Where the Playoff drivers stack-up heading into Texas
When it comes to pressure, Kyle Busch is likely the only driver in the Round of 8 to sleep well at night.
After winning last Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway, Busch was the first title contender to transfer into the Championship 4.
With a 67-point lead over fifth-place Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., has little to worry about either. Truex can clinch this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway by winning or with a 56-point lead over the third-place non-winning Playoff driver if a non-Playoff driver or Kyle Busch wins. If another playoff driver wins, Truex can still lock in with a 56-point advantage over the second-place non-winning playoff driver.
Still, Truex has never won at Texas. In this race last year, he posted his third top-five finish but his first in seven starts. But in his last five starts behind the wheel of the No. 78 Furniture Row car, Truex hasn’t finished worse than ninth and has led 257 laps.
How do the other six drivers hoping to advance stack up at Texas?
Brad Keselowski — Keselowski starts 10th in the AAA Texas 500. He’s never won in 18 starts at the track but finished second twice. In the spring, he finished fifth and eighth, respectively in Stage 1 and 2 before finishing sixth. His single-lap speed ranked 16th in Happy Hour on Saturday, but his Best 10 Consecutive Average was 10th-best.
Kevin Harvick — The No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing entry has picked up speed in the Playoffs. Harvick qualified third, was third in Best Consecutive Averages in final practice and eighth in single-lap speeds. Harvick is also seeking his first Cup win in the Lone Star State. In 29 starts, he has seven top fives and 17 top 10-finishes. After winning the pole here in the spring, he led 77 laps and finished fourth and seventh, respectively, in the stages before finishing fourth.
Jimmie Johnson — Johnson is tops at Texas with seven victories including the most recent spring race. In 28 starts, he has 15 top fives, 21 top 10s and 1,041 laps led. After missing the majority of the first practice on Friday, Johnson rebounded with a ninth-place qualifying effort. On Saturday, his best lap was 12th-quick in Happy Hour. JJ’s Best 10 Consecutive Lap Averages ranked 15th.
Ryan Blaney — After starting second here in April, Blaney won both stages and led a race-high 148 laps before a costly mistake in the pits dropped the No. 21 Ford to 12th. Blaney starts eighth on Sunday. He posted the third-fastest lap in final practice and was 12th in Best 10 Consecutive Lap Averages.
Denny Hamlin — Hamlin rolls off second in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500. Despite being docked 30 minutes in the final two practices, Hamlin posted the top single-lap speed in Happy Hour and he was fourth in the Best 10 Consecutive Lap category. Hamlin swept the Texas Cup races in 2010, but hasn't posted a top-five here since. In 23 starts, Hamlin has scored five top fives and 11 top-10 finishes. He has led 155 laps at the track.
Chase Elliott — Elliott’s average finish of sixth at Texas is the best on the tour — and should serve him well as he comes from the back of the field on Sunday. The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy failed pre-qualifying inspection and will start 34th. He’s completed every lap in three starts at Texas and led four circuits. He was 14th in Happy Hour in single lap runs and 11th in Best 10 Consecutive Lap Averages.
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