Texas, the next stop on Kyle Busch’s title defense tour
No driver has swept a track in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season.
Kyle Busch will attempt to become the first as he continues his championship defense in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC). Busch enters the race off a fifth-place finish in the Round of 8 opener at Martinsville last Sunday and is four points ahead of Joey Logano for the final advancement spot to the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He visited Victory Lane in the April Texas race by speeding away from the field on a restart with 33 laps left to break Jimmie Johnson’s three-race wins streak at the 1.5-mile track. A win on Sunday would mean an automatic berth in the Championship 4, and a chance for a repeat championship.
“I had some wild races (at Texas) early on in my career and it wasn’t one of my favorite places, for whatever reason,” Busch said. “Things have gone well, recently. The spring was a dream weekend for me, getting my second Sprint Cup win there. Obviously, the XFINITY Series wins I had there all in a row, and the Truck Series wins, have been real confidence boosters. I’ve sort of learned how to drive it a little bit better and I know what I need in my race car to make it easier.”
Busch’s run through this season’s Chase is similar to his tour to the championship last season. He has not won a race in NASCAR’s playoffs yet, but has registered four top-five and six top-10 finishes in his seven Chase starts. The absence of a Chase win shouldn’t worry the reigning series champion. After all, Busch’s first win in last year’s Chase didn’t come until the finale at Homestead.
“Anything can happen so we just have to make sure we can take what’s given to us like we did last year,” Busch said. “There were some times we didn’t get the finishes we wanted, but we were still able to transfer through. This year, we will try to get the finish we do want and make our way through the rounds if possible and get to the end.
“Certainly, you’re on the highest of highs at the checkered flag at Homestead last year, but it just continues to diminish all through this year because, you know, you try to repeat and, if you can repeat, you’ll be at the highest of highs again. But eventually, in about three more weeks, your reign is over so you try to repeat if you can.”
Jones hopes to capture Championship 4 berth at Texas
Texas Motor Speedway is the site of many memories for Erik Jones.
In 2014, he received his diploma on the driver introductions stage prior to the June NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the 1.5-mile track. Last season, he won his first career NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Texas and took the checkered flag again when he returned for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in November.
Jones will try to make another Lone Star state memory by winning Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC). In three career NASCAR XFINITY Series starts at TMS, Jones has finished first (spring 2015), fourth (fall 2015) and second (spring 2016).
Another victory would earn Jones a berth in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 19. Right now, Jones sits outside the Championship 4. He is tied with Justin Allgaier for fourth in points, but is fifth on the Chase Grid since his top Round of 8 finish of 15th at Kansas is worse than Allgaier’s best Round of 8 finish of 14th at Kansas.
“After a few weeks off, I’m really looking forward to getting to Texas this weekend and putting ourselves in position to compete for the championship in Miami,” Jones said. “Texas is a track I really enjoy and have had success in both the Truck Series and XFINITY Series. It’s a fun place, a place where we can put on a show for the fans and that makes it a lot of fun for the drivers.”
Jones and No. 20 Toyota crew chief Chris Gabehart have teamed to produce a series-leading four wins this season. The 20-year-old Michigan native is trying to earn both the championship and Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in the XFINITY Series after achieving the feat in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last season.
“Erik has performed fantastic (at Texas) at every level thus far in his young career and really loves racing there,” Gabehart said. “I think we will have a great shot at getting ourselves locked into the Championship race at Homestead a few weeks from now.”
Byron goes for Texas repeat in championship quest
Half of William Byron’s rookie-record six victories this season have come at 1.5-mile tracks, including a June triumph at Texas Motor Speedway where he passed two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton for the win with six laps remaining.
Making the 18-year-old Charlotte native’s Texas triumph more impressive was that Crafton boasted 18 top-10 finishes in his last 20 starts at the 1.5-mile track leading into the race, including seven wins and four runner-ups.
Byron’s performance prompted Crafton to say, “That’s impressive what that kid did, if I could have done it any differently, I would have.”
On Friday, Byron returns to Texas Motor Speedway for the Striping Technology 350 (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1). This time, the stakes are much higher. A repeat win would earn Byron a berth in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 18. At the moment, he holds the final NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase transfer spot over Crafton by nine points. Still, a Crafton win – which has occured twice at Texas – coupled with Byron failing to move up the Chase Grid in points, would bump the No. 9 Toyota Tundra driver from a transfer spot.
