver||Points vs Cut Line|
|1||4||Kevin Harvick||In With Win|
|2||22||Joey Logano||In With Win|
|4||78||Martin Truex Jr.||+25|
More Drama with Logano
Aric Almirola took offense to Joey Logano racing him so close during the later stages of the Final Stage. Almirola promised to retaliate at Homestead. Logano refused to comment after the race. Two guys gunning for Joey in the final race? Will next week add more haters to the Logano Non-Fan Club?
Results of the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway
|9||78||Martin Truex Jr.||2.824||337|
|11||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||3.892||337|
Playoff Drivers, Advanced to Finals