Only eight drivers head into Texas Motor Speedway with their 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship hopes still alive.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, and that includes the stakes entering the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 to kick off the Round of 8 on Sunday (2 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App/Peacock, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Thanks to his series-high seventh win one week ago at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Kyle Larson will start on the pole Sunday alongside championship rival Denny Hamlin. Behind them will be Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. For the full starting lineup, click here.
SOMETHING OF SUBSTANCE
In a shift from recent races at Texas Motor Speedway, Speedway Motorsports will prepare the track with resin in each set of corners opposed to the previously-used PJ1 traction compound. NASCAR officials believe the resin cooperates better with both the racing surface and the cars to provide an additional groove on track without needing to heat the compound as necessary with PJ1.
— Texas Motor Speedway hosted its first NASCAR Cup Series race in April 1997, the product of a project that began in August 1995 on a 1,500-acre property.
— In the track’s initial configuration, the turns had variable banking of 8º on the bottom and 24º on the top. That created difficulty for the drivers and vehicles on corner exit, necessitating a change to a constant 24º banking following the track’s first two NASCAR weekends.
— Water drainage plagued Texas Motor Speedway early on as the track suffered notable “weeping” issues in 1998. New, large systems were introduced that year, but the track was quickly repaved in 2001 with a granite-based asphalt which was designed to dry quickly.
— TMS’ backstretch boasts “Big Hoss,” the largest video screen in the state of Texas and second-biggest in the United States and features a staggering 20,633.64 square feet of HD display – nearly a half-acre – with dimensions of 218 feet wide and 94.6 feet tall.
— The track was reconfigured and completely repaved once again in 2017, the product of continued weeper and track-drying issues that plagued Texas’ NASCAR and IndyCar events in 2016. While Speedway Motorsports added an extensive French drainage system to assist in water removal, the company also altered Turns 1 and 2, decreasing banking to 20º and widening the track from 60 feet to 80 feet.
Source: Racing Insights
While Texas Motor Speedway’s repave took place four years ago, its surface still doesn’t wear tires aggressively. That means Goodyear brings a tire to Texas meant for similar, low-wear tracks like Michigan International Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where teams used this tire compound just three weeks ago.
“Texas has begun to age a little bit, but it is still grouped in with some of the more ‘low-wear’ tracks that NASCAR goes to,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “We were able to make a compound change to the right-side tire here last fall to give the cars more grip. We have seen some good results from this tire set-up since then, having run it at Texas, Michigan and Las Vegas already this season. We want tires to wear at Texas because of the speeds these cars are running. Speed generates heat, and as this tire wears, it runs a little cooler and performs well over a long run.”
Teams will also use this same right-side tire next weekend at Kansas Speedway.
NASCAR Cup Series cars will be outfitted with the 550-horsepower, high-downforce package this weekend, which features taller spoilers and longer front splitters in an effort to create closer side-by-side racing at ovals larger than 1.4 miles in length.
STORYLINES IN THE LONE STAR STATE
— The eight drivers still fighting for the 2021 Cup Series championship are Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.
— Denny Hamlin has won each of the two opening-round races so far in this year’s Playoffs (Round of 16 – Darlington; Round of 12 – Las Vegas) and is the only driver with top 10s in each of the six Playoff races so far this season.
— Ford is winless in the last nine Playoff races.
— All eight drivers in the Round of 8 have a win on at least one of the three tracks in the round (Texas, Kansas, Martinsville).
— Kevin Harvick won at least one Playoff race each of the last nine seasons (2012-2020), the longest active streak. The longest streak all-time is 13 seasons by Jimmie Johnson.
— This is the first time in the elimination format that Kevin Harvick has not made the Round of 8.
— Kyle Larson won the NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway earlier this year, the only Cup event held at Texas prior to this weekend’s race.
— Kyle Larson’s seven victories this season are more than his career total entering 2021.
— Two of Kyle Busch’s three most recent wins came on tracks in this round (Texas 2020, Kansas 2021).
— In seven events at 1.5-mile tracks this year, Kyle Larson is the only multi-race winner (Las Vegas 1, Charlotte Oval). The other winners are William Byron, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin.
— Kyle Busch holds the best average finish at mile-and-a-half tracks this season at 3.86. Teammate Denny Hamlin holds the second-bet at 7.43.
— Hendrick Motorsports has dominated the laps-led categories on mile-and-a-half facilities in 2021 with 1,153 laps out front. Joe Gibbs Racing is second with 384 laps led.
Source: Racing Insights
BIG BETS IN FRONT OF BIG HOSS
Kyle Larson is the odds-on favorite to win at Texas Motor Speedway, with BetMGM listing the No. 1 Playoff seed at 11-4 (+275) odds. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has yet to win a points race at Texas but was victorious in the spring All-Star Race.
Behind him sit Denny Hamlin at 6-1, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch at 7-1 and Martin Truex Jr. at 15-2 (+750).
RELATED: BetMGM’s odds for Texas Playoff race
Kyle Busch appears to be the safest bet as his worst finish on the last six 1.5-mile tracks this season is fifth in addition to winning this race a year ago. Busch, the lone multi-time champion of the current field, also has four straight top 10s at Texas.
Hamlin, meanwhile, has finished 20th or worse in four of the last six Texas races and netted points in just two of the last 10 Texas stages.
An interesting sleeper pick might be the No. 3 of Austin Dillon at 50-1 odds. A winner at Texas in July 2020, Dillon has finished 13th or better in each of his last nine mile-and-a-half starts. He’s also finished 14th or better in each of his last five Texas races.
Want to manage a team and race your way to the top of the leaderboards? Check out the playoff version of NASCAR Fantasy Live, which is open now and offers a fresh start for those of you who played the regular-season contest. The free-to-play game lets you choose your drivers each week and show off your crew-chief instincts, and there is a $10,000 prize for the winner.
The 2021 Fantasy Live points leaders are Denny Hamlin (1,288) Kyle Larson (1,254), and Chase Elliott (1,065).
This year, NASCAR.com also has the Playoffs Grid Challenge game, presented by Ruoff Mortgage, where you can pick the winners for each round of the playoffs right up through the Championship 4. First prize is $10,000.
ALSO ON NASCAR.COM
Get additional camera views by logging on to NASCAR Drive, where each week a select number of in-car cameras will be available — as well as a battle cam and an overhead look.
New for this season, NASCAR has partnered with LiveLike to add fan engagement in the NASCAR Mobile App. Log in to the mobile app during the race for polls, quizzes, the cheer meter and more — and see instant results from NASCAR fans like you.
And finally, head over to the NASCAR Mobile App for AR Racing presented by Mobil 1, where you can design your own car and race the playoff drivers at the playoff tracks in augmented reality.