NASCAR’s Playoff Round of 12 opens at Texas

FORT WORTH, TEXAS - MAY 22: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Wrangler Ford, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, lead the field to the overtime restart during the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway on May 22, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

NASCAR’s championship contenders have made it through the first elimination gauntlet to reach the Round of 12, but now all that work gets reset. Sunday’s AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the opening race of the round, and there’s only a 19-point difference from second to twelfth in one of the closest Playoff fields ever.

With his impressive run of victories in the Regular Season, Chase Elliott once again sits on top of the standings with 40 extra points in the bank. Rookie Austin Cindric sits in the final position with just six extra points to start the round. But that’s not a big difference, and no driver is out yet. Plus, a win automatically advances a Playoff driver into the next round.

But there’s no guarantee that a Playoff driver will win. Every race in the previous round was won by a driver who’s not competing for the championship, and Texas also has a track record of being unpredictable, with five different winners in the last five races.

And it’s Kyle Busch who has the most success at Texas, winning four times at the track in his career.

And only three Playoff competitors have found victory lane at Texas before. Kyle Larson won last year, and Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin won back in 2014 and 2010 respectively.

Larson has said he’s more concerned about consistency and a good finish than going for a win, though. In a round that also features Talladega and the Charlotte Roval, Texas is certainly the most predictable track.

“Honestly, if you can just finish you don’t have to do anything crazy in the first couple rounds,” Larson said. “Don’t take yourself out of stage points or a good finish and you can advance. Be clean and let the other teams make the mistakes.”

Dark horse contender Chase Briscoe feels the same way. He sits four points below the cutline heading into the Round of 12, and he also stressed the importance of consistency.

“The second round has tracks that are wild cards,” he said. “Talladega is anyone’s race, the Roval really can be the same, and Texas you’re going to have to be good in qualifying to get track position and maintain that all day.”

“I feel pretty good about Texas,” Briscoe added with a quiet confidence.

Practice for the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 is Saturday at 12:35 p.m. ET followed by qualifying at 1:20 p.m. ET – both will be carried on the USA Network and NBC Sports App.

Xfinity Series begins its Playoffs at Texas

The Xfinity Series begins its 12-driver Playoffs at Texas on Saturday following a dramatic Regular Season finale at Bristol. The Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be the opening fight between three Playoff heavyweights.

While AJ Allmendinger was crowned Regular Season Champion for the second year in a row, Noah Gragson leads the Playoff standings with his five wins this year. He’s followed by Ty Gibbs, who’s also outscored Allmendinger this year. And Allmendinger actually sits back in fourth place in the standings, coming into the Playoffs one point behind Justin Allgaier.

That six win total includes the last three races in a row for Gragson, and he’s racking up Playoff points with 13 stage wins, the series-most.

“It’s been a wild month for this No. 9 Bass Pro Shops team, winning the last three races,” Gragson said. “We’ve got a big head of steam and we’re going to keep that hot streak going this weekend at Texas. Can’t wait to get the Playoffs started on the right foot this weekend.”

But don’t count out Allmendinger just yet, who’s demonstrated the most consistency of the field throughout the year. He has scored 23 top-ten finishes, as well as three wins for himself.

But while Ty Gibbs secured second in the points ahead of Texas with his five wins, he hasn’t won since July 2nd, and recorded his worst-ever finish of 36th at Bristol last week.

No one comes in with a clear advantage, since no Xfinity Series driver has ever won a series race at Texas, although Sheldon Creed and Jeb Burton both have a Truck Series win at the track in their careers.

Practice for the race is slated for 10:35 a.m. ET on Saturday followed by qualifying at 11:05 a.m. – both on USA Network and streamed on the NBC Sports App.

FORT WORTH, TEXAS – MAY 21: Brandon Jones, driver of the #19 Menards/Delta Faucets Toyota, and Austin Hill, driver of the #21 Global Industrial Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Xfinity Series SRS Distribution 250 at Texas Motor Speedway on May 21, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, September 25
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $8,455,617
TV: USA, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 501 miles (334 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 105),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 210), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 334)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Andy’s Frozen Custard 300
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, September 24
The Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $1,434,537
TV: USA, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 300 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)

Owen Johnson