FORT WORTH, TX – The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams have an scenario ahead of them for this weekend’s AAA Texas 500 (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/PRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). See, Friday will produce the only two practice sessions of the weekend around the 1.5-mile track. The only other on track time other than Sunday’s race will be qualifying on Saturday night.
But, with this format in the past, we’ve seen the top team elect to spend all of their time figuring on the best race setup and even qualifying on it. See, they feel like with these races being impound events, why not qualify what you’re going to race?
So, they’ve given away speed in return for not having to start the races behind. Just look at how quickly the drivers who went for all out speed dropped through the pack. David Ragan qualified second a few weeks ago at the Kansas Speedway and just a few laps into the race he was already down to 25th.
Also, look at the starting positions of the top 10 drivers in the finishing order at each of the last two 1.5-mile tracks. Both Las Vegas and Kansas had this same format.
Vegas, saw 24th place starter Martin Truex Jr. win. Three of the top five finishers came from 18th or worse. In fact, here’s the top 10 finishers’ starting spots – 24th, 3rd, 18th, 8th, 23rd, 19th, 14th, 15th, 22nd and 17th respectively.
Kansas, saw 23rd place starter Denny Hamlin win. Three of the top five finishers also came from 18th or worse. Here’s the top 10 finishers’ starting spots in that race – 23rd, 14th, 18th, 15th, 25th, 11th, 20th, 21st, 40th and 12th respectively. The top finisher for a driver who started in the top 10? It was Kyle Larson in 14th. He’s the only driver who started in the top 10 to even finish in the top 19.
So, Texas would seem simple right?
No in fact.
What if I told you that 15 of the last 17 and 17 of the last 21 races at Texas has seen the race winner come from a top 10 starting spot?
That’s why practice on Friday was interesting to say the least. Which direction do you go in?
Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing for sure looked the part in terms of cars to beat for Sunday’s race. It’s not surprising either in that all eight of their combined cars finished in the top 12 at Texas back in the spring.
In terms of who looks good so far this weekend, Denny Hamlin showed to be among the top drivers. He won the spring race and is looking to score a Texas sweep for the fourth time in track history. He actually did so back in 2010.
Hamlin, has four straight top five finishes on the season and was third and second respectively on single lap speed on Friday. He was quickest in both practices on the 5-lap average chart as well. On the 10 lap, he was second and on the 15 lap he was sixth. That tells me he has a really fast short run car but it falls off a bit as the run goes on.
Kevin Harvick won this race the last two years and has three top two finishes at Texas in his last four starts. He also has 10 consecutive top 10 finishes in his No. 4 Ford on the 1.5-mile track. Harvick, was 10th and fourth on single lap speed in Friday’s sessions but sixth and fourth on five lap averages, second and third on the 10 lap chart and first and second on 15 lap averages. That says he has an opposite car as Hamlin. He’s quick on short runs but among the best as the runs go on.
His teammates are right there with him. Clint Bowyer was second back in March and ninth last Fall but was first and third on short run speed, second and third on five laps, first in both 10 lap charts and third and first on the 15 lap averages. He has the best car.
Aric Almirola was seventh in the spring race, eighth in last year’s race and was sixth and first respectively on single lap speeds. He also was fifth and second (5 lap), sixth and fifth ( 10 lap) and second and third (15 lap) respectively too.
Those were the top four cars in my opinion on Friday.
Martin Truex Jr. doesn’t need to win and will work on setups for Homestead, but he was next best in being eighth and 10th on the single lap report but third and fifth on the five lap while being 10th and seventh on the 10 lap and 15 lap averages report respectively.
Kurt Busch was second and fifth on single lap speeds, ninth and seventh on five lap, fourth and fifth on 10 lap and 15 lap respectively. He also has two straight top six finishes on the season and five straight top 10’s at Texas.
Another spoiler could be Erik Jones. He has finished fourth at Texas in each of his last three Cup starts and was in the top four in all five of his XFINITY Series races at Texas. He was fifth and ninth respectively on single lap speed, fourth and eight on the five lap chart and seventh on 10 lap averages.
Those are the favorites. Notice I didn’t mention Kyle Busch, any of the three Penskes nor any of the Hendrick cars nor Kyle Larson. They all struggled a bit.
Kyle Busch was 12th and 11th on single lap runs, 11th and sixth on five lap averages and 11th on the 10 lap chart. Kyle Larson was 13th and 16th on single lap speeds, 13th and 11th on 5-lap averages, 10th and sixth on 10 laps and fourth on the 15 lap. He car comes in as the runs go on.
Brad Keselowski was 24th and 14th on single laps, 19th and 23rd on five laps and 20th on the 10 lap average reports. Joey Logano was 15th and 21st on single laps, 17th and 15th on five laps and 17th on 15 laps. He has just two top five finishes in his last 18 starts on the season. Ryan Blaney was 23rd and eighth, 21st and ninth (5 lap) and eighth (10 lap) himself.