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BREAKING DOWN THE REMAINING EIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS AS THE MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES PLAYOFFS RETURN TO TEXAS
A win by a playoff contender this Sunday at Martinsville Speedway will certainly give someone a clear path to this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. Of course, we here at Texas Motor Speedway can’t predict the future, so we’ll have to pretend that all eight postseason contenders will be looking to lock up a spot in the championship when the MENCS returns to Fort Worth for the AAA Texas 500 tripleheader playoff weekend Nov. 1-4.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the eight contenders and some fast facts on why they can leave the 1.5-mile speedway with an automatic bid into this year’s Championship 4:
One win away from tying Carl Edwards for second on Texas Motor Speedway’s all-time wins list, Rowdy can punch his ticket into the final four and also become just the fourth driver in track history to pull off a season sweep. Winner of April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, Busch has won two of the last five races here.
With an 11.1 average finishing position in 31 starts at Texas Motor Speedway, it’s hard to believe that Happy’s first trip to Sunoco Victory Lane came in last November’s AAA Texas 500. More importantly, the No. 4 team has been fast absolutely everywhere this season – and with three of his seven wins coming on mile-and-half tracks, there’s little doubt Harvick will be in contention down the stretch next Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr.
Take away an uncharacteristic 37th-place finish in April, and there’s hard to find many better at TMS than the reigning Cup Series champion. With 363 laps led in his last five starts, Truex Jr. was on just 38 laps away from a dominant win here last November. The team has lost its way of late, but Truex Jr. certainly has the road map to success at TMS.
There aren’t too many hotter than this guy right now. Three wins in his last 11 starts, Elliott dominated the Round of 12 with two wins, including last weekend’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway. Sure, the No. 9 team has had a little luck on its side, but what champion – in any sport – has ever won a title without a little good fortune. It won’t take much luck here, though, as Elliott has been good since his first start at TMS, earning four top-10s in his first four starts and an 11th this past April.
Bowyer’s ninth-place finish in April was his first top-10 at TMS since an eighth in the 2014 O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. But stats can be thrown out the window when it comes to the 14 team, which won at Michigan and Martinsville earlier this year – both tracks that haven’t exactly been Bowyer’s best.
Not exactly a dark horse, but with only one win this season, Logano probably isn’t the first name you think of when you’re looking to lay a little dough on the line for a win at Texas. That said, Logano has been awesome here, lately, finishing inside the top three in three of his last five starts. Plus, he’s won here before, too, which doesn’t hurt the old confidence.
Winner of the last two poles at Texas Motor Speedway, Kurt’s qualifying runs haven’t translated to a contending car once the green flag flies. But he did lead 40 laps in April and does have three consecutive top-10 finishes. Just saying.
Maybe the least likely on this list, but that’s just how Aric likes it. Every time he’s counted out, he proves everyone wrong. The win at Talladega two weeks ago has gone a long way in giving this team an identity. And while Texas hasn’t been all that kind to Double A over the years (one top-10 finish in 15 starts), this might be the year that history book writers look back on and scratch their heads.