“I think so,” said Byron when asked if Texas was his best chance at winning in the Chase’s Round of 6. “I have the track time and the experience of knowing what it takes to win there. The only difference will be the track conditions since it was much hotter when we raced there in June. It was really hard to judge what the truck would be like when the lights came on and everything cooled off. It will be interesting to go back there this weekend and see what the track is like. I think we’re going to have a lot of speed and hopefully get that ticket to the next round of the Chase.”
Friday’s Striping Technology 350 marks the first time Byron hasn’t led the points standings entering a race in 10 contests. On the season, Byron paces the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in wins (6), top fives (10), average running position (8.1), laps led (572) and driver rating (105.0).
“I think it’s different (not leading in points right now), but last weekend we had a lot of adversity in practice, in qualifying we had oil on the track before we went out and in the race we had a couple mistakes,” Byron said. “It’s good we were able to rebound from that and be ahead of the cutoff line for the final round. We also know we can’t lean on that gap, so we have to try to get a win like we have all year. I know we can turn the adversity into a positive and hopefully move on to the final round.”
Race Weekend Guide
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: AAA Texas 500
Place: Texas Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 501 miles (334 laps)
What to Watch For: Jimmie Johnson goes for his fifth straight fall win at Texas as he attempts to tie NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty with a record seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. … Drivers try to move into the top four of a Chase Grid led by Johnson (clinched berth in Championship 4 with win at Martinsville), followed by Denny Hamlin (six points above Joey Logano on the cutoff line), Matt Kenseth (+6), Kyle Busch (+4), Joey Logano (-4), Kevin Harvick (-16), Kurt Busch (-18) and Carl Edwards (-32). … Joe Gibbs Racing, which has Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards still alive in the Chase, and Stewart-Haas Racing, which has Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch remaining, attempt to become the first teams ever to put multiple drivers in the Championship 4. … Past Texas winners not in the Chase – Greg Biffle (two victories) Tony Stewart (2), Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman – try to spoil a Championship 4 bid with a victory on Tuesday. Since the new Chase format was implemented in 2014, four of 27 races have been won by non-Chase-eligible drivers (Jimmie Johnson: Texas 2014, Texas 2015; Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Martinsville 2014, Phoenix 2015). … Kevin Harvick attempts to register his first win in 27 starts at Texas after logging two runner-ups and a third-place showing in his last four races there.
NASCAR XFINITY Series
Race: O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge
Place: Texas Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)
What to Watch For: Texas marks the penultimate race of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase Round of 8. Elliott Sadler (12 points above Erik Jones on the cutoff line) leads the Chase Grid, followed by Daniel Suarez (+12), Blake Koch (+5), Justin Allgaier (0, currently holds tiebreaker over Erik Jones), Erik Jones (0), Ryan Reed (-2), Brendan Gaughan (-17) and Darrell Wallace Jr. (-18). … The Round of 8 drivers’ career average finishes at Texas: Erik Jones (2.3), Elliott Sadler (12.1), Justin Allgaier (12.5), Daniel Suarez (13.3), Darrell Wallace Jr. (13.3), Ryan Reed (16.2), Brendan Gaughan (19.4) and Blake Koch (31.5). Jones is the lone Chase contender who has won at Texas Motor Speedway (2015).
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Race: Striping Technology 350
Place: Texas Motor Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 220.5 miles (147 laps)
What to Watch For: The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to Texas for its second race in its Chase’s Round of 6. Johnny Sauter (clinched Championship 4 berth with his win at Martinsville) sits first on the Chase Grid, followed by Christopher Bell (13 points above Matt Crafton on the cutoff line), Timothy Peters (+12), William Byron (+9), Matt Crafton (-9) and Ben Kennedy (-10). … Johnny Sauter goes for his second straight win and third of the season. … Christopher Bell, who leads all drivers with a 4.5 average finish during the Chase, tries for his sixth consecutive top-six finish. … Matt Crafton (spring 2014 and spring 2015), Johnny Sauter (2012 sweep), William Byron (spring 2016) and Travis Kvapil (2001) are the only drivers in the field who have won at Texas.