The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff races at Texas Motor Speedway have unfailingly impacted the postseason outlook for drivers – race winning title contenders have secured their position in the coveted Championship 4 the last four years consecutively.
Martin Truex Jr.’s win at Martinsville Speedway last week was his ticket into the Championship 4 Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway and this weekend, odds are another of the eight eligible title contenders will celebrate a title opportunity in Texas’s Victory Lane following Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Chief among those good-bets is Kevin Harvick, who sits fifth in the Playoff standings only 14 points behind reigning series champion Joey Logano in that all-important fourth place position. Harvick shows up in Fort Worth as the two-time defending champion of this Playoff race. In all, he has 21 top-10 finishes in 33 races on the 1.5-mile high banks. A three-time winner in 2019, he has six top-10 finishes through the opening seven Playoff races this season. His 7.0 average finish in the Playoffs is second only to Truex (6.2).
And Harvick, the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, hasn’t finished worse than sixth in the last five Playoff races at Texas, including the two wins and a runner-up finish to Jimmie Johnson in 2014 – when Harvick went on to win the title.
He won this race in 2017 by 1.506 seconds over Truex, who had led a race best 107 laps. Last year Harvick led 177 laps and won by a slim .447-seconds over Ryan Blaney in overtime. He was sixth in the 2016 Playoff race, third in 2015 and runner-up in 2014.
“Clutch moments, there’s nothing like them,” Harvick said of the different styles of winning. “It’s one thing to dominate a race all day and win – that’s great. But, making a last lap pass, an end-of-the-race pass or winning on a day when you’re not supposed to, there is just no better feeling than getting out of the car and looking at those guys. Having the rest of the field ask, ‘how was he able to win today?’
“Those are the types of moments that I love to be a part of. We’ve been fortunate to experience a lot of those.”
This week in particular, the four drivers below the fourth place cutoff line in the Playoff standings – Harvick, sixth place Blaney, seventh place Kyle Larson and eighth place Chase Elliott – must feel optimistic about their chances. They have all had success at the track.
Blaney, the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford, may have been disappointed with the outcome of last year’s Texas Playoff race, losing out to Harvick in an overtime thriller. But he certainly brings a level of high confidence and is only a single point behind Harvick; 15 points behind his Penske teammate Joey Logano in the standings.
He and fellow championship contenders Larson and Elliott are all former Xfinity Series race winners at the track. Blaney won the Texas race in 2018, Larson in 2016 and Elliott scored his career first Xfinity Series win in 2014.
Larson, who is 24 points behind Logano in the standings and Elliott, who is 44 points back have also finished in the top-10 in the last two Playoff races at Texas. Elliott has earned the third most points among the eight Playoff drivers at 1.5-mile tracks this season and his Hendrick Motorsports team is tied with Roush-Fenway Racing for most team wins (nine) at Texas.
All four of these drivers currently below the cutoff, have good reason to believe this weekend could make a big difference in their championship chances.
“This weekend, we’ll feel a lot more confident heading to a track where we’ve had fast Camaros and some good finishes,” said Larson, who drives the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
“We’ve had tire issues at three of the last four Texas race, but have been in contention each time and ran well here last Fall. Texas, especially Turn 1, can be a tricky place, but I think we’ll be competitive again this time as we go for the win and spot in the next round.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!