Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, TX — September 25, 2022
Tabbed by many of the competitors this season as the “Wild Card” round, the NASCAR Cup Series Round of 12 offers a bevy of challenges for the drivers and teams as they try to navigate through the next three races at vastly different racetracks.
Texas Motor Speedway is first up, and this 1.5-mile track is unlike any other on the schedule. The facility is located in Fort Worth, Texas, just outside Dallas, and boasts 20 degrees of banking in Turns 1 and 2 and 24 degrees of banking in Turns 3 and 4. Though probably considered the tamest of the three tracks this round, Texas is still unpredictable and has seen five different winners in the last five races – Denny Hamlin (03/2019), Kevin Harvick (11/2019), Austin Dillon (7/2020), Kyle Busch (10/2020) and Kyle Larson (10/2021).
Talladega Superspeedway is next on the Playoff schedule following Texas, the behemoth 2.66-mile superspeedway is one of the most unpredictable on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. With 33 degrees of banking in all four turns, Talladega produces some of the closest racing action the series has to offer.
Much like Texas, Talladega has produced five different winners in its last five Cup races – Ryan Blaney (10/2019), Denny Hamlin (10/2020), Brad Keselowski (04/2021), Bubba Wallace (10/2021), and Ross Chastain (04/2022).
Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL is scheduled for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 12 elimination race in two weeks, cutting the postseason’s 12-driver field down to eight competitors. Though a road course, the Charlotte ROVAL is as unpredictable with its NASCAR Cup Series finishes as Talladega. The 17-turn course spans the infield and parts of the oval at Charlotte Motor Speedway making it a unique challenge for the Playoff competitors.
Winners at Texas
A total of 21 different NASCAR Cup Series drivers have won at Texas Motor Speedway, and six of the 21 Cup Series Texas winners are active this weekend. Jimmie Johnson leads the NASCAR Cup Series in wins at Texas Motor Speedway with seven victories (2007, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 sweep, and 2017) in 35 starts. Kyle Busch leads all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers in wins at Texas Motor Speedway with four victories (2013, 2016, 2018, 2020).
|Active Texas Race Winners||Wins||Seasons|
|Kyle Busch||4||2020, ’18, ’16, ’13|
|Denny Hamlin||3||2019, ’10 sweep|
|Kevin Harvick||3||2019, ’18, ’17|
Last season’s NASCAR Cup Series Texas Motor Speedway Playoff race winner, Kyle Larson, returns to Texas to defend his win and get his first postseason victory of 2022. Larson has made 14 career starts at Texas Motor Speedway posting one win (2021), four top fives, and five top 10s.
If Larson were to win this weekend, he would become the fourth different driver to win consecutive points-paying races at Texas Motor Speedway; joining Jimmie Johnson (2014 Playoff race and 2015 sweep), Carl Edwards (2008 sweep), and Denny Hamlin (2010 sweep).
Playoff Points Reset
At the beginning of each round the points reset with playoff points earned through the year being added to the 3,000 that every surviving playoff driver starts the round with. With Chase Elliott and Joey Logano holding a big advantage, it is important that they avoid the type of trouble that befell Elliott during the last round. Especially with the race at Talladega holding the highest potential for trouble for the 12 playoff drivers.
*Ford Mustang Drivers Drivers in red start the Round of 12 below the cut line.
The EcoPark Automotive 500 consists of 501 miles around the mile-and-a-half speedway. Stages are 105/105/124 laps. The Ford Mustangs of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano sit on the front row for the start of the race. Keselowski, a non-playoff driver, just edged out Logano for the pole position.
Kyle Larson is the defending champion of the race, he starts ninth. Points leader Chase Elliott starts in the sixth position.
Brad Keselowski(6) and Joey Logano(22) raced side-by-side for two laps before Keselowski pushed out in front of Logano. William Byron(24), Michael McDowell(34), and Denny Hamlin(11) made up the top five early.
Keselowski led the first 32 laps until his tires began to go away and Logano made the pass into the top spot. Teams have eight sets of tires for the 500 miles and how they use them may determine who enters victory lane at the end of the day.
Martin Truex Jr.(19) spun off turn four and tapped the outside wall bringing out the first caution of the day. The yellow flag allowed everyone to visit the pit road to get fresh rubber and enough fuel to finish Stage One.
Byron won the race off pit road and restarts beside Logano. After clearing the #22 car, Byron began to build a lead on the field. Kyle Busch(18) was running fourth when he spun and hit the fourth turn wall hard shortly after the race went back under the green flag.
The damage to Busch’s car was extensive and he retired to the garage, the first driver out of the race.
One lap in after the restart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) spun down the front stretch. Somehow, everyone avoided the car as it slid down to the tri-oval grass.
After the third restart of the day, drivers were able to post some green flag laps. Byron stayed out front with Hamlin, Tyler Reddick(8), and Larson moving ahead of Logano at the front of the pack.
