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AAA Texas 500 Preview
I can't believe the 2017 season is almost over. Just three races to go!

Las Vegan Kyle Busch was the first driver to punch his ticket into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 19 after winning at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, the first of three races in the Round of 8. Now he can simply relax the next two races at Texas and Phoenix.

“I think the biggest thing we can do is to allow ourselves to look at the next two weeks and try to keep on winning and allowing the anxiety level of these guys to keep amplifying each and every stage and each and every race and to keep them on their toes as to whether they are going to advance or not," said Busch.

Anxiety? I love it. Kyle Busch is trying to mentally impair his opponents to a state of exhaustion by the time Homestead comes along. Jedi mind tricks by hogging trophies down the stretch.

"If they all have to race for points and race for positions, that’s just going to make it harder for them," Busch continued. "Anytime anyone automatically punches their ticket through, that gives them a breather and an opportunity to work on Homestead and what you need to focus on for that race. We’ll just keep racing hard and try and keep winning the next two weeks even though the pressure is off and see what we can do at Homestead.”

Three spots are still available and the other seven eligible drivers can punch their own ticket into the Championship 4 by winning at Texas on Sunday or Phoenix next week. It's likely that one of the Round of 8 drivers will win both of those races, so the final spot or two will have to point themselves in.

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Here's a look at how the standings are heading into Texas:

1) Kyle Busch - He's already clinched, but he might get greedy and grab some more wins beginning with Texas taking away an automatic berth. He's won at Texas twice over his career and has 11 top-five finishes in 23 starts. This dude is getting stronger as the season goes, but he approaches this 1.5-mile track a little different than the others.

“You do now just because of the repave," Busch said of this being the second race since the repave. "Texas is a really fast mile-and-a-half racetrack. Charlotte has been fast the last few years and Texas has always kind of been that way. You’ve got to be able to move around a little bit and run the middle, run the top and show some ability to go all over the racetrack. Hoping that the track has worn in a bit more since the spring, and I’m curious to see how it’s going to be this weekend.”

2) Martin Truex Jr. (+69 points ahead of the cutoff point) - He's won the past four races on 1.5-mile tracks and six of the nine this season. He's the massive favorite to do it again this week. However, he was eighth in the April Texas race which is tied for his worst finish on these type of tracks. He has only three top-fives at Texas in 24 starts.

3) Brad Keselowski (+29) - He won the first race on a 1.5-mile track this season at Atlanta -- actually he vultured the win when Kevin Harvick got penalized -- but he's had only two top-fives on them in the next eight and none in the last five. He's never won at Texas in 18 starts. These are the tracks he's been complaining about a Toyota disadvantage and he's right to the extent only that his team is way behind. How have Ryan Blaney and Harvick been able to compete on 1.5s lately in a Ford?

4) Kevin Harvick (+3) - He's had top-five finishes in two of the past three races on 1.5-mile tracks. His best chance to make the Championship 4 is next week at Phoenix where he's won a track record eight times. However, he's never won there in a Ford which he drives this season.

5) Jimmie Johnson (-3) - I could see the seven-time champ point himself in, but I don't see him winning even though he's won at Texas a record seven times, including the April race. His performance on 1.5s has fallen way off since the beginning of the season when they raced. Truex got better and Joe Gibbs Racing got better while Johnson may have actually gotten worse somehow. His decline has been a mystery, but how can you not root for Johnson to win his eighth title, breaking a tie with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty. History is always nice to witness.

6) Denny Hamlin (-6) - This dude was sniffing a win a championship berth and went all out on his home track of Martinsville last week and did everything possible to get the win. He came close, but also took out Chase Elliott along the way which gives us a nice storyline for the next two weeks with paybacks. He's had top-five finishes in his last five starts on 1.5-mile tracks during the JGR progression with the new Camry body. He could point himself in, but he's not counting on it..

“Our number one goal continues to be to win," said Hamlin. "At this point, that’s our only guaranteed shot of making it into the Championship Four at Miami. We have had success in the past at Texas, and hopefully we can repeat that this weekend.”

7) Ryan Blaney (-8) - He's a good long shot possibility this week due to finishing third at Kansas two weeks ago and leading a race-high 148 laps in the April Texas race. It's easy to say he's got plenty of more chances in his career to go after a championship, but I actually think that him making the Championship 4 would add a little new spice to the mix. And he's been really good on 1.5s this season, including third-place at Kansas which was the last race ona 1.5.

8) Chase Elliott (-26) - He has to win to get in, but he's yet to win in his career so why now? It stinks for him he got taken out, but that's short track playoff racing and you better do all you can to keep drivers off your bumper. It's obvious he's become the biggest fan favorite (minus Dale Jr) when the Martinsville stands cheer him and boo Denny Hamlin, a native Virginian, after the race. The promising facts for Elliott to win this week is that He's had a top-five finish in the past four races on 1.5-mile tracks, including Oct. 8 at Charlotte -- Texas sister track -- where he finished second.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #18 Kyle Busch (5/1)
2) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (3/1)
3) #11 Denny Hamlin (15/1)
4) #4 Kevin Harvick (9/1)
5) #24 Chase Elliott (12/1)


  
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