Texas Weekend Preview: Big names hunt for first win in the Lone Star State

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 05: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Mobil 1 Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 5, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

When one driver dominates a venue as Jimmie Johnson has done at this week’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race stop, Texas Motor Speedway, it’s easy to forget how many of the sport’s very best have not donned that Texas winner’s cowboy hat. Yet.

Reigning Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. and former title-winner Brad Keselowski top the A-list of names still working for that first celebration in Texas’ one-of-a-kind Victory Lane.

Of the drivers taking the green flag in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 (2 p.m. ET on FS1), only three – Johnson (seven wins), Denny Hamlin (two wins) and Kyle Busch (two wins) – have multiple victories on the 1.5-mile Fort Worth high banks.

Truex is 0-for-25 at Texas. Last week’s Martinsville, Virginia, winner Clint Bowyer is 0-for-24 and Keselowski is 0-for-19.

Johnson is the defending winner of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. Kevin Harvick’s win at Texas last November was his first in 30 tries.

The three drivers directly behind Harvick that day drove Toyotas and that included race runner-up, Truex, who was leading with 10 laps remaining.

The Monster Energy Series champion is six-for-six in top-10 finishes since joining Furniture Row Racing and working with crew chief Cole Pearn. And he arrives in Fort Worth on a streak of five straight top-five finishes in 2018.

In two of the last four Texas races, Truex has led the most laps – 141 laps in spring of 2016 and 107 in last year’s fall race. Nine of his career 16 victories have come at 1.5-mile tracks, like Texas.

“The mile-and-a-half tracks have been good to us and that’s why we go into a race like Texas with plenty of confidence,” Truex said. “But at the same time, you can’t depend on what you had or did in the past at these tracks. Rules and track conditions continue to change and you have to be ready to make the right adjustments to offset the changes.”

“It seems that something has always come up to bite us late in the race at Texas. There’s not much you can do but just keep plugging away and hope that the chips will fall in our favor this weekend.”

Johnson also arrives with plenty of motivation to add his historic win totals. He’s on a career long 29-race winless streak and uncharacteristically hasn’t led a lap of competition yet in the famed No. 48 Chevrolet. He sits 17th in the points standings, his lowest ever position for this point in the season.

“We had a great vacation and Easter break so we are recharged and ready to get back to it,’’ Johnson said. “We left Texas scratching our heads last fall but again have been making small gains this season with the new Chevy Camaro ZL1 and are ready to get back to work.’’

Back to work

The Xfinity Series returns to action after a two-week respite and JR Motorsports drivers continue to lead the way atop the standings. Veteran Elliott Sadler – who has a Monster Energy Series win at Texas in 2004 – leads two JRM teammates, rookie Tyler Reddick (by 4 points) and Justin Allgaier (by 5 points).

Sadler is the only Xfinity or Cup driver with five “single-digit” finishes in the season’s first five races. And he’s never finished lower than 10th place in his four starts with the JR Motorsports team at Texas.

Allgaier is coming off three top-three finishes in the three-race West Coast Swing and his 90 laps out front in that span is the most among Xfinity regulars. Reddick has a win and three top-five finishes in his six career 1.5-mile starts in the Xfinity Series and JRM driver Michel Annett has led more laps at Texas than any other 1.5-miler he’s competed on in the series.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500

The Place: Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth, Texas)

The Date: Sunday, April 8

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

TV: FS1, 2 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 500 miles (334 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 85), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 170), Final Stage (Ends on lap 334)

What to Watch For: Kyle Busch is a two-time Texas winner and looking to score his first win of 2018 on the high banks. With three runner-up finishes in the season’s first six races, he holds the championship lead by eight points over reigning Cup champ Martin Truex Jr. … Denny Hamlin (who swept the 2010 races) and Jimmie Johnson (who won three straight from 2014-2015) are the only two drivers entered this weekend to have won consecutive races at the track. … Team Penske’s Joey Logano became the youngest Texas winner in 2014 at the age of 23 years, 10 months. … Xfinity standout Daniel Hemric will make his Cup debut this weekend in the Richard Childress Racing No. 8 Chevrolet. … Jamie McMurray hopes to break what is the longest Texas winless streak among this week’s drivers. He is 0-for-28. His Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson is also winless at the track, but finished runner-up to Johnson in this race last year. … Texas native Chris Bueschler, who got married during the Cup off-weekend, is still looking for his first top-10 at his home state track. He had one (ninth place) in 2015 en route to the Xfinity Series championship.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: My Bariatric Solutions 300

The Place: Texas Motor Speedway

The Date: Saturday, April 7

The Time: 3 p.m. ET

TV: FOX, 3 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 300 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)

What to Watch For: Erik Jones is the defending and three-time Texas race winner in this series, sweeping both races in 2017. He also won at Fort Worth in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series in 2015. … The average age for the top-10 in the Xfinity standings is 26. Four of the top drivers are 22 years old or younger, including current championship runner-up Tyler Reddick (22 years old). … Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Blaney, and Ty Dillon are the Cup regulars entered.

About Greg Engle 7420 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for Examiner.com and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.