The MENCS will return to Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500. The series last competed at Texas in April and the story of the race was blown tires and dominance by Kyle Busch. There is a lot on the line for the 8 drivers still fighting for a spot in the championship race at Homestead. The race can be seen Sunday at 3pm ET on NBC Sports Network.
The MENCS was back to their regular schedule this week. There was one practice Friday afternoon, followed by qualifying Friday evening. The teams had to practice sessions Saturday to dial in their cars for the race Sunday. The practice speeds at Texas usually translate into race speed so it will be important to look at the average lap speeds from the final practice.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Texas…
The MENCS teams had problems with their tires in the April race at Texas. To solve this problem Goodyear is bringing a new tire to the track this week. It is the same tire Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman and Austin Dillon tested at the track in mid August. The temperatures will be a lot different from the test but these teams should still have some note to give them an edge this weekend. Teams will receive 3 sets of tires for the 3 practices, 1 set for qualifying and 10 sets for the race Sunday.
The teams in the playoff have an * next to their names.
* Chase Elliott: Elliott dominated the last round of the playoffs and now he is almost in a “must win” situation. Elliott is 31 points behind the transfer spot so a top-10 finish will not help him Sunday. This team won at the last 1.5-mile track (Kansas) and they need to do it again at Texas. Elliott was fighting the car pushing in the center of the corner. The team said they are not where they need to be but they have 500 miles to figure it out. They think they will be OK Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson: It is really hard to trust Johnson this season. He used to dominate the races at Texas. Now the No. 48 team just hopes for a top-10 finish. Johnson has a 17th-place average starting position and 16th-place average finishing position in the playoffs.
Alex Bowman: Bowman has been mediocre on the 1.5-mile tracks in 2018. His average starting position is 16.6 and his average finishing position is 18.7. Bowman qualified 16th and finished 28th in the first race at Texas this season. Bowman reported, “The car is tight in 3 and 4 and free in 1 and 2. The balance feels like it is off.”
William Byron: I really like Byron and think he has a lot of talent but he is having the worst season in the history of Hendrick Motorsports. Byron has a 29.6 average finishing position in the 7 playoffs races this season. His average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks in 2018 is 26.9. That is not good for a HMS driver.
Kyle Larson: Larson said after the race at Talladega, “It just sucks our team puts all of their focus on the 1.5-mile tracks and ignores the rest of the races.” When you look at his stats, he is right. Larson finished 3rd at Las Vegas and 3rd at Kansas in the playoffs. He struggled at the rest of the tracks. He was running 5th at Texas in April when he had a tire go down. The No. 42 team completely scraped their setup from Friday and start Saturday morning practice with a new setup. Larson made a lot of long runs and most of his laps were in the top 10.
Jamie McMurray: McMurray had his best race of the season at Texas in April. He qualified 24th and finished 3rd. He usually runs better in the spring than he does in the fall at this track. The No. 1 team has not had a top-15 finish on an oval track in the playoffs. It makes you wonder if McMurray has already given up on the season.
* Kevin Harvick: Harvick has had the best cars on the intermediate tracks in the playoffs but he has nothing to show for it. Harvick won this race last year and he finished 2nd in April. Harvick has led more laps on the 1.5-mile tracks this season than any other driver. Speed will not be their problem Sunday. The No. 4 team worked on their long run speed. When asked if their car was good, Rodney Childers gave the “thumbs up.”
* Clint Bowyer: Bowyer is 42 points behind the transfer position so he will need to win at Texas or Phoenix if he wants to race for a championship at Homestead. That is an uphill battle for the No. 14 team. Bowyer has a 14th-place average starting position and 12th-place average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Bowyer liked his car. He said, “When I dive into the corner, it sticks. 3 and 4 is a tick loose, but it is probably the wind.”
* Kurt Busch: Busch is 25 points behind the transfer spot so could really use a win Sunday. Texas ranks as the 2nd-best intermediate track for Busch (behind Atlanta). Busch won the pole, led 40 laps and finished 7th in April. He is my sleep pick to win this week. Busch told MRN Radio, “Our car is really fast. Is it as fast as my teammates? I am not sure. If we have the fastest Stewart-Haas Racing car tomorrow, we should win the race.”
* Aric Almirola: Almirola has been a great story this season but it will likely come to an end after the race at Phoenix. Amirola is 50 points behind the transfer position so he must win at Texas of Phoenix. Almirola has an 11th-place average starting position and a 14th-place average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He did finish 6th at Las Vegas and 10th at Kansas so this team has had speed in the playoffs. Almirola looked really fast in practice. He posted the fastest time in the morning practice. They worked in final practice at dialing down their long-run speed.
Brad Keselowski: The way Keselowski raced his teammate (Joey Logao) at Martinsville proves the No. 2 team has not given up on the season. Keselowski started off slow at the 1.5-mile tracks this season but picked it up over the summer. Keselowski finished 3rd at Kentucky, won at Las Vegas and finished 6th at Kansas. If he wins Sunday it will guarantee his teammate (Joey Logano) will be competing against 2 of the Big Three at Homestead. Keselowski liked his car. He said, “The balance is good. I just need a little more forward bite into 1 and 2.” He was 4th fastest at the time.
* Joey Logano: Logano is the first driver to secure his spot in the championship race at Homestead and it should not have surprised anyone. Logano has a series-best 6.4 average finishing position in the playoffs and a series-high 118.7 driver rating. He has also been one of the most consistent drivers on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He has finished 8 of the 9 races in the top 10, including a 6th place finish at Texas in April. Logano made a 30 lap run in final practice. He liked what in his car so they were trying to find as much information as possible for Sunday.
