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September 24, 2023

Advance Through the Playoffs: Another legendary Lone Star moment for Larson?


Kyle Larson tries on a hat in Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway
Chris Graythen
Getty Images

We talk about Kyle Larson a lot in this space, but it’s pretty hard to ignore the man, the myth, the legend after what he did in the Round of 16 to open this year’s playoffs. After winning at Darlington Raceway, Larson went on to finish fourth at Kansas Speedway and second at Bristol Motor Speedway for an average finish of 2.3 — second all-time only to Greg Biffle’s mark of 1.67 in 2008 through the first three playoff races.

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What will the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet do for an encore? Well, Larson enters Texas with 409 points scored on 1.5-mile tracks in the Next Gen car, and that’s second only to Ross Chastain, who has 415. With an average finish of 9.5 on 1.5-mile tracks this year, Larson is a good bet to be running among the leaders in Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, USA, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App).

However, Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron has the best average finish on 1.5-mile tracks this year at 5.25, and he has won on a 1.5-mile track in 2023 (Las Vegas), whereas Larson has not. Meanwhile, Tyler Reddick, who won this race last year as a member of Richard Childress Racing, has also won on a 1.5-mile track this year (Kansas) and has an average finish of 7.5 on the 1.5-milers.

If Larson does manage to hold off those guys and pull out the win at Texas, then look out because he won here in 2021 on the way to a championship — matching Jimmie Johnson (2007, 2013) and Tony Stewart (2011) as drivers who took Texas and then went on to claim the championship that year as well. Is another legendary Lone Star moment in store for Larson? While we think about the answer to that question, let’s look at some of the other key drivers in this race:

PLAYOFF PICTURE

KYLE BUSCH: Busch begins the Round of 12 in sixth place and eight points above the elimination line. Based on his history at Texas, there’s a chance he could improve his standing. In addition to being a four-time Texas winner, Busch has finished in the top 10 in five of the last six Texas races.

RYAN BLANEY: Unlike Busch, Blaney begins the Round of 12 beneath the elimination line, six points to the bad side of the equation. But Blaney is arguably the best available playoff driver at Texas with top-10 finishes in eight of the last nine Texas races and a victory in the 2022 All-Star Race in the Lone Star State.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Keselowski enters the Round of 12 three points beneath the elimination line, so a good start at Texas is imperative if he wants to continue on the path to a second Cup Series title. The good news is Keselowski has finished in the top 10 in the last four Texas races and won the pole for this race last year.

CHRIS BUESCHER: Buescher has a cushion of 10 points on the elimination line entering Texas, but unfortunately for him, the Prosper, Texas, native hasn’t fared too well in his home state. Buescher has never finished better than 15th in 13 starts at Texas and has only one top-10 finish in the last 15 races on 1.5-mile tracks.

BUBBA WALLACE: If you’re looking for a sleeper pick, then Wallace could be your lucky driver. Although he’s at the very bottom of the standings and 14 points below the elimination line, Wallace has finished fourth in three of the last four races on 1.5-mile tracks, and his team, 23XI Racing, has been strong with three wins on 1.5-mile tracks in the Next Gen car.

Projections as of Sunday, Sept. 24:

RACING INSIGHTS’ PROJECTIONS FOR THE AUTOTRADER ECHOPARK AUTOMOTIVE 400

Racing Insights’ advanced statistical formula includes current track, current track type, recent performance, team data and pit-crew data to arrive at a projected winner and full race results.

FinishCar NumberDriver
15Kyle Larson
211Denny Hamlin
345Tyler Reddick
424William Byron
519Martin Truex Jr.
612Ryan Blaney
74Kevin Harvick
86Brad Keselowski
920Christopher Bell
1022Joey Logano
111Ross Chastain
128Kyle Busch
139Chase Elliott
1423Bubba Wallace
1517Chris Buescher
1654Ty Gibbs
1748Alex Bowman
1843Erik Jones
1999Daniel Suárez
2014Chase Briscoe
2110Aric Almirola
223Austin Dillon
2347Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
2434Michael McDowell
252Austin Cindric
267Corey LaJoie
2731Justin Haley
2816AJ Allmendinger
2941Ryan Preece
3021Harrison Burton
3142Carson Hocevar
3277Ty Dillon
3351Todd Gilliland
3438Zane Smith
3515J.J. Yeley
3678BJ McLeod

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