NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN) race preview

TRACK: Texas Motor Speedway (1.5 mile oval) DISTANCE: 334 Laps — STAGE 1: 105 Laps, STAGE 2: 105 Laps, FINAL STAGE: 124 Laps, MILES (501 Miles)

Starting Lineup

WHO WILL WIN Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500?

Kyle Larson

I know not much translates well over from the All-Star race, but Larson did win that night and has looked his best on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Hard to overlook, especially since he’s coming off of a win last week.

Kevin Harvick

Harvick has 12 top 10 finishes in his last 13 starts in Texas. Among those are four top two finishes in his last seven starts there. In the Fall race, he’s won three of the last four years.

Kyle Busch

Busch has four straight top 10’s at Texas and trends said he’d win last year. 10th to seventh to fourth to….first? He did. Five of his last six starts have seen him finish in the top 10 in the LoneStar State to go along with a pair of top fives in his last three starts on the season too.

Joey Logano

He’s had nine top 10 finishes in his last 10 Texas starts.

Ryan Blaney

Blaney has a top 12 finish in all but one Texas start. In fact, he has five top eights in his last seven tries and the only ones that he doesn’t, he led 145 laps in spring race in 2019 before an engine problem and leading 150 laps and sweeping both stages last July before a late race fluke caution.

Top Sleepers?

Alex Bowman

He has a pair of fifth place finishes in the last two Fall races here.

Christopher Bell

He finished third in this very race last year.

Kurt Busch

Mr. top 10 machine is a top 10 machine at Texas too. Busch, has eight straight top 10s there and 10 in the last 11 years. The only reason for these odds is, his last top five was 2010.

Austin Dillon

He won at Texas last July and has five straight top 15 finishes on this track.

Tyler Reddick

He was runner-up last July and 15th in the Fall. Reddick, finished second last week too.

Aric Almirola

With Stewart-Haas Racing, Almirola has four top 10 finishes in five tries including a seventh place run last spring and a runner up in the Fall of 2019 and 10th last July.

Erik Jones

A very solid sleeper. Jones, has six top 10’s in his last seven tries at Texas including three fourth place runs in his last six overall. Also, in five Xfinity Series tries on the 1.5 mile track, he’s finished in the top four in all including two wins.

Who To Fade?

Chase Elliott

He’s not had a top five in any of his last eight Texas starts including being 12th and 20th last year and 13th and 32nd a year prior.

Brad Keselowski

He’s not had a top five in each of his last six Texas starts including only two in his last eight.

William Byron

He’s 0-for-6 in terms of top fives at Texas including his last three finishes being 17th, 37th and 13th respectively.

Matt DiBenedetto

He was only 17th in both races last year.

Race Preview

For the first time ever, Texas will lead off the Round of 8. Usually this race was either the final race of the round or the penultimate one. What we do know is, we will be treated to a show on Sunday. In 2019, we saw 26 lead changes in both races at Texas. Last year, we saw a fluke winner in Austin Dillon in July and Kyle Busch earning his first win of the season in October. What happens now this weekend?

Look for the winner to come from the top 6 Rows. Owners points will make the winner since 17 of the last 19 and 19 of the last 22 Texas races were won from a top 10 starter.

But, with Hendrick Motorsports taking up a lot of those spots, can they capitalize?

The thing is, only two HMS drivers are left as Championship eligible. They’ll join all three cars from Team Penske and three of the four from Joe Gibbs Racing into the Round of 8. Four drivers in this round will advance to the Championship 4 while four go home.

2 of the 3 tracks this round are on 550 tracks and HMS appears to be the top organization on these types of circuits. These have also been among Penske’s worst.

Advantage Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott right?

The problem is, they have struggled at Texas in the past. Yes, they dominated the All-Star race but that package was an entirely different package than we’re running this weekend.

Larson, won in July here but has three top fives in his 13 Texas starts. He’s had six finishes of 23rd or worse. Elliott hasn’t had a top five in any of his last eight Texas tries including his last four finishes being 13th, 32nd, 12th and 20th respectively.

Their teammates who were eliminated last round in William Byron and Alex Bowman haven’t fared much better. Byron is 0-for-6 for top fives at Texas with only one top 10 to his credit.  Bowman is the only one with recent success with a pair of top fives the last two years but he has no wins.

So, if they struggle, who’s there to pick it up?

That’s an interesting question in the sense you’d think JGR. They went 1-2-3 last year but have otherwise struggled at Texas.

Busch won this race last year and won back on another 1.5-mile track at Kansas earlier this season which leads me to believe that while he’s skated by the first two rounds, the Round of 8 suits him well enough to get to the Championship 4.

Denny Hamlin has four finishes of 20th or worse in his last six and was ninth a year ago. Martin Truex Jr. has never won at Texas before and only two top fives in his last eight but one was a runner-up to Busch last Fall. Christopher Bell was third last October too.

Still, Busch is their best bet with a top 10 in all 10 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season including seven of the last nine in the top five and five of his last six in the top three at that.

Hamlin, is trying to go 3-for-3 in race wins for the first race of each round. He only has six top 10’s though on 550 tracks but five were in the top five too including a win in Vegas. Truex Jr. has only three top fives in the same races with Bell not having a top five on 1.5-mile tracks this season.

JGR are the favorites, but is Penske able to pick up the slack too?

It very well could be minus Brad Keselowski. He has just two top 10’s at Texas since 2017. Six of his last 10 starts there have seen him finish 12th or worse including three of the last six being 26th or worse. He’s not had a top five since 2017. Keselowski has skated by to this round with four top 10’s in six playoff races. But, he’s only had a pair of top fives in his last 12 starts on the season and just three in the last 21. That’s not going to get it done in this round when he likely has to either reach victory lane or be consistently in the top five.

Joey Logano is in the same boat. He’s had three top fives in his last 16 starts this year and only five in the last 22 in general. Also, only 550 tracks, Logano has no top fives all season either. But, he does have nine top 10 finishes in his last 10 Texas starts.

Meanwhile, Ryan Blaney has a top 12 finish in all but one Texas start. In fact, he has five top eights in his last seven tries and the only ones that he doesn’t, he led 145 laps in spring race in 2019 before an engine problem and leading 150 laps and sweeping both stages last July before a late race fluke caution. He also has eight top six finishes in his last 12 races on the season. Blaney, has seven top sixes in the last nine starts on 550 tracks.

This could be his round but Texas has all the makings to maybe shuffle up the playoff standings a bit.

So, who moves out of this round?

I think Busch wins Texas, Larson wins Kansas and Hamlin victorious now in Martinsville. The fourth and final spot to Phoenix will go to Truex Jr.

Top Stat

All but two races in the stage era has a driver not won a stage and the race itself. In fact, six of the last eight Texas races saw the eventual winner win or finish second in the second stage at that.

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