Kyle Busch Wins at Texas, Playoff Picture Clears for Martinsville

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Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, TX — October 25, 2020

Today, it’s race two of the Round of Eight as the NASCAR Playoffs grind towards Championship Sunday at Phoenix Raceway in two weeks. After a busy week of off-track news, things have heated up pre-race at Texas Motor Speedway. Three cars were sent to the rear of the field after failing inspection. The No. 49 of Chad Finchum and No. 96 of Daniel Suarez both failed inspection twice. As did the No. 19 of Martin Truex Jr., whose spoiler was also confiscated off the car.

The penalty for improper equipment cost Truex dearly. His crew chief, James Small, was suspended for today’s race and 20 driver points were deducted from his season total. That puts him into a must-win situation if he expects to advance to the finals. Truex was scheduled to start in 6th place.

The Ford Mustangs of Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano sit on the front row for today’s race. Stage lengths are 105/105/124 laps making up the 500 miles around the 1.5-mile speedway. Austin Dillon won the summer race here in June, Harvick is the defending champion of the race.

NASCAR News

As we mentioned it was a busy week off the track with the news that Erik Jones will take over the driver’s seat in the iconic #43 from Richard Petty Motorsports. Chase Briscoe earned a promotion from Stewart-Haas Racing and steps up to the Cup Series filling the retiring Clint Bower’s seat in the #14 Ford Mustang.

The Battle for Phoenix

Joey Logano is in by virtue of his win last week at Kansas. Harvick is a virtual lock at 41 points above the cut line and could clinch his spot depending on today’s results. Hamlin cannot afford a mistake today or he could drop into the race for the 4th and final advancement spot that is a dead heat with Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott. The bottom three will likely need a win to advance.

Rank Driver Points Status
1 Joey Logano* 4064 In-Win
2 Kevin Harvick* 4115 +41
3 Denny Hamlin 4094 +20
4 Brad Keselowski* 4082 +8
Round 3 Cut Line
5 Chase Elliott 4074 -8
6 Alex Bowman 4055 -27
7 Martin Truex Jr. 4051 -51
8 Kurt Busch 4009 -73

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage 1

Kevin Harvick(4) drove off into Turn 1 with the lead, Brad Keselowski(2), Alex Bowman(88), and Denny Hamlin(11) all passed Joey Logano(22), who started 2nd on the grid. Chris Buescher(17) spun into the outer wall and brought out the caution flag on Lap 4. Mist in the air was clearly visible on the roof cams, especially as the cars drove around at slower speeds. A traction compound was applied to the upper lanes of the track, but with temperatures on the cool side, drivers are hesitant to test out the surface.

The start at Texas Motor Speedway / NASCAR Photo

A competition caution was scheduled for around Lap 25. J.J. Yeley(27) moved up the timing of the safety stop for checking on tires when he spun in the traction compound and backed his car into the wall doing enough damage to eliminate him from the race.

Harvick was the first off pit road retaining the lead. Back to green flag racing and drivers seem to have trouble negotiating Turns 1 & 2, it may be because the mist is getting heavier. Hamlin loses traction and slides to the top of the track barely avoiding the wall. Harvick slides in the same spot, but he cannot keep it off the wall slamming hard into the outside barrier. Forced to pit with a tire going down, Harvick goes a lap down. Other driver’s slip and slide before NASCAR brings out the caution due to track conditions.

Having almost reached the halfway point of the Stage, everyone comes to pit road for fresh tires and enough fuel to carry them to Lap 105. Harvick misses out on the lucky dog and remains a lap down so he comes to the pits and has the car checked over to make sure all the damage had been corrected.

Clint Bowyer(14), Jimmie Johnson(48), Erik Jones(20), Logano, and Martin Truex Jr.(19) are the first five off pit road. However, two more laps around, and the field is brought back down and forced to stop as the red flag is displayed.

Back to Green

Track crews attempted to keep the racing surface dry. Those efforts went for naught and the race was postponed until Monday morning.

Again, a daylong rain and mist prevented the resumption of the race on Monday. NASCAR postponed the race once more until noon on Tuesday.

Noon never happened, but the late afternoon looked like a possibility. Then NASCAR announced cars would be called to pit road at 8 pm, with an 8:30 restart planned. However, “The Mist” returned and Wednesday at 3 pm became the new hope. A Sunoco tanker entered the track, not with race fuel, but fuel for the trucks on the drying crew.

