Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, TX — September 24, 2023
Following the exciting conclusion of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs’ Round of 16 at Bristol Motor Speedway, four competitors were eliminated from the postseason, including last season’s Cup Series champion, Team Penske driver Joey Logano. Veteran Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick, in his final season before retirement. The 2023 DAYTONA 500 winner, JTG Daugherty Racing driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and veteran Front Row Motorsports’ driver Michael McDowell.
Now, the remaining 12 postseason contenders that have advanced to the second round of the Playoffs are ready for the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway, where temperatures are forecast to exceed 100° F during the afternoon. The track temperature just prior to the start of the race was 141° F. Cool suits will be in use today by most of the drivers in the field.
Playoff points were reset entering the Round of 12. Martin Truex Jr. barely avoided elimination at Bristol. However, as the Cup Series regular-season champion, Truex earned 36 playoff points, they were added back to his reset total, and he begins this round tied for the points lead with William Byron.
|NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Starting the Round of 12|
|Rank||Driver||Points||Race Wins||Stage Wins||Playoff Pts||+ / – Cutoff|
|1||William Byron (P)||3,036||5||8||36||25|
|2||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||3,036||3||6||36||25|
|3||Denny Hamlin (P)||3,032||3||7||32||21|
|4||Kyle Larson (P)||3,023||3||4||23||12|
|5||Chris Buescher (P)||3,021||3||1||21||10|
|6||Kyle Busch (P)||3,019||3||2||19||8|
|7||Christopher Bell (P)||3,016||1||4||16||5|
|8||Tyler Reddick (P)||3,014||2||4||14||3|
|9||Ross Chastain (P)||3,011||1||5||11||-3|
|10||Brad Keselowski (P)||3,011||0||5||11||-3|
|11||Ryan Blaney (P)||3,008||1||3||8||-6|
|12||Bubba Wallace (P)||3,000||0||0||0||-14|
Below the Round of 12 Cut Line
In other NASCAR news, it was announced that the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will return in 2024.
NASCAR will honor Sherry Pollex, who passed away this past week, with a decal on all competitor’s cars today. Pollex, the former longtime girlfriend of Martin Truex Jr., worked as an advocate for women suffering from cancer. Her foundation, Sherry Strong, raised over $10 million dollars to help fight the disease. She was a beloved member of the racing community. Sherry Pollex was 44 years old.
This year the race has been reduced from 500 miles to 400. Stages are 80/80/107 laps. Bubba Wallace starts on the pole today with Chris Buescher beside him on the front row. Brad Keselowski and Ty Gibbs start in the row directly behind them. RFK Racing (Keselowski and Buescher) was the hottest team at the end of the regular season. That streak has continued into the playoffs, as they were the most consistent team in the first round.
Tyler Reddick is the defending champion of the race. He won it in the #8 car that Kyle Busch will be driving today.
Bubba Wallace(23) got a big jump at the drop of the green flag and began to separate himself from the field immediately. Wallace led the first 39 laps of the race, relinquishing the top spot when he pitted after green flag stops commenced at lap 38.
Austin Dillon(3) brought out the first caution of the afternoon on lap 41. During Dillon’s pit stop, his crew failed to get the right rear wheel tight, and it came off by the time he reached turn three on the following lap. His race car spun and contacted the outside wall taking Dillon out of the race with heavy damage.
Wallace and Ross Chastain(1) led the pack back to the green flag for the restart. As 35 cars thundered into the first turn, Alex Bowman(48) got turned and tapped Aric Almirola(10, who was racing to the inside of the #48 car. Almirola spun, collected Bowman, and the pair slid off the track. The incident happened mid-pack, and fortunately, no other cars were involved. Both Almirola and Bowman were able to continue with only minor damage to their race cars.
Just as the race restarted, Todd Gilliland(51) had the right rear wheel come off his car. Another pit stop error, failing to get the single lug properly tightened. And another caution flag was displayed.
When racing resumed, Kyle Busch(8) complained of a problem with the right front of his car. His crew determined Kyle had picked up debris on his tires, and it would take a few laps for them to self-clean while at speed. They asked him to battle the issue to the end of the Stage, coming in 15 laps.
Unfortunately, Kyle did not make it. With seven laps to go, he spun and backed into the wall doing significant damage to the left rear of his his race car. The incident forced Busch to become the first playoff driver to retire from the race. He finished in 34th place.
Crew chiefs were faced with a dilemma. Pit now and lose track position or stay out and grab Stage points. Most of the leaders pitted, and nine cars stayed on the track. Wallace was the first off the pit road and restarted in the tenth spot.
Denny Hamlin(11) ran into Ty Gibbs(54) as they exited pit road. Gibbs completed his stop, and instead of moving to the outside of the four-lane wide paved strip, he was running between lanes two and three.
Hamlin, expecting a clear lane to exit in, ran into the left front of Gibbs’s car. Both machines suffered major damage. Gibbs was forced to park his car as it could not be repaired under the seven minutes allowed by the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.”
The damage to Hamlin’s car was cosmetic, wrinkled sheet metal behind the right side door panel. His crew chief opted not to bring him back to pit road for repairs.
Stage One resumed with one lap to go, not enough time for the fresh tires to have much effect for those who stopped for new Goodyears. Tyler Reddick(45) took the Stage win earning ten stage points and a playoff point to his ongoing total.
