The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff races at Texas Motor Speedway have unfailingly impacted the postseason outlook for drivers, as race-winning title contenders have secured their position in the coveted Championship 4 for the last four years straight.
Martin Truex Jr.'s win at Martinsville Speedway last week was his ticket into the Championship 4 Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway and this weekend, odds are another of the eight eligible title contenders will celebrate a title opportunity in Texas' Victory Lane following Sunday's AAA Texas 500 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Chief among those good bets is Kevin Harvick, who sits fifth in the Playoff standings -- only 14 points behind reigning series champion Joey Logano -- in that all-important fourth place position. Harvick shows up in Fort Worth as the two-time defending champion of this Playoff race. In all, he has 21 top-10 finishes in 33 races on the 1.5-mile high banks. A three-time winner in 2019, he has six top-10 finishes through the opening seven Playoff races this season. His 7.0 average finish in the Playoffs is second only to Truex (6.2).
And Harvick, the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, hasn't finished worse than sixth in the last five Playoff races at Texas, including the two wins and a runner-up finish to Jimmie Johnson in 2014 when Harvick went on to win the title.
He won this race in 2017 by 1.506 seconds over Truex, who had led a race best 107 laps. Last year Harvick led 177 laps and won by a slim .447-seconds over Ryan Blaney in overtime. He was sixth in the 2016 Playoff race, third in 2015 and runner-up in 2014.
"Clutch moments, there's nothing like them," Harvick said of the different styles of winning. "It's one thing to dominate a race all day and win -- that's great. But, making a last lap pass, an end-of-the-race pass or winning on a day when you're not supposed to, there is just no better feeling than getting out of the car and looking at those guys. Having the rest of the field ask, ‘How was he able to win today?'
"Those are the types of moments that I love to be a part of. We've been fortunate to experience a lot of those."
This week in particular, the four drivers below the fourth-place cutoff line in the Playoff standings -- Harvick, sixth-place Blaney, seventh-place Kyle Larson and eighth-place Chase Elliott -- must feel optimistic about their chances. They have all had success at the track.
Blaney, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford, may have been disappointed with the outcome of last year's Texas Playoff race, losing out to Harvick in an overtime thriller. But he certainly brings a high level of confidence and is only a single point behind Harvick in the standings and 15 points behind Penske teammate Joey Logano.
He and fellow championship contenders Larson and Elliott are all former Xfinity Series race winners at the track. Blaney won in 2018, Larson in 2016 and Elliott scored his career-first Xfinity Series win in 2014.
Larson, who is 24 points behind Logano in the standings, and Elliott, who is 44 points back, have also finished in the top 10 in the last two Playoff races at Texas. Elliott has earned the third most points among the eight Playoff drivers at 1.5-mile tracks this season and his Hendrick Motorsports team is tied with Roush-Fenway Racing for most team wins (nine) at Texas.
All four of these drivers currently sit below the cutoff, and have good reason to believe this weekend could make a big difference in their championship chances.
"This weekend, we'll feel a lot more confident heading to a track where we've had fast Camaros and some good finishes," said Larson, who drives the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
"We've had tire issues at three of the last four Texas races, but have been in contention each time and ran well here last fall. Texas, especially Turn 1, can be a tricky place, but I think we'll be competitive again this time as we go for the win and spot in the next round."
XFINITY PLAYOFFS RESUME AT TEXAS
A heated discussion on the Kansas pit road following the last NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff race between championship contenders Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer illustrated the high intensity level among competitors with only two races left to decide which four drivers will advance to the Championship 4 and compete for the season trophy.
Custer returns to Texas Motor Speedway as defending winner of Saturday night's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 (8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), ironically having beaten Reddick to the checkered flag by a mere .162-seconds. It was the third closest finish in the race's history on the 1.5-mile Texas high banks, and there's plenty of reason to expect that kind of close racing and high emotion again this weekend.
Seven-time winner Christopher Bell leads the championship standings by 11 points over fellow seven-race winner Custer. Defending series champion Reddick is 12 points behind Bell, and the group of super talented youngsters continuing to live up to the "Big 3" designation they earned early in the season.
These three drivers have combined to win 19 of the 30 races to date. Bell has led nearly double the laps (1,775) of anyone else in the field. Custer is next with 903 laps out front. And Reddick leads all drivers in top-five (22) and top-10 (25) finishes.
Custer is the only former Texas winner among the Xfinity championship field this week, and prior to his trophy performance last November, Erik Jones' 2015 win marked the last time a fulltime Xfinity driver scored the victory at Texas.
While there remains pride and competitive messaging to compete for among the Big 3, the points standings are plenty close for that fourth transfer position into the Championship 4 Round. Veteran Justin Allgaier currently sits fourth, but with only a two-point edge on fifth-place Chase Briscoe, a 10-point advantage on sixth-place Michael Annett and a 17-point edge on rookie Noah Gragson.
Austin Cindric, who was involved in an accident at the Kansas race that opened this three-race round, sits 30 points behind Allgaier in that fourth-place transfer position. But Cindric finished third -- just behind Custer and Reddick -- in this race last year and brings plenty of confidence that he can either win the race or make significant ground on Allgaier.
In fact, the last two races at Texas have featured many of these Playoff drivers. Reddick was runner-up to Cup regular Kyle Busch in March. Bell and Briscoe finished third and fourth place. Annett was sixth.
