Truex Jr. looks to continue intermediate and playoff dominance at Texas

“Bent fenders, hurt feelings, I love it.” – Kevin Harvick, Martinsville Speedway, October 29, 2017.

I doubt we’ll have the same thing this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500, but with a possible rivalry being created, the playoffs winding down and a track that has produced fireworks in the past coming up, it should be a pretty darn fun weekend.

WHAT: AAA Texas 500 (501 miles, 334 laps. Stages of 85, 85 and 164 laps, respectively)
WHEN: Sunday, November 5, 2017. Green flag scheduled to fly at approximately 2:15 p.m. ET
WHERE: Texas Motor Speedway, 1.5-mile asphalt quad-oval located in Fort Worth, Texas
FAVORITES: Martin Truex Jr. (2/1), Kyle Busch (4/1), Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson (6/1)


LAST YEAR’S WINNER

Remember Carl Edwards? The now-retired driver won this race one year ago, which was shortened by rain. The start of the event was postponed five hours due to precipitation, and a pit call by Dave Rogers to keep the No. 19 out on track netted Edwards and Co. their third victory of the 2017 season and his first at TMS since 2008. The win advanced him to the championship four.


THE FIELD

Kurt Busch won the pole for the AAA Texas 500 on Friday evening, breaking the existing track record. His absolutely blistering lap of 200.915 mph (26.887 seconds) netted the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford its first pole of the season and Busch’s 22nd of his career.

Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five qualifiers and also happened to eclipse the 200-mph barrier, each also breaking the track record. Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski completed the top 10 qualifiers.

The only playoff driver not inside the top 10? Chase Elliott. Why? He wasn’t able to get through pre-qualifying inspection in time to make a lap. He will roll off 34th on Sunday afternoon from Texas. Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Reed Sorenson, Corey LaJoie and Gray Gaulding also couldn’t pass inspection and failed to make a qualifying attempt on Friday.


REVENGE?

If you’ve already forgotten what went down last weekend from Martinsville Speedway, refresh yourself. Because chances are it’ll bleed over into this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Elliott has said repeatedly to not even ask him about “getting even” with Hamlin. But with only two races remaining in this penultimate round of the NASCAR playoffs, action is going to heat up. Elliott and the No. 24 team have been steadily improving on intermediate tracks, running inside the top five at both Chicagoland and Kansas for most of the races. Couple those good runs with his frustration and heartbreak from Martinsville, and Elliott could wind up in Victory Lane.


THREE TO GO

Texas, Phoenix and Homestead. That’s all that remains for this Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. It seems like yesterday when cars were unloading at Daytona, yet here we are.

The sense of urgency has never been higher for everybody not named Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr. Busch has clinched his spot in the championship four, and Truex Jr. has a such a big points buffer that he can literally afford to miss a race and he’d still get in.

So, where does that leave everybody else? Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick currently occupy the final two spots to advance to the championship four, with Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney nipping at their heels. Chase Elliott isn’t too far behind, but more than likely will need to win one of the remaining two races if he wants to get into the next round.

Honestly, though, the same goes for the rest of the field. The easiest way for a driver to secure their spot is to win, giving them an automatic bid. They can try to point their way in, but with the remaining eight drivers running so close to each other every lap of every race, there aren’t a ton of points to be gained. Bottom line: six drivers need to win, and need to do so badly.

Johnson has six wins at Texas and won at the track earlier this season. But that seems like forever ago, as the No. 48 has struggled mightily since. Hamlin has two wins at Texas, but is probably going to be driving a bit defensively with Elliott in his thoughts. The No. 24 has an average finish of sixth in three TMS starts. Harvick and Keselowski will carry the banner for Ford, as well as Blaney, who led a race-high 148 laps and won both stages one and two earlier this season at Texas. Soooo, yeah. This thing is relatively wide open. It should be fun, folks.


PREDICTION

As stated this week on Victory Lane, I don’t see anybody stopping the Colorado-based freight train that is Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 team and Martin Truex Jr. They lead in every statistical category that you can think of on 1.5-mile tracks this season, and have won six of their seven races on intermediate tracks this season. Vegas has him as a 2/1 favorite to win for a reason.