On lap 77, Cole Custer(41) had a tire go down and he hit the wall. Christopher Bell(20) also suffered a flat and NASCAR displayed the yellow again. The top 10 stayed on the track, but several drivers complaining of ill-handling race cars came to pit road for tires and adjustments.
Back to the green this time it was Hamlin challenging Byron for the lead. He was unsuccessful in trying to capture the top spot and Byron again began to open a gap to the rest of the field.
With tires wearing, Byron got way loose out of turn two and had to back out of the throttle to avoid spinning. The loss of momentum allowed Hamlin to move to the lead as Byron dropped to the fourth spot.
Larson took advantage of the scramble out front and worked his way around Hamlin to become the fifth leader of the race.
With nine laps to go in Stage One, Playoff driver Alex Bowman(48) lost control in turn four and went hard into the outside wall with the right front sustaining significant damage.
Pitting under caution with six laps to go in the Stage it was a mixed bag as to who came to pit road and who stayed out. Maintaining track position to earn Stage points versus setting up the best starting positions at the start of Stage Two.
Larson took the lead on the restart, and Hamlin followed. The two bumped as Hamlin tried to move Larson out of position. Bad blood developed between the pair as Hamlin told his spotter, on the radio, to pass the word on that next time he would not lift off the accelerator.
Bowman’s crew completed repairs to his vehicle in time to get the #48 car back on the track. They lost eight laps in the process and were not able to make the minimum speed before the end of the Stage.
Stage One Results
|1||5||Kyle Larson (P)||10|
|2||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||9|
|3||22||Joey Logano (P)*||8|
|4||99||Daniel Suarez (P)||7|
|5||1||Ross Chastain (P)||6|
|6||24||William Byron (P)||5|
|7||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||4|
|9||2||Austin Cindric (P)*||2|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
New faces appeared at the front of the pack as Stage ending pit stops shuffled the running order. On the restart Stenhouse, McDowell, Harrison Burton(21), Kevin Harvick(4), and Reddick led the way back to the green flag.
Bowman was able to exceed the minimum speed to continue in the race.
Shortly after the restart, Reddick had to pit for a tire vibration and lost two laps as his crew addressed the issue.
As the battle up front continued Burton took advantage of a slight bobble by Stenhouse to take the lead. Chase Elliott(9) moved to second, Stenhouse dropped to third with Michigan’s Erik Jones(43) up to fourth, as Truex held the fifth position.
Just 30 laps into Stage Two, Bell spun in turn four and hit the wall with the right rear. His crew worked frantically to keep the car in the race. They had to make repairs within the 10-minute time period allotted under the damaged vehicle policy.
During pit stops Burton’s crew had trouble changing a right rear tire. Fuel spilled and a spark ignited a blaze in their pit. The crew had to drop the car off the jack and pull forward a few feet to extinguish the flames. Then they backed up to finish dealing with another tire/wheel issue caused by the fire on the right rear. Burton lost a lap as a result.
Bell’s crew was unable to beat the clock in making repairs and the #20 car was forced out of the race. It will be a huge blow to Bell’s playoff hopes as he started the Round of 12 below the cut line and will face a big deficit heading to Talladega.
As the race for positions settled out at the front. Elliott was the new leader, and with aggressive driving Ross Chastain(1) moved into position to challenge for the top spot. Ryan Blaney(12) ran third, Jones fourth, and Larson held the fifth spot.
On lap 167, turn four jumped up and grabbed Cody Ware(51). He hit the outside wall shortening the front end of the car considerably. Ware bounced off the wall and unable to steer, he slid onto the pit road impacting the pit retaining wall in the #48 pit stall.
Ware was able to exit the car but collapsed on pit road and had to be carried behind the wall to receive medical attention. He was placed on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance for transport to the infield care center.
After a long caution to attend to the situation on pit road, the race restarted with 33 laps to go in Stage Two. Elliott maintained the lead, Blaney hung close on his bumper, Daniel Suarez(99) passed Jones for third and Chastain in fifth.
Another incident occurred in turn four and it involved the race leader Chase Elliott. A slight wiggle and the number nine car shot into the wall sustaining critical damage. A fire erupted on the right front as Elliott drove the car to the tri-oval grass and quickly exited the driver’s compartment. Just like the first round of the playoffs, Elliott squandered his points advantage and will have to work hard to stay in the top eight positions moving forward.
Restarting with 19 laps to go in Stage Two, the sprint to earn bonus points had Blaney and Suarez out front followed by Chastain and Byron. Keselowski and Reddick rubbed fenders and Reddick made a great save to keep his car out of the wall.
With 14 laps to go, Stenhouse spun into the grass on the front stretch bringing out the 10th caution of the afternoon. Some cars back in the pack pitted for tires and fuel, and the track position they will gain when the remainder of the field pits at the end of the Stage.