In this race last November, Custer and Reddick finished one-two, with Cindric third and Allgaier fifth.
"We did our job at Kansas with a fourth-place finish," said Annett, driver of the No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. "We've been great on 1.5-mile tracks this year, and Texas is the last one we'll see before Homestead. We have to be in contention again late in the race, score as many stage points as we can to have a chance at running for a championship. That's what we're going to do this weekend at Texas."
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: AAA Texas 500
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, Nov. 3
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 501 miles (334 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 85),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 170), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 334)
2018 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick
What to Watch For: Denny Hamlin earned his third win at Texas this spring, tying Kyle Busch with three wins each. It ranks them second to seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson among active winners at Texas. Johnson's seven trophies are most all-time. ... Only four active drivers have multiple wins at Texas -- Johnson (7), Kyle Busch, Hamlin (3) and Kevin Harvick (2). ... Three times the pole winner has won the race -- Kasey Kahne (2006), Johnson (2012) and Kyle Busch (2013). ... The third-place position on the starting grid has produced the most winners (8), including Busch in the 2018 Spring race. ... The most laps led by a winner is 278 by Tony Stewart in Fall 2006. ... The fewest laps led by a winner is 1, by Jeff Burton in 2007. ... Kurt Busch has won the most pole positions (3) in track history. Martin Truex Jr. (2) and Ryan Newman (2) are the only other active drivers with multiple pole wins. ... Truex (November 2007) and David Ragan (April 2011) are the only two drivers to earn their first pole position at TMS. ... Ryan Newman holds the record for winning in the fewest number of starts. He won in his second start at TMS in 2003. ... Martin Truex Jr. currently holds the record for most Texas starts without a win. This weekend marks his 29th start. ... The farthest back a winner has started is 31st on the grid. Matt Kenseth won the 2002 race starting from there. ... The largest margin of victory came in Fall 2009 when Kurt Busch won by 25.6 seconds over Denny Hamlin. ... The closest finish came in April 2004 when Elliott Sadler beat his Evernham Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne by .028-seconds. ... The most lead changes in a race is 33, set in Fall 2010. ... John Hunter Nemechek will be making his Cup Series debut this weekend driving the No. 36 Front Row Motorsports Ford. He joins Brad Keselowski (November 2008), Parker Kligerman (November 2013) as the only in the field who made his first Cup start at Texas. ... Hendrick Motorsports' Chad Knaus is the winningest crew chief at Texas with seven trophies (all with Johnson). ... Johnson not only has the most wins (7) of any driver but also he also holds the record for most runner-up finishes (5). Harvick is next among active drivers with three. ... Johnson has been in three of the five closest race finishes in TMS history -- his loss to Harvick by .152-seconds in 2010, his loss to Stewart by .272-seconds in 2006 are second and third closest. Johnson beat Kyle Larson by .340-seconds in 2017 for the fifth closest finish. ... Johnson has finished first or second in four of the six races at TMS that went into overtime. ... Ford holds a slim 14-13 race victory edge over Chevrolet all time. Toyota has seven wins. ... Three times the Texas Fall race winner has gone on to win the season championship -- Johnson (2007 and 2013) and Tony Stewart (2011).
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: O'Reilly Auto Parts 300
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, Nov. 2
The Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)
2018 Race Winner: Cole Custer
What to Watch For: Defending race winner Cole Custer is the only current Playoff driver with a victory at Texas. ... There have been six different winners in the last eight races. Only Erik Jones (2017 sweep) and Kyle Busch (2016 and 2019) have won twice in that timeframe. ... Four times a driver has won back-to-back at TMS -- NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin (1999-2000), Carl Edwards (2010-11) and Erik Jones (swept 2017). Kyle Busch won a record five straight from 2008-2010. ... Busch holds the all-time record for wins with nine. Kevin Harvick is next with five. ... The polesitter has won this race six times. Kyle Busch (2009 and 2016) and Erik Jones (2015 and 2017) did it twice. Edwards won it from pole in 2011 and Ryan Blaney in 2018. ... Jeff Green's qualifying record still holds at 193.493 mph set in 2002. ... The closest margin of victory is .128-seconds when Matt Kenseth edged Denny Hamlin in Spring 2007. ... The largest margin of victory came in Fall 2007 when Harvick beat Kyle Busch by 3.486-seconds. ... Kyle Busch holds the record for deepest in the starting field (31st) to win this race. He also holds the mark for most laps led in a race -- 179 in Fall 2009. ...The fewest laps led by a winner is six laps and it happened three times. Dale Earnhardt Jr. did it in 1998, Jeff Purvis in 2002 and Trevor Bayne in 2011. ... Chase Elliott is the youngest Xfinity race winner at Texas, winning at the age of 18 years, four months, seven days in Spring 2014. ... The most lead changes in a race is 22 (Spring 2013). There have been at least 10 lead changes in the last five races. ... Mark Martin won the very first Xfinity race at Texas in 1997. ... In the last 10 races at Texas, Toyota drivers have won five, Ford has three wins and Chevrolet two. ... The manufacturer's all-time record is very close. Ford leads with 13 wins, Toyota has 12 and Chevrolet has 10. ... In the last 15 races, the winner has not started farther back than sixth place on the starting grid.
--By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media