Texas Weekend Preview: Texas looks like ‘must-win’ situation for Logano and Keselowski

Joey Logano (L), Brad Keselowski. (Getty Images)

Joey Logano (L), Brad Keselowski. (Getty Images)

The Team Penske tandem of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski could be in trouble.

Likely too low on the Chase Grid to advance to the four-driver Championship Round race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on points, the two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers in all likelihood must either win at Texas or Phoenix to keep their respective championship aspirations alive.

Logano (-28 points below the cutoff line) and Keselowski (-24 points) get their first chance at a win in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Their trip to the Lone Star State might also be their best chance to visit Victory Lane. Kevin Harvick has taken the checkered flag in the last four races at Phoenix and has shown no signs of slowing down there, making Texas as close to “must-win” as it gets.

“We’re going to tap into the Penske ethos of ‘Effort equals Results’ and see what happens,” said Keselowski, who has finished in the top five in his last two starts at Texas. “Our program is in a good place right now, though I want to be a little faster on the mile-and-a-halves for sure. Historically, Texas has been good for us, so we know we can find the speed that we need to run up front there and ideally position ourselves to make it to the next round.”

Both Keselowski and Logano showed speed in last Sunday’s opening Eliminator Round race at Martinsville, running first and second the majority of the race. Logano’s 207 laps led paced all drivers, followed by Keselowski’s 143 laps led. But, Keselowski finished 32nd following an accident that forced him to the garage for some time. Logano placed 37th after a wreck with the No. 20 car of Matt Kenseth. On Tuesday, NASCAR suspended Kenseth for two races, deeming the wreck intentional. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver appealed the suspension, but it was upheld by the National Motorsports Appeals Panel Thursday afternoon. Kenseth has appealed to the Final Appeals Officer, who will hear testimony starting Thursday at 1 p.m. ET.

“It’s just unfortunate that our race had to end that way,” said an agitated Logano. “I got wrecked. There isn’t much else to say about it. I don’t know what am I supposed to say about it. His (Kenseth’s) race was over and he tried hard to wreck us and he was successful the second time, so I give that to him.”

Logano knows how to win at Texas. He took the checkered flag at the 1.5-mile track in April of last season and has finished in the top five in four of his last five starts there. The No. 22 Ford driver also leads the Sprint Cup Series with six victories, including three in his last four races.

“We’ll go to Texas and try to win,” Logano said after Martinsville. “We’re on a heckuva run. We were still leading this race and we were going to win it. We had a really, really fast Shell-Pennzoil Ford Fusion. We’re not gonna let this take us down. This is a strong team. We will get past this.”

Chris Buescher attempts to lock up championship in home state

Only three races remain between Chris Buescher and a NASCAR XFINTY Series championship.

FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 12:  Chris Buescher, driver of the #16 EcoBoost Ford, talks to team owner Jack Roush on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 12, 2013 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

FORT WORTH, TX – APRIL 12: Chris Buescher, driver of the #16 EcoBoost Ford, talks to team owner Jack Roush on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 12, 2013 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Leading second-place Chase Elliott by 27 points and third-place Regan Smith by 33 points, Buescher can take home the title by finishing fourth or better in the next three races, regardless of what any other driver does.

Buescher will continue to try to close the door on Elliott and Smith when the Prosper, Texas, native returns home for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

The No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing driver’s ninth-place showing at Texas from April is his only top-10 performance at the 1.5-mile track, but he has finished higher than he’s started in all four of his races there.

“Texas will be a good weekend for our team,” Buescher said. “Our mile-and-a-half program has gotten a lot better in the past six months, which gives us more confidence going into this weekend. Of course, I always like going back to my home track and seeing friends and family, and I want to perform well in front of the home crowd.”

Elliott, the defending XFINITY Series champion, rides into Texas on a four-race top-10 streak. He indicated he will not change his strategy due the title hunt.

“We’re going to approach Texas like any other track with intentions of running up front and having a shot at the win,” Elliott said.

No driver has been better than Smith down the stretch of the XFINITY Series schedule. The No. 7 JR Motorsports teammate of Elliott enters Saturday’s showdown with a 10-race top-10 streak that includes two wins.

“We want to do everything we can to catch the 60 car, and we need help now to do that, but we’re going to try very hard to get it done,” Smith said.

Crafton looks to sweep Texas, close in on crown

Erik Jones must not like what he sees in his rearview window because defending two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton is lurking right behind him.

Matt Crafton (Getty Images)

Matt Crafton (Getty Images)

With three races left in the season, second-place Crafton has closed Jones’ advantage in the standings to 10 points following his win last Saturday at Martinsville. Crafton will attempt to further cut into the deficit in Friday’s WinStar World Casino 350 at Texas Motor Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1) where he won in June and has earned a top-10 finish in the last eight races held there.

“I’m looking forward to (Texas). I’m looking forward to the next three,” Crafton said. “They’re very good race tracks for us. We won the spring race there this year, we won there last year as well, and we’re bringing back the same truck.”

Crafton is the Truck Series’ de facto 1.5-mile master. He owns 14 top-10 finishes in his last 15 starts at intermediate tracks including five wins. Homestead-Miami Speedway, which hosts the season finale, is also a 1.5-mile track.

“If the cards fall and we have good luck, maybe we’ll have something for them at Homestead,” Crafton said about his championship hopes. “If it’s meant to be, it’ll be. If not, we’ll go on next year.”

NASCAR Race Weekend Guide

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: AAA Texas 500
Place: Texas Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Sunday, Nov. 8 at 2 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBC, PRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 501 miles (334 laps)
What to Watch For: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stampedes into Texas for the second of three races in the eight-driver Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. If a Chase-eligible driver wins, he automatically advances to the four-competitor Championship Round at Homestead Miami-Speedway. Jeff Gordon earned the first Championship 4 spot with his win at Martinsville last week. … Chase driver Carl Edwards goes for his fourth career victory at Texas. … Kevin Harvick, who has the highest average finish among Chase drivers at Texas (12.7) attempts to notch his first Lone Star State win after placing runner-up in his last two races there. … Jimmie Johnson, who has won four of the last six races at Texas, attempts to visit Victory Lane for the third consecutive time at the 1.5-mile track.

NASCAR XFINITY Series
Race: O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge
Place: Texas Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 7 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBC, PRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)
What to Watch For: Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones eyes a Texas season sweep after winning there in April. … Brad Keselowski takes the wheel of the No. 22 Team Penske car as it tries to lock up its third consecutive owner’s title. … NASCAR Driver for Diversity and NASCAR Next alums Daniel Suarez and Darrell Wallace Jr. continue their battle for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. Suarez leads Wallace by 31 points in the standings.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Race: WinStar World Casino 350
Place: Texas Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Friday, Nov. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 220.5 miles (147 laps)
What to Watch For: Spring 2013 Texas winner Jeb Burton makes his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season debut in the No. 00 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. … NASCAR Next member John Hunter Nemechek tries to notch his seventh top-10 finish in eight starts after placing runner-up at Martinsville. … Ryan Blaney returns to the No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford for the first time since taking it to Victory Lane in August at Bristol.

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