NASCAR REPORT

NASCAR heads to Texas for the AAA Texas 500

Photo by Getty Images

This week the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the Lone-Star State for the AAA Texas 500. This is NASCAR's second trip to the 1.5 mile oval this year. The last time they were here, Denny Hamlin went on to claim his third win of the season after passing Austin Dillon in the later stages of the race. Overall, the racing that we saw there seemed to be closer but it still turned out to be a dominating performance from Joe Gibbs Racing. This time around, the circumstances are much different considering what is at stake as each driver in the round of eight will look for a chance to punch their ticket to the championship race in Homestead-Miami.

Last week, Martin Truex Jr. went on to win his season-high seventh win of the season and will now get to race for a championship for the third consecutive year. As I stated in the Martinsville preview, I predicted that Martin Truex Jr would have no issue getting to victory lane and he went out there and made me look like a genius (which is hard to do). When the dust settled, he led a career-high 464 laps and was never really challenged for most of the day. The closest anyone could ever get to him was William Byron and he couldn't even get to the back bumper of Truex. While we saw the same amount of beating and banging that we have always seen, like the last time they were here at Martinsville, no one could seem to pass the leader.

While many people would say, "Isn't the leader supposed to be hard to pass?" it shouldn't be next to impossible like what we saw last Sunday. What it all boiled down to was the size of the spoiler on the back of the car. With this new rules package, the rear spoiler is nine inches tall and 61 inches around. This was implemented to add more drag and resistance to keep the cars closer together and while for the most part it worked for the rest of the field, Truex was able to get into clean air and just take off. After the race, Brad Keselowski said "when you get behind someone and you are way faster, this big spoiler would just kill you." Many fans agreed with him and suggested a much smaller spoiler for these 750 horsepower races. I think this could be the best idea to help improve races here. With the cost being minimal, I would not be surprised if this is the direction that NASCAR goes in the future.

The big headline after the race was the altercation between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano during post-race. On the track, Denny Hamlin squeezed Joey Logano into the wall down the backstretch flat spotting Logano's tire. Logano confronted Hamlin on pit-road by shoving him and then walking away. This led to Hamlin and his team attacking Joey but the fight was quickly broken up after Denny Hamlin was thrown to the ground by a crew-member. This was fairly routine for Martinsville. The last three consecutive years there has been a conflict at the end of the race and Hamlin has been involved in two of them. It will be interesting to see if Logano returns the favor going forward into this round.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Kyle Larson. While he may not be the favorite for a lot of people and the results haven't quite been what this Chip Ganassi Racing team would have liked, Larson has proved that he can run up front here. Ever since the track has been reconfigured, it has seemed to fit Larson's driving style fairly well and they just haven't had the luck to go along with their efforts. Every time he seems to get going, there has always been an obstacle in his way. The last time he came there in March, he was charging through the field and looked to be in a position to contend until an accident took him out of contention on lap 147.

This time around, I believe that Larson will be able to run a complete race with no issues and take the win and finally lock himself into the championship race at Homestead. This could very well be a race to remember for the fifth year driver and if he is able to move on to the championship round, he will be a serious threat for the championship. Another side-note, if Larson is able to win, he will break a twenty-five year win-less streak for a McDonald's sponsored car as the last driver to win for the iconic restaurant was Jimmy Spencer all the way back in 1994. Look for Larson and the Golden Arches to go to victory lane at Texas.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

Joey Logano. Getty Images.


This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for ISM Raceway for the ISM 400 in Phoenix, Arizona. This is NASCAR's semi-final race before the championship race at Homestead. Many would consider this one of the most important races of the season considering it decides who will get to race for a championship. This track is a mile and a half oval that races like a short track. Last season, this track was reconfigured and completely changed the landscape. The Finish line was moved all the way to the front stretch and both the corners were inverted. This should be interesting should we see someone try to make a last second pass now that they have more time to pull it off.

Last week, Kevin Harvick went on to win his fourth race of the season after passing his teammate Aric Almirola. This race was a wreckfest, there were plenty of big names to crash including championship favorites Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott. During the weekend, Texas Motor Speedway track officials added a tire compound to try and add more grip to the race track. This did not sit well with the cars as we saw many just spin out by themselves. The trouble area seemed to be turns three and four as that was where the majority of the wrecks were. Many fans were not happy with the product on the track but if it did do one thing - it allowed for some newer drivers to run up front such as Daniel Suarez and Willam Byron. All together though, the cream rose to the top and Kevin Harvick still had a fairly dominant race as he led 119 laps before winning and advancing to the championship race at Homestead.

As we draw closer to Homestead, many wonder what has been going on with Kyle Busch. As many know, it has been June since the 2015 NASCAR Champion has won a race and since then he has just kind of been around. He has had many moments to forget during this time such as when his engine blew at the Charlotte oval or when he ran into the back of Garrett Smithley at Las Vegas but because of the massive amount of points he has gained all throughout the season, he has been able to stay in the top four. Regardless of where he is in points, it is clear that he is in a slump and this team is doing everything they can to get him out of it as we get closer and closer to Homestead next week. We will see how he responds this week at the track he has won the last two times they have come here.

The championship picture definitely looks pretty much the same as it has been over the past two seasons as Martin Truex, Harvick, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano make up the top four spots. While Truex and Harvick are locked in with victories at Martinsville and Texas, the focus shifts to third and fourth as both Busch and Logano hold firm. After a disastrous weekend at Texas, Denny Hamlin finds himself 20 points out of the top four. While 20 points may seem like a lot to make up, it is actually fairly manageable. Should he go on to win both stages and Logano not finish top 10, he would make up the difference and move into a tie with Logano for the fourth spot. He could also finish in the top 10 in those stages as well and make a big dent in the points should Logano run into trouble but that will be tough considering how good he runs on a weekly basis. The drivers behind Hamlin are Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. While Elliott crashed in the early stages and was never really a factor, Kyle Larson on the other hand looked like he had a car that was capable of contending for the victory. On lap 241, Larson entered pit-lane for his pit-stop and everything went off without a hitch until Bubba Wallace spun out in turn two catching Larson on the tail end of the lead lap eliminating any opportunity for a win. This caution led many to speculate that Wallace spun himself out on purpose to get a caution and not go a lap down but this has not been proven as Wallace had a flat tire before the spin. Out of the three, the driver that came out looking the best was Blaney. By no means was it the day Blaney and his Penske team would have liked to have had but overall the No. 12 had a pretty respectable race. Throughout the day, Blaney's car was not handling well at all but this team battled back and went on to a top 10 finish. It will be interesting to see how he will respond at Phoenix this week.

The driver that I predict will win this week is Denny Hamlin. As I mentioned earlier in this article, Denny has a steep path to climb to get back into the final four and a win is the only guarantee he can race for a championship. Overall, this has not been a track that he has been able to put up the best numbers but I think with the added pressure looming, this should be the car to beat. It will be interesting to see what car owner Joe Gibbs does to try and get Hamlin back into the top four considering his teammate Kyle Busch is one of the two standing in his way. Still I look for the #11 Fedex Toyota Camry to go to Victory lane and get back in the championship hunt.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).





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