Stage One Results
|1||45||Tyler Reddick (P)||10|
|2||17||Chris Buescher (P)*||9|
|3||20||Christopher Bell (P)||8|
|4||24||William Byron (P)||7|
|6||9||Chase Elliott (P)||5|
|7||12||Ryan Blaney (P)*||4|
|9||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||2|
|10||23||Bubba Wallace (P)||1|
(P) Playoff Driver *Ford Mustang Driver
Tyler Reddick(45) stayed out during Stage ending pit stops and retained the lead. Chris Buescher(17), Michael McDowell(34), Chase Elliott(9), and Blaney were the top five coming to the restart to begin Stage Two.
Reddick, needing a pit stop, caught a break when Corey LaJoie(7) spun and flattened his right rear tire. Bringing out the caution on lap 110 allowed the entire field to pit for tires and fuel that would take them to the end of Stage Two.
After stops, Wallace was out front, Blaney sat second, Brad Keselowski(6), Daniel Suarez(99), and Kyle Larson(5) were the top five.
As the laps wound down in the Stage, Wallace began to fade and slid down the leaderboard. The fastest cars on the track were Larson, Michigan’s Erik Jones(43) and Hamlin.
Larson won the first race of the opening round of the playoffs and is in a position to repeat that performance in the first race of the Round of 12.
Stage Two Results
|1||5||Kyle Larson (P)||10|
|3||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||8|
|4||12||Ryan Blaney (P)*||7|
|5||17||Chris Buescher (P)*||6|
|6||9||Chase Elliott (P)||5|
|7||6||Brad Keselowski (P)*||4|
|8||1||Ross Chastain (P)||3|
|9||23||Bubba Wallace (P)||2|
(P) Playoff Driver *Ford Mustang Driver
The Final Stage
Larson, Jones, and Hamlin pulled out to a slight advantage on the restart, with Blaney and Wallace chasing them.
Green flag pit stops began with 59 laps to go in the race. Reddick was the first to visit pit road. Suarez spun, trying to get to his pit, and the caution came out at the opportune time for everyone but Reddick. The lead lap cars will all pit, and Reddick will get the “wave around” to return to the lead lap. However, he will start at the rear of the field. Bad luck for one of the playoff drivers consistently in the top ten all afternoon.
Erik Jones almost beat Kyle Larson out of the pits. The two will restart on the front row when the race resumes. Hamlin, Keselowski, Wallace, and Buescher will follow.
Larson tried to run away and hide from the rest of the drivers. He opened an almost five-second lead on Jones. Then with 25 laps to go, JJ Yeley(15) spun in turn two and hit the wall, bringing out the caution.
Several drivers in the top ten pitted, including Jones, Buescher, Keselowski, and Hamlin. Larson stayed out, as did Wallace, who moved up directly behind the leader.
The green flag waved with 20 laps to go, with Larson on the inside and Wallace on the outside of the front row. Wallace got a great jump, and the two drove door-to-door all the way around the track.
On the next lap, heading into turn one, the separation between the two cars was paper thin. Wallace pulled slightly ahead and took the air off Larson’s spoiler. Larson began to drop back slightly and then spun from the loss of traction. Hard contact with the outside wall ended his day.
Restarting with 13 laps to go, Wallace took the top lane, and William Byron pulled up next to him on the bottom. Chase Briscoe(14) and Elliott lined up behind them.
Wallace got a huge jump and drove out to a three-car-length lead as Briscoe, Elliott, and Byron went three wide behind him. Briscoe came out in the second spot leaving the teammates of Byron and Elliott wheel-to-wheel for third.
After completing one lap under green, cars began wrecking in the middle of the pack. Austin Cindric(2), Blaney, AJ Allmendinger(16), Zane Smith(38), Carson Hocevar(42), Jones, and Reddick were caught up in the incident.
Martin Truex somehow drove right through the middle of the crash. Maybe his bad luck from the first round has taken leave and settled on another competitor.
The restart this time came with six laps to go with Wallace and Briscoe on the front row. Wallace could not clear Briscoe, which allowed Byron to jump up and make it a three-man race for the lead. Wallace tried to clear Byron in turn three, but Byron would not yield and passed on the low side to take the lead.
The battle for first allowed Ross Chastain to make the pass for second. However, once out front, Byron drove away. Wallace recovered for third place, Bell ran fourth, with Hamlin finishing in the fifth spot.
The victory was the 300th in the NASCAR Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports and sent Byron into the Round of Eight. Two rolls of the dice, Talladega and the Charlotte Roval, await the other seven drivers trying to keep their playoff hopes alive.
|1||24||William Byron||Advanced Win|
|5||19||Martin Truex Jr.||+19|
Drivers Below the Round of 12 Cut Line *Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 from Texas Motor Speedway
|1||24||William Byron (P)||—||267|
|2||1||Ross Chastain (P)||1.863||267|
|3||23||Bubba Wallace (P)||2.196||267|
|4||20||Christopher Bell (P)||2.468||267|
|5||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||3.668||267|
|7||6||Brad Keselowski (P)||4.318||267|
|9||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||5.144||267|
|11||9||Chase Elliott (P)||5.835||267|
|14||17||Chris Buescher (P)||6.302||267|
|17||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||6.548||267|
|25||45||Tyler Reddick (P)||21.824||267|
|28||12||Ryan Blaney (P)||-9||258|
|31||5||Kyle Larson (P)||-19||248|
|34||8||Kyle Busch (P)||-194||73|