Welcome to the second race of the third round of the 2017 playoffs.
Kyle Busch is locked in to the final round of the playoffs and Martin Truex Jr. is likely to join him. Chase Elliott, meanwhile, needs drivers ahead of him to have bad luck or he needs to win a race over the next two weeks.
If you need a reminder of what the playoff standings look like, here it is.
1. Kyle Busch [Win at Martinsville]
2. Martin Truex Jr., 4,117 points
3. Brad Keselowski, 4,079
4. Kevin Harvick, 4,053
5. Jimmie Johnson, 4,050
6. Ryan Blaney, 4,047
7. Denny Hamlin, 4,045
8. Chase Elliott, 4,027
And here’s how the eight drivers do at Texas. Remember, the track was repaved and reconfigured before the spring race this year, so statistics aren’t nearly as applicable as they were at Martinsville.
Ryan Blaney (5 starts at Texas)
Top 10s: 0
Average finish: 27.6
While Blaney’s overall statistics aren’t great at Texas, there’s an argument to be made that he had the fastest car in the spring. He did not have the best strategy, however. After an odd pit strategy took him out of the lead, damage to the front of his car from contact then ruined his day.
Brad Keselowski (18)
Top 10s: 7
Average finish: 15.7
Perhaps Keselowski can find some of that secret sauce Blaney had in April. The No. 2 team hasn’t been at its best at intermediate tracks this season, so this is a hold serve track for Keselowski. He started fifth and finished sixth earlier this season.
Martin Truex Jr. (24)
Top 10s: 13
Average finish: 13.6
Hello, favorite. Not only is Truex gunning for his first Texas win, he’s looking for a fifth-straight win at a 1.5-mile track. If he’s not one of the fastest two or three cars heading into the race on Sunday we’ll be stunned.
Denny Hamlin (23)
Top 10s: 11
Average finish: 12.6
Hamlin won the fall race in 2010 and the spring race in 2011 at the track. Since then, his best finish is a seventh and he finished 25th and a lap down in April.
Kyle Busch (23)
Top 10s: 12
Average finish: 11.7
Busch was 15th in April. It was his worst finish at the track since that 2011 spring race Hamlin won. Busch was 16th in that race. He didn’t race at Texas that fall as he was serving a suspension for crashing Ron Hornaday under yellow in a Truck Series race at the track.
Kevin Harvick (29)
Top 10s: 17
Average finish: 11.7
It’s crazy how a guy who averages a finish in the top 12 and is set to make his 30th start at a track doesn’t have a win there. But that’s the situation Harvick is in right now. Since losing an engine in the spring race at Texas in 2014 (his first race at the track with Stewart-Haas), he hasn’t finished outside the top 10.
Jimmie Johnson (28)
Top 10s: 21
Average finish: 8.1
Johnson would be the driver to beat if his team was showing serious speed and Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78 team didn’t exist. Those are two pretty big caveats. Johnson won the spring race here and he should never be counted out at Texas. But he’s more underdog than favorite entering the weekend.
Chase Elliott (3)
Top 10s: 2
Average finish: 6.0
This would be a fine time for Elliott’s first win. That’s a sentence that is applicable to any number of previous 2017 races but it’s never been more applicable than now. Elliott was ninth in the spring at Texas, his worst finish in those three starts.
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