Finally, roll up the red flag, the cars are back on the track. Just after 5 pm on Wednesday and a total of 72 hours, 28 minutes, and 34 seconds, NASCAR is counting laps and the green flag comes out on Lap 57. Jones pushes Bowyer to the lead. But, just three laps in Matt Kenseth(42) gets loose on the front stretch and collects Bubba Wallace(43). Hamlin gets some front end damage on the nose of his race car during the Kenseth and Wallace incident. The caution is good news for Harvick. Who, this time gets the Lucky Dog as the first driver a lap down, he gets his lap back being allowed to pass the pace car.

Kenseth and Wallace are towed to the garage, out of the race they waited three days to restart. Back to racing with 35 laps to go in Stage 1, Bowyer fights off a challenge from Truex to maintain the top spot.

Racing for the Stage Win

Truex closed to the bumper of Bowyer, with three laps to go in the Stage. Bowyer moved down to block and nearly wrecked both cars. Bowyer took the Stage win, Truex, Chase Elliott(9), and Logano were the only playoff drivers to collect bonus points during Stage 1. Harvick worked his way back to 15th after getting back onto the lead lap.

Clint Bowyer / NASCAR Photo

Stage 1 Results

Position Car Driver Points
1 14 Clint Bowyer* 10
2 19 Martin Truex Jr. 9
3 20 Erik Jones 8
4 12 Ryan Blaney* 7
5 48 Jimmie Johnson 6
6 24 William Byron 5
7 9 Chase Elliott 4
8 22 Joey Logano* 3
9 3 Austin Dillon 2
10 21 Matt DiBenedetto* 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage 2

Alex Bowman(88) led the field to the green flag for the start of Stage 2. Ryan Blaney(12) Johnson, Truex, and Bowyer made up the Top 5 at Lap 30 of the Stage when Joey Gase(51) spun and hit the wall bringing out the caution. Blaney, Truex, Austin Dillon(3), Elliott, and Bowyer bring the pack back to green for the restart.

As the race moved to the mid-point of the Stage, Truex was able to work his way past Blaney and take over the top spot. The fastest car on the track belonged to Kyle Busch(18). Even though Kyle is eliminated from the playoffs he is still trying to continue his streak of wins to 16 consecutive years.

Martin Truex Jr. Leads at Texas / NASCAR Photo

Green flag pit stop commenced with 10 laps to go and shuffled the Stage standings. Kyle Busch got the Stage win with Truex right behind.

Kyle Busch / NASCAR Photo

Stage 2 Results

Position Car Driver Points
1 18 Kyle Busch 10
2 19 Martin Truex Jr. 9
3 88 Alex Bowman 8
4 2 Brad Keselowski* 7
5 12 Ryan Blaney* 6
6 95 Christopher Bell 5
7 3 Austin Dillon 4
8 14 Clint Bowyer* 3
9 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 2
10 4 Kevin Harvick* 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

The Final Stage

Kyle Busch and Bowyer stayed out as the rest of the field pitted. They took away the possibility of anyone taking the wave around. Chase Elliott had to pit twice with tire issues trapping him a lap down.

Busch and Bowyer ran side-by-side for two laps on the restart until Kyle was able to pull ahead and clear Bowyer. Matt DiBenedetto(21), Truex, and Logano rounded out the Top 5.

Bowyer was forced to pit with 77 laps to go after skipping the opportunity to service his car during the Stage ending caution. Kyle Busch, on the same strategy, was being asked to stretch his fuel mileage and extra 15 laps to get them to the finish with a single stop. Busch pitted with 67 laps to go and will be right on the edge to make it to the end.

Green flag stops were completed with 54 laps to go. Kyle Busch recaptured the lead, Bowyer ran 2nd. Truex, Christopher Bell(95), and Blaney were the Top 5. Busch was told to save gas whenever he could. Kyle’s team reported that Bowyer was short on fuel by 15 laps, they decided to let Bowyer pass and for Kyle to draft off him to help save more gas.

Bell moved to Truex bumper as the #19 crew was telling their driver to protect the spot and not let him pass. They believe both Bowyer and Kyle Busch will run out of fuel and the race will come down to a battle between Truex or Bell.

