NASCAR at Texas Motor Speedway: AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 preview, picks

NASCAR is coming to Texas! Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Lone Star State for the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500. This track is one of the most controversial on the schedule, as it’s incredibly hard to pass. Many are speculating that the track is on its way to a complete reconfiguration in the near future, which could make Texas way more competitive. This is the first race of the Round of 12 and it starts off at a relatively tame racetrack. But with the way these playoffs have been going, we can expect to see more attrition this week. As I mentioned earlier, passing here is next to impossible, so qualifying will be extra important.

Last week, Chris Buescher went on to capture his second career victory and first since 2015 back when he won a rain-shortened race at Pocono. This continues the theme of non-playoff drivers winning in the playoffs. This is a huge win for Roush Fenway Keselowski racing, as their season has been one to forget. It would seem like this team is turning in the right direction going forward into 2023.

The race however was dominated by numerous mechanical failures that would take out some of the front-runners including Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, and Martin Truex Jr. Because of an engine failure, Kyle was one of the four drivers that were eliminated from the playoffs, the other three were Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick, and Kevin Harvick. Naturally, because Kyle is leaving Gibbs next season, many fans of his believed that there was a conspiracy to keep him out of the next round. These claims are completely bogus and unfounded, as Martin Truex Jr and Denny Hamlin also had issues during the race. The real issue is NASCAR rushing this new car and making parts that are not quality. There have been many drivers who have criticized the direction that NASCAR is going. This car seems to race well and there are a lot of positives, but this is an issue that needs to be fixed.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Christopher Bell. It has been a career-year for the Oklahoma native, after winning at New Hampshire this summer he’s been on quite a run. He currently holds the highest average finish among all active drivers. He has done a great job at keeping out of trouble and most importantly running up front while doing it. If a Joe Gibbs car is going to win the title, Bell has to be the favorite, as he’s been much more consistent than Denny Hamlin. They have been taking advantage of stage points as well as he’s scored 31 over the last round including a stage victory at Bristol last week.

Texas Motor Speedway is a racetrack that has been good to Bell, considering he’s from Norman, Oklahoma. It’s the closest race to his home track. He will have plenty of people there who will be supporting him. His numbers here are pretty solid, regardless of the fact that he has yet to win. He’s currently the third-highest average finisher since 2019 with two top fives. One thing that might be a deterrent for Bell is his 19.7th average starting position. With this track being next to impossible to pass on, it will be challenging to get through the field if he’s starting mid-pack, but with all the speed this team has, I don’t see that being too much of an issue. Look for Bell to punch his ticket to the Round of 8 with a win at Texas.

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It more of the same from the Houston Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Sunday afternoon provided a high-res snapshot of the state of Houston sports. The Astros, already assured of the best record in the American League, played a game they didn’t need to win. The Astros won, ho-hum, their 104th win of the season.

Meanwhile, eight miles away, the Texans, mired in last place with fan support dwindling, played a game they really needed to win. The Texans lost 34-24 to the Los Angeles Chargers in front of (giggle) 69,071 fans at NRG Stadium. The Texans really ought to stop saying the stands are packed. Every time a team punts, and cameras follow the ball skyward, there are thousands of empty seats on display. I know the NFL methodology for determining attendance, (total tickets sold, no-shows don’t count) but it just looks silly when the Texans announce 69,000 fans.

The Texans came close as usual before sputtering to another defeat. The Texans now stand at 0-3-1, the only winless team in the NFL. It’s the second time in three years they’ve started a season without a victory after four games. It’s telling to note that not one of the Texans opponents has a winning record for 2022.

In other words, the Texans have played four games they shoulda/coulda won. Shouda against the Colts, Broncos and Bears, and coulda against the Chargers.

Should/coulda four wins. Instead, none.

That’s the Texans. They’re in every game but can’t close the deal. Yeah, yeah, on Monday we hear, “the Texans are playing hard for coach Lovie Smith” and “they’re competitive” and “they’re a young team.” These are NFL equivalents of a participation trophy.

Sunday’s loss to the Chargers at NRG Stadium was straight out of the Texans playbook. Fall behind, make it interesting, lose. The Texans stuck to their script, timid play calling, momentum-crushing penalties (nine for 67 yards), self-inflicted drops, lackluster quarterbacking and Rex Burkhead on the field for crunch time. After one play where a Texan player was called for holding, the announcer said, “and he did a poor job of holding.”

Statuesque quarterback David Mills keeps saying “we’re in a good spot” and “we’re improving.” Statuesque as in he doesn’t move – or barely moves to avoid sacks. Sunday saw his first touchdown pass to a wide receiver. He’s now thrown four interceptions in the past two games. Let’s go to the tote board: 5 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 4 fumbles, 11 sacks, qbr rating 28.5 – good for 28th in the league.

A bright spot, sort of. This was the first week the Texans didn’t cover the spread. They’re now 1-2-1 against Vegas oddsmakers, meaning you’ve won money if you took the Texans all four weeks. They head to Jacksonville next as early 6.5-point underdogs.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s brilliant quarterback Bryce Young, who will be available for the Texans when they draft first in 2023 (as Paul Heyman says, that’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler), suffered a shoulder injury last Saturday. The Texans need to take out a Lloyds of London insurance policy on Young.

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