The Round of 8 in the NASCAR Playoffs continues with a return trip to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for all three top divisions.
Only two races remain to see who will be battling for a Championship at Phoenix Raceway. Joey Logano (Cup), Chase Briscoe (Xfinity) and Brett Moffitt (Gander Trucks) are already locked into the Championship 4 by virtue of their wins at Kansas Speedway.
All three series last raced at Texas in July with series regulars Austin Dillon and Austin Cindric taking the victories in the Cup and Xfinity races, respectively.
Dillon, who was eliminated from the Playoffs, is one of eight different winners at a mile-and-a-half track this season. Texas will mark the 11th and final race of the season at those types of tracks in 2020. Dillon also became the fifth different winner in the last seven Texas races since the track was repaved and reconfigured joining Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
Logano joined Hamlin as the only two-time winners at mile-and-a-half tracks this season with his victory at Kansas. Four other drivers still eligible to earn a spot to the Championship 4 have also taken a win at a 1.5-mile track – Kevin Harvick (Atlanta), Brad Keselowski (Charlotte), Chase Elliott (Charlotte) and Kurt Busch (Las Vegas).
Harvick, who is 41 points above the cutline, has won the last three playoff races at Texas. If he can pull off the win this weekend not only would that lock him in, but it would also tie Jimmie Johnson’s mark of four straight Texas fall wins (2012-2015).
"There’s always things that can happen, but I truly believe that we’ll go there and have a really fast car and be comfortable the week leading up to it that you made the right decisions because we’ve made a lot of really good decisions there in the past," Harvick said. "It’s just been a great place for us."
Martin Truex Jr. has led 181 laps and posted four top 10s, including a runner-up in this event in 2017, since Texas was reconfigured. He comes into the weekend 31 points below the cutline and is optimistic after the run he had in July before getting caught up in an accident.
"I feel good about it," Truex Jr. said. "We were really strong in the spring Texas race. Feeling like the last two seasons or whatever we’ve been off at Texas and have had some struggles. We went there this Spring and felt really good about things. I thought we had a shot at it, and we ended up getting crashed on a restart."
Kurt Busch, who has finished in the top 10 in the last seven Texas races, comes into the weekend 73 below the cutline after an engine failure at Kansas.
"There’s just normal preparations; and in my mind, gassing it up as hard as we can for Texas because second place isn’t going to cut it at the end of the day," Busch said. "And so, if there’s a chance to go with something big, of course I’ve got my arm up as high as it can go; and I know that everybody will make the right decisions together on what we need to win at Texas."
Sunday’s Cup Series Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET (PRN/NBCSN).
In the Xfinity Series, July Texas winner Cindric is the only driver in the field for Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 (4:30 p.m. ET, PRN/NBCSN) with a win at the Fort Worth track.
Cindric currently sits fourth in the Playoff standings, two points above the cutline. Justin Allgaier (+11) and Brandon Jones (+9) are the other drivers currently in.
Allgaier led a race-high 98 laps in July and finished third.
"Last time we visited Texas, I felt like we had the car to beat and that gives me confidence as we head back there this weekend with our Sam’s Club/Hellmann’s Camaro," Allgaier said. "There are only two races left until Phoenix and right now we’re on the good side of that cutoff line, but the points are tight and things can easily change."
Briscoe will look to take away one of the automatic berths from the Playoff drivers if he can score his 10th win of the season, which would mark his third straight at a mile-and-a-half track.
"The approach is the same as it’s been all year long," Briscoe said. "We’ll take our Ford Performance Racing School Mustang to Texas and try to win. There are still things that I can do better and there are three races left to win. I don’t think we treat it any differently. We don’t have to worry about points anymore, but we’ll go there with the mentality to win and try to lead every lap. That’s the mentality we’ve had all year long."
Sunday’s NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series SpeedyCash.com 400 (MRN/FS1 11:30 a.m. ET) will be held prior to the Cup race.
Kyle Busch won the July race over his teammate Christian Eckes, who is eliminated from the Playoffs. Matt Crafton finished third in that race and is the only Playoff driver with a win at Texas, coming on the old configuration in the spring race in 2014 and 2015.
"Texas in the past on the old racetrack was really good for us," Crafton said. "We’ve got some cowboy hats to prove that, but the new racetrack at first it didn’t like us at all. End of last year and the first race this year we really, really ran well."
Crafton is currently sixth in the Playoff standings, 15 points behind the cutoff. With Moffitt in on wins, Sheldon Creed (+26), Austin Hill (+19) and rookie Zane Smith (+7) occupy the top four spots.
"I feel pretty confident heading into Texas this weekend," Smith said. "We had a better truck in July than our finish shows. A win is the goal to lock ourselves into the Championship 4, but overall just need to have a solid points day to keep us alive in the playoffs."