'Fast Five' Things to watch for in Sunday's Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Race
The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs move on to the Round of 12 and the next stop is Texas Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500.
The Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 (2:30 p.m. CT, TV: USA Network, Radio: SiriusXM Ch. 90, PRN, 95.9 The Ranch locally) will be the opening race of the second playoff round that also includes Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2) and the Charlotte ROVAL (Oct. 9).
Four drivers – Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick - were eliminated after the Round of 16, leaving a dozen still in contention heading into the second of four rounds in the elimination-style playoff format.
The 12 drivers are Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, William Byron and Alex Bowman of Hendrick Motorsports; Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric of Team Penske; Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing; Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez of Trackhouse Racing; and Chase Briscoe of Stewart-Haas Racing.
Here’s the “Fast Five Things To Watch For” in the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500:
- RYAN BLANEY opens the Round of 12 as the eighth seed but Texas Motor Speedway could get him off to a fast start. The Team Penske driver won the NASCAR All-Star Race there in May and has been strong of late in the points-paying races at the 1.5-mile oval as well. He will look to follow the pattern established last season by Larson, who won the debut of the NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas and then went on to dominate the playoff race by leading 256 of the 334 laps. Blaney also has finished eighth or better in his last four points-paying starts and seven of the last eight, including three among the top five during that stretch. He finished a personal-best of second in this race in 2018 and was sixth last year.
- KEVIN HARVICK and KYLE BUSCH were eliminated from playoff contention following the Round of 16 but expect the duo to potentially impact this race given their career success at Texas and zero concern about points racing to advance. Harvick recorded three consecutive wins in this fall playoff race from 2017-19 and has reeled off 13 top-10 finishes in his last 14 starts overall at Texas Motor Speedway. He has an average finishing position of 9.7 buoyed by a track-record 24 top-10 finishes. Busch is tied with Carl Edwards for the second-most Cup wins at TMS with four and ranks second in career laps led (1,069). He arrives on a run of five consecutive points-paying, top-10 finishes at Texas, including a win in this event in 2020. Busch also looked strong in the NASCAR All-Star Race, winning Stage 1 and leading every lap of the race – 47 in all – at the time he had a tire issue that resulted in a race-ending accident with Chastain.
- The 16 playoff contenders were shut out in the opening round as non-playoff drivers won all three races. ERIK JONES won the opener at Kansas and was followed by victories from BUBBA WALLACE at Kansas and Prosper, Texas native CHRIS BUESCHER at Bristol this past Saturday night. No playoff driver was able to automatically advance to the next round by virtue of a win and that placed a premium on points. That streak could possibly extend to four races with the likes of Busch and Harvick out of contention and looming.
- CHASE ELLIOTT opens the Round of 12 as the top seed and is hopeful that he is beginning to trend in the right direction at Texas Motor Speedway. He finished seventh in last year’s playoff race at Texas to snap a run of four consecutive points-paying races there without a top-10 finish. His best finish at Texas is fourth, which came in this event in 2016. Elliott also has not led a lap in his last four starts at TMS and has just 44 in 11 career points-paying starts. However, he has been solid in qualifying with starting positions of eighth or better in four of his last five visits.
- Only three drivers – DENNY HAMLIN, KYLE LARSON and JOEY LOGANO – are among the 12 playoff contenders who have previously won a points-paying race at Texas Motor Speedway. Larson was the most recent of the trio, winning the 2021 playoff race wire to wire in dominating fashion. Hamlin is a three-time winner with his most recent coming in the 2019 spring race. Logano registered his win in the spring of 2014.
Texas Motor Speedway will play host to the 2022 NASCAR Playoffs this weekend. The NASCAR Playoffs doubleheader will be highlighted by the NASCAR Xfinity Series Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 on Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT on USA Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Ch. 90, and PRN), and the NASCAR Cup Series Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 on Sunday (2:30 p.m. CT on USA Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Ch. 90, PRN, and 95.9 The Ranch).
The newly renovated Lil’ Texas Motor Speedway 1/5-mile dirt track will kick off the weekend of racing with the inaugural C. Bell’s MICRO MANIA. The four-day event (Sept. 21-24) features practice on Wednesday, qualifying races Thursday and Friday, and mains and finals Saturday. Micro Sprints are smaller versions of full-sized sprint cars with side-mounted 600cc motorcycle engines that can generate 140 horsepower with similar chassis and body styles to the larger versions. NASCAR stars currently confirmed to participate include Christopher Bell, two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch and his son Brexton Busch, Sheldon Creed, Daniel Hemric, Brett Moffitt, and John Hunter Nemechek.