Now there is drama.
Joey Logano’s win in the Hollywood Casino 400 means that he will automatically advance to the Cup Championship Playoffs finale at ISM Raceway in Phoenix with a chance to win. All of the sudden, Chase Elliott finds himself on the chopping block with two races to go.
This week’s race is the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, henceforth to be referred to as the AEA 500 because Autotrader Echopark Automotive 500 is way too much to write out each time. This isn’t a high school history essay where we need to reach a word count.
Sunday’s race is the 34th of the season, which means that we only have three races to go. Let’s break it all down for you with odds from MyBookie Sportsbook:
|MARTIN TRUEX JR.||+1000|
|RICKY STENHOUSE JR.||+25000|
|JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK||+75000|
Evidently Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin won’t be playing around this weekend. Harvick is a +220 favorite and Hamlin is lined at +450. Even though we are on a traditional 1.5-mile track, only four drivers have single-digit odds, due in large part to the really short prices on the two favorites.
Just to be safe, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Harvick or Hamlin to win a race. Harvick is probably going to advance to the next round no matter what, but Hamlin, who is 21 points behind Harvick and 12 points ahead of Brad Keselowski, could be knocked out of the final four if two more playoff drivers not named Harvick win a race. The win for Logano took up one of the four playoff spots. Harvick’s points edge for all intents and purposes has locked up another.
The remaining drivers in the playoffs outside of those four are Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr., and Kurt Busch. Elliott currently sits fourth in points and Logano’s win was the most hurtful to his chances. Bowman, Truex, and Busch all had uphill climbs anyway.
Texas Motor Speedway
Everything is allegedly bigger in Texas, but this track looks a lot like last week’s Kansas Speedway layout. This is a 1.5-mile oval with 20-degree banking in Turn 1 & Turn 2 and 24-degree banking in Turn 3 & Turn 4. This is a pretty straightforward race all in all.
This has been a twice-a-year stop for the NASCAR Cup Series since 2005. Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with seven career wins here.
The dance may be the Texas Two-Step, but Kevin Harvick has won this race three years in a row. Jimmie Johnson actually won it four times in a row from 2012-15, so Harvick is going for that record plus a guaranteed spot at Phoenix, where he will be the clear-cut favorite on his most successful track.
Ironically, those are Harvick’s only three wins here in 35 races. He’s got 12 top-five finishes, but that ranks fourth behind Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Kyle Busch. Kenseth actually has the highest average finish here in his 31 career races, but he only has one top-five finish here in his last 10 starts.
Harvick has seven top-five finishes here in his last 10 starts, including those three wins. He has averaged a finish of 4.1 and is the only driver in that span with 10 lead lap finishes, all in the top 10.
Joey Logano hasn’t won here in his last 10 starts, but he does have six top-five finishes and eight top-10 finishes. Martin Truex Jr. is second to Harvick in laps led here over the last 10 races with 389. Harvick’s 550 easily pace the field. Interestingly, Ryan Blaney is third on that list with 382, despite no wins and only two top-five finishes.
I’m going to go off the board here with a pick and take Kyle Busch at +1200. This is a short price for a guy that hasn’t won, but he was fifth last week and sixth at Las Vegas. He was second at Bristol. He’s gotten back on track to some degree in the oval races and he was fourth in the summer at this track. He’s got two wins and five top-five finishes in his last 10 starts here.
I’ll also take Joey Logano at +700 to get that first Texas win since 2014. Logano has nothing to lose now and he is at his best when he can be aggressive. He might as well get another big paycheck for a win. The only concern would be wrecking the car at this point, but that can be fixed.
Coverage of the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 will be on NBC Sports Network on Sunday October 25 at 3:30 p.m. ET.