The restart with nine laps to go saw more bumping as drivers looked to gain as many positions as possible prior to the green and white checkered flag ending the Stage. Blaney took the Stage win with Chastain finishing second.
Stage Two Results
|1||12||Ryan Blaney (P)*||10|
|2||1||Ross Chastain (P)||9|
|3||24||William Byron (P)||8|
|5||99||Daniel Suarez (P)||6|
|7||2||Austin Cindric (P)*||4|
|8||22||Joey Logano (P)*||3|
|9||19||Martin Truex Jr.||2|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
McDowell and Jones lead the field back to the restart. But, McDowell has no fourth gear which could present a problem with acceleration. Remarkably, after a fire in the pits and losing a lap, Harrison Burton recovered to run in the third position at the start of the Final Stage.
NASCAR held the restart as there was moisture falling from a stray cloud passing over the speedway. The cars were eventually brought to pit road and covered as the rain picked up. A lightning strike caused the disruption of on-track activities until the 30-minute time delay passes.
After a 56-minute red flag racing resumed. Reddick took over the lead followed by Jones, McDowell, Harvick, and Keselowski.
The 13th caution of the day came out when last week’s winner, Chris Buescher, had a tire go down and scrapped the wall. Where else? Turn four! The yellow flag allowed some drivers to visit pit road for fuel and tires with 93 laps to go in the race.
Those visits to pit road scrambled the front of the field again as Harvick Truex, Byron, Burton, and Chastain were the top five when the green flag restarted the race.
For the second time in the race, the leader wrecked at the front of the field. Kevin Harvick blew a right rear tire and hit the wall in turn three. The accident occurred with 82 laps to go, Harvick only had 30 laps on the tire that failed.
Truex inherited the lead and Byron made a run at taking it away. He could not make the pass and fell back into the clutches of Hamlin. The two collided with Byron brushing the wall and Hamlin making the pass. While they scuffled, Austin Dillon(3) took advantage of their loss of momentum and passed both cars moving into second.
Unbelievably, Martin Truex wrecked out of the lead when he had a right rear tire go down. Under the caution, Byron spun Hamlin into the grass in retaliation for their earlier incident. Playoff driver tempers are at an all-time high as the laps wind down after a long day on the track.
Everyone came to pit road hoping it will be the last stop they have to make. The fact that Treux only had 35 laps on his tires when it went down seems to contradict the hopes of a clean finish. The green flag waved with 57 laps to go. With Stenhouse and Todd Gilliland(38) on the front row.
Reddick passed both drivers to take the lead with 52 laps to go. With 43 laps left Logano moved into second trailing Reddick by over one second. With 34 laps to go Stenhouse spun off turn two. Austin Cindric(2), trying to avoid the Stenhouse machine, also spun and the caution came out for the 16th time. Surprisingly the leaders stayed on the track, not pitting for fresh tires. Some drivers outside of the top 10 took advantage of the caution to get service.
The race restarted with 24 laps to go, with Reddick and Logano leading the pack to the green flag. Justin Haley(31) and Chase Briscoe(14) ran third and fourth. Cars were slipping and sliding all over the track as battles for position became intense.
With 11 laps to go, Larson almost wrecked. He had to chase the car way up the race track to avoid spinning out.
Reddick built the lead to a second and a half over Logano and barring another caution there is no way Logano will catch the leader. Career win number three for Reddick. Having been eliminated from the playoff during the last round, Reddick becomes the 4th consecutive non-playoff driver to win a playoff race.
No playoff driver in the round of 12 will advance with a win at Texas. After the adversity of missing out on moving past the opening round by just two points, the controversy of Kyle Busch taking over his car next year, and the tension between Reddick and team owner Richard Childress the win is extra sweet for Reddick.
Byron, Michigan native Erik Jones had a solid day finishing in sixth place.
Chase Elliott went from leading the points standings to the driver on the bubble after wrecking out of the race early. Alex Bowman and Christopher Bell are likely already in a must-win situation if they are to advance to the next round.
|Round of 12 Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the EcoPark Automotive 500 from Texas Motor Speedway
|2||22||Joey Logano (P)||1.19||334|
|4||12||Ryan Blaney (P)||2.365||334|
|5||14||Chase Briscoe (P)||4.144||334|
|7||24||William Byron (P)||4.378||334|
|9||5||Kyle Larson (P)||5.504||334|
|10||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||5.621||334|
|12||99||Daniel Suarez (P)||8.145||334|
|13||1||Ross Chastain (P)||8.563||334|
|15||2||Austin Cindric (P)||8.948||334|
|25||45||Bubba Wallace (P)||28.283||334|
|27||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-1||333|
|29||48||Alex Bowman (P)||-5||329|
|31||19||Martin Truex Jr.||-67||267|
|32||9||Chase Elliott (P)||-150||184|
|34||20||Christopher Bell (P)||-198||136|
(P) Playoff Drivers