The Finish

With 30 laps to go, Busch had lost the draft of Bowyer who led by 3.5 seconds. Kyle Busch held a second and a half advantage over Truex with Bell a couple of car lengths back. Busch’s crew told him it was time to pick up the pace, Bowyer pitted with 23 laps to go and Busch inherited the lead, a full second ahead of Truex. Behind Bell, no one else was close enough to make a run.

As Busch is passing lapped traffic he takes advantage of the draft from every car he approaches. With 10 laps to go, Busch was in a position to put Harvick a lap down. Busch drafted off the #4 car for a few laps. It was to Harvick’s advantage to let Busch pass. A win by a non-playoff driver will open at least two spots to qualify for the final by points.

Truex was able to cut the deficit to a half-second, but could not get close enough to make an attempt to pass. Kyle Busch pushes his personal streak to 16 years with at least 1 victory. Richard Petty holds the NASCAR record with wins in 18 consecutive years. Truex now faces a must-win at Martinsville and the points chasers breath a sigh of relief.

Kyle Larson to Race for Hendrick Motorsports in 2021

During the rain delay, it was announced Kyle Larson would drive for Hendrick Motorsports in 2021. Having been reinstated by NASCAR for the 2021 season. Larson was suspended earlier in the year for using a racial slur during an i-racing event. The announcement included another surprise, he will drive the #5 car, the number Geoff Bodine drove for Rick Hendrick early in the car owner’s career.

This comes on the heels of the race team’s recent announcement that Alex Bowman was moving from the 88 car to the 48 car, formerly driven by Jimmie Johnson. No sponsorship details were announced for the Larson car. Is it possible sponsors were hesitant to sign on to Larson racing with either of those iconic numbers on the doors. We may never know the answer to that. The 5 car will be a fresh start for Larson and maybe that’s needed given the circumstances.

Playoff Standings

Harvick is almost a lock to advance. If Hamlin and Keselowski can dodge a win by a member of the bottom 4 and not completely fall apart at Martinsville, they are likely to advance to Phoenix. Bowman and Elliott will need Stage points and a Top 5 finish and help in the form of trouble for Hamlin or Keselowski to advance on points. Truex and Busch will need a win to move on. If the standings remain as is, Ford Performance will put 3 cars into the final four at Phoenix.

Rank Driver Points Status
1 Joey Logano* 4101 In-Win
2 Kevin Harvick* 4181 +42
3 Denny Hamlin 4166 +27
4 Brad Keselowski* 4164 +25
Round 3 Cut Line
5 Alex Bowman 4139 -25
6  Chase Elliott 4139 -25
7 Martin Truex Jr. 4128 -36
8 Kurt Busch 4083 -81

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Results of The Playoff Race at Texas Motor Speedway

Position Car Driver Behind Laps
1 18 Kyle Busch 334
2 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) 0.468 334
3 95 Christopher Bell 3.227 334
4 12 Ryan Blaney 8.174 334
5 88 Alex Bowman (P) 11.895 334
6 2 Brad Keselowski (P) 15.485 334
7 1 Kurt Busch (P) 15.710 334
8 21 Matt DiBenedetto 20.752 334
9 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 21.706 334
10 22 Joey Logano (P) 21.971 334
11 3 Austin Dillon 22.276 334
12 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 22.978 334
13 24 William Byron 23.032 334
14 41 Cole Custer 23.105 334
15 8 Tyler Reddick 24.203 334
16 4 Kevin Harvick (P) -1 333
17 14 Clint Bowyer -1 333
18 37 Ryan Preece -1 333
19 6 Ryan Newman -1 333
20 9 Chase Elliott (P) -1 333
21 20 Erik Jones -1 333
22 38 John Hunter Nemechek -2 332
23 10 Aric Almirola -2 332
24 13 Ty Dillon -2 332
25 32 Corey LaJoie -3 331
26 34 Michael McDowell -3 331
27 96 Daniel Suarez -6 328
28 15 Brennan Poole -6 328
29 7 Josh Bilicki -8 326
30 66 Timmy Hill -9 325
31 53 Garrett Smithley -9 325
32 77 Reed Sorenson -13 321
33 0 Quin Houff -18 316
34 17 Chris Buescher -24 310
35 49 Chad Finchum -24 310
36 48 Jimmie Johnson -55 279
37 51 Joey Gase -150 184
38 43 Bubba Wallace -275 59
39 42 Matt Kenseth -275 59
40 27 JJ Yeley -314 20