Texas Motor Speedway will set the stage for the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 serving as the opening race of the Round of 12.
The Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 (2:30 p.m. CT, TV: USA Network, Radio: SiriusXM Ch. 90, PRN, 95.9 The Ranch locally) is the Round of 12 opener for the second consecutive year and will be among three races that will determine which Playoff drivers will advance to the Round of 8. This round consists of Texas, Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 1) and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL (Oct. 8).
Four drivers – Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael McDowell – were eliminated after the Round of 16 concluded with Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway. A dozen playoff drivers remain in contention for the series title heading into the second of four rounds in the elimination-style playoff format. A victory in Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 by a playoff driver automatically secures them a berth in the Round of 8.
The 12 playoff contenders are William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Prosper’s Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Ross Chastain, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace.
Texas Motor Speedway also will play host to the first round of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs. Saturday’s Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 (TV: USA, Radio: PRN, SiriusXM) will be the second event in the three-race opening round. The playoffs opened this past Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, where championship contender Justin Allgaier earned the win.
The 12 playoff qualifiers among the Xfinity Series field are Allgaier, John Hunter Nemechek, Cole Custer, Austin Hill, Chandler Smith, Daniel Hemric, Sammy Smith, Sheldon Creed, Jeb Burton, Sam Mayer, Parker Kligerman and Josh Berry.
Here’s the “Fast Five” storylines to watch during the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 race weekend:
1. Is this shaping up to finally be the year for DENNY HAMLIN of Joe Gibbs Racing? Hamlin is coming off a victory in Saturday night’s Round of 16 finale at Bristol Motor Speedway. He collected his 51st career win, which moved him past NASCAR Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson and into 13th place on the all-time list. The victory also came with the dubious distinction of being the driver with the most career wins and no Cup Series championships, which also was the case with Johnson.
“Keep knocking on the door, keep showing up, keep making the Final 4, eventually your number will be called,” said Hamlin, who has advanced to the Final 4 four times (2014, ’19, ’20 and ’21). “Hopefully this is the year for it to be called.”
In addition to the win at Bristol, Hamlin looked particularly strong in the opening round. At Darlington, he led a race-high 177 laps but a loose wheel cost him a win and relegated him to a 25th-place finish. He followed with a runner-up finish at Kansas where he led 63 laps, but that also could have been a win had it not been for a late caution with six laps remaining and the ensuing jumbled restart.
Does Hamlin think this could be the year?
“There’s been many years that that’s just not been the case,” Hamlin said. “But there’s just something special about this year and really the last four, five that’s just been a lot of fun from my standpoint.
“I don’t think I’ve been any better. I don’t think our team has been any better. At our best, I know that we’re good enough.”
Hamlin will look to continue the momentum into the Round of 12 at Texas Motor Speedway, where he is a three-time winner and has 15 top-10 finishes in 32 career starts.
2. Playoff drivers swept the opening round, but KEVIN HARVICK and JOEY LOGANO, ousted in the Round of 16, will now look to play the spoilers at a track where they are perennial contenders. Harvick is a three-time winner of this annual fall race and ranks second at TMS among active drivers for top-five finishes (13). He also has finished among the top five in seven of his last 10 visits, including all three of his victories (2017, ’18, ’19). Logano owns just one win at Texas Motor Speedway (2014), but he has finished among the top five in nearly half of his 27 career starts. He ranks third behind Harvick in career top-five finishes with 12, including seven of those coming in his last 12 visits. That stretch included a runner-up finish to last year’s race winner, Tyler Reddick.
3. KYLE BUSCH is hopeful of continuing his success at Texas Motor Speedway after moving from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing this season. Busch, with 32 career starts, ranks first among active drivers for career wins (4), top-five finishes (14) and laps led (1,069). He also ranks second among that group in top-10 finishes (18). Busch needs to lead 84 laps to surpass Jimmie Johnson on the all-time list in that category. He had a run of five consecutive top-10 finishes – including a win in 2020 – halted last season when he finished 36th due to a crash. It marked just the fifth time in his last 18 appearances at TMS that he did not record a top-10 finish.
4. JR Motorsports opened the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs with a series-high three qualifiers, but find themselves at both ends of the spectrum following last week’s opening playoff round at Bristol. JUSTIN ALLGAIER was the big winner, earning his third victory of the season and gaining an automatic berth into the Round of 8. On the flip side, teammates SAM MAYER and JOSH BERRY collected each other in an accident just past the midway point of the race that resulted in finishes of 35th and 36th, respectively. Both have their work cut out for them as they are below the current eight-driver cutline to advance. Mayer is 10th and 14 points behind the eighth position held by Sheldon Creed while Berry is 12th and 24 back. Texas Motor Speedway should be a welcome sight as Mayer and Berry posted top-10 finishes in their two starts there last season. Mayer finished third in the May event and followed with an eighth in the Andy’s Frozen Custard 300. Berry was seventh in the first race and sixth in the fall playoff race.
5. BIG HOSS TV just got bigger. … and better. In the latest project of Texas Motor Speedway’s No Limits Next facility enhancement program, Big Hoss will be 10 percent larger with 22 percent more pixels, 20 percent higher resolution and 16 percent brighter than the original version that debuted in 2014. The enhanced Big Hoss TV, a DigiLED Vision Ultra screen provided by Argyle, Texas-based GoVision, will now give fans a whopping 22,692 square feet of viewing pleasure beginning with this weekend’s NASCAR playoff doubleheader.
“The original Big Hoss TV screen was groundbreaking and world-record-achieving when it was installed in 2014,” TMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Mark Faber said. “However, with the amazing advances in technology that have taken place over the past nine years, it was time to figuratively take the old TV out to the curb and install a state-of-the-art screen for our fans.”
The NASCAR Playoffs weekend 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 400 on Sunday (2:30 p.m. CT on USA Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Ch. 90, PRN, and 95.9 The Ranch-local).
Texas Motor Speedway’s always-busy events schedule is well under way. Upcoming events in 2023 include: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 NASCAR Playoffs weekend (Sept. 23-24), Goodguys’ Summit Racing Lone Start Nationals (Sept. 29-Oct. 1), Speedway Children’s Charities Smoke Show (Oct. 11) and Gordy’s Hwy 30 Music Fest (Oct. 19-22). The year wraps up with the family-favorite and speedway tradition Gift of Lights holiday light show.