Ryan Blaney: Blaney is at his best on the 1.5-mile tracks. He has finished 6 of the 9 races in the top 12, including a 5th place finish at Texas in April. Blaney has been one of the most reliable drivers at the intermediate tracks in the playoffs. Blaney finished 5th at Las Vegas and 7th at Kansas. Blaney said his car was. “Extremely loose in and off the corner and tight in the center.” The team changed a lot in the car to try and make it better.
Paul Menard: Menard has not been very good since the playoffs began. His average starting position in the last 7 races is 23.3 and his average finishing position is 20.6. Menard qualified 19th and finished 30th in the last race at Texas. The No. 21 team used the same setup as the No. 12 car. Menard made some 10-lap runs and was top-5 fast in the morning practice. Menard could sneak into the top 10 Sunday.
* Kyle Busch: Busch is 46 points above the transfer position so he simply needs a top 10 finish Sunday. I doubt that will be their goal. Busch dominated the last race at Texas and went to Victory Lane. The No. 18 team would love to win again and not have to worry about the race at Phoenix. Busch made a lot of fast runs in practice. He told Adam Stevens, “Let me know how I compare with those SHR (Stewart-Haas Racing) cars. Most people in the garage believe the SHR are the ones to beat.
Erik Jones: Jones had one of his best races of the season at Texas in April. He qualified 24th and quickly made his way to the front. Jones led 64 laps and finished 4th. He has finished 7 of the 9 races on the 1.5-mile track in the top 11 this season.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has been mediocre on the 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs. The No. 11 car finished 32nd at Las Vegas and 14th at Kansas. Hamlin qualified 5th and finished 34th in the April race at Texas. He has been much better on the shorter tracks in 2018.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez has not has the speed to compete on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He has a 12th-place average starting position and a 19th-place average finishing position at these tracks this season. Suarez qualified 14th and finished 29th at Texas in April. Suarez was practicing getting onto the track after a pit-stop and he almost spun out. Suarez has the same setup at the No. 11 car this week.
* Martin Truex Jr.: Truex was pissed after the race at Martinsville and he told MRN Radio, “We will win next week.” The No. 78 team has the speed to get the job done. Truex has finished 8 of the 9 races on the 1.5-mile tracks in the top 5. He was running 2nd at Texas in April when he got a flat tire. This team should have their “A” game Sunday. Truex practiced pit road speed and then made some long runs. He said, “It is a lot better in race-trim then it was in Q-trim.”
Ryan Newman: Newman has not been very good on the 1.5-mile tracks in 2018. His average starting position is 15.3 and his average finishing position is 20.6. In April he qualified 25th and finished 17th at Texas. Newman was not happy with his car. He said, “The backend is all over the place.”
Austin Dillon: Dillon has not finished in the top 10 in any of the races on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He did finish 11th at Las Vegas and Kansas in the playoffs so there is some hope for the team. He said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week, “Our goal is to finish the season strong and build momentum for 2019.” The No. 3 team will still be trying to win Sunday. Dillon said his car was a lot better in final practice than it was in the morning.
Ty Dillon: Dillon had his best race of the season at Texas in April. He qualified 23rd and finished 13th. I doubt it will happen again. Dillon has a 26.8 average starting position and a 26.4 average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks in 2018.
Regan Smith: The No. 95 team was running a lot better earlier in the season than they are right now. Smith has finished the last two races (Kansas and Martinsville) in the 28th position. This team seems to be lacking the speed to compete for top 20 finishes at the end of the season. Smith started off the morning practice with a car that was way too loose. They worked on it and Smith said, “We are going in the right direction. It feels a lot better than where we started.”
AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger has been a decent cheap driver in salary cap games on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. His average starting position is 24.1 and his average finishing position is 19.9. Allmendinger had an engine failure in the last race at Texas. He was running 21st when his engine let go. Allmendnger liked his car in the morning practice. He said, “The front tires get into the track really well. I could use a little help on rear grip but it is not bad. Allmendinger was 6th fastest at the time.
Chris Buescher: Buescher is a Texas native and he said he loves to compete at his home track. Buescher finished 15th in the April race at Texas and he has been good at the 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs. Buescher finished 15th at Las Vegas and 16th at Kansas. The JTG Daugherty Racing car of Chris Buescher will have Hendrick Motorsports chasis and engines for the first time this week. They plan to use cars supplied by HMS in 2019 so they decided to make the switch early. This should help improve his speed this week. Buescher ran most of his laps in the top 15 in the practice sessions Saturday.
Darrell Wallace Jr.: Wallace had one of his best races of the season at Texas in April. He qualified 15th and finished 8th. Do not expect the same Sunday. Wallace has been one of the worst drivers since the playoffs started. His average starting position is 28.9 and his average finishing position is 29.6. There are better drivers for your fantasy team this week. Wallace was complaining that the front tires were sliding when he entered the corners.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: The No. 17 team has not had the speed to compete on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Stenhouse has a 14.6 average starting position and a 18.7 average finishing position in the 9 races on the intermediate tracks. In April he qualified 26th and finished 25th at Texas.
Trevor Bayne: Bayne will be back in the No. 6 car this week. This is his last race of the season. Bayne has been pretty consistent on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He usually finishes between 18th – 22nd positions. He made some long runs in practice and said, “The car feels like it is going to step over the edge in 3 and 4 but I think it is the wind more than the setup in the car.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski
Good Sleeper Picks: Erik Jones, Paul Menard, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Daniel Suarez and Chris Buescher
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