O'Reilly Auto Parts 500
April 4, 2017
By Micah Roberts
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We had a brief pit stop on the short track of Martinsville last weekend, which I absolutely loved, but now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series goes back to another big track where the new low downforce package is once again going to have a major impact.
We've already seen races at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Fontana where a few drivers dominated and now we get out first look at Texas Motor Speedway's high-banked, 1.5-mile layout this weekend.
Let's briefly review what happened on the three similar tracks. In the second race of the season at Atlanta, Kevin Harvick led 292 of 325 laps, but had a pit road speeding penalty allowing Brad Keselowski to get the victory and Kyle Larson would finish second.
At Las Vegas in the third race, Martin Truex Jr. led 150 laps to get his first victory there. Keselowski led 89 laps and finished fifth and Larson finished second. At Fontana two weeks ago, Larson led 110 laps, Keselowski finished second, and Truex led 73 laps and finished fourth.
As you can tell, a couple of teams really have this package figured out and what's surprising is that none of the four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have made an impact. Matt Kenseth's third-place at Atlanta is the only top-five finish for JGR between the three tracks. Last season JGR won both Texas races with Busch winnig this spring race and Carl Edwards winning in the fall.
From a historical perspective, Jimmie Johnson has a track record six win at Texas in 27 starts and has led a track record 1,023 laps. His last win there was in the fall of 2015 which capped off a run of three straight wins there. He's yet to win this season and didn't have a top-five finish at Atlanta, Las Vegas or Fontana, all tracks where he had a great history with.
Kyle Busch has been the new Mr. Texas with two wins and an 11.5 average finish in 22 career starts. He's on a an incredible Texas run of having five straight top-five finishes and top-fives in seven of his last eight.
Matt Kenseth is a two-time Texas winner with a 9.4 average finish in 28 starts and has led 854 laps. Kevin Harvick has never won at Texas, but has averaged a fourth-place finish in his past five starts there. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won at Texas as a rookie, but has gone winless there in his last 27 starts. However, has has finished sixth or better in his past four starts there.
The driver I keep circling back to as a great candidate to win this week is a driver that has never won a Cup race. Chase Elliott has been close to winning several times, but has come up short. Last season at Texas he finished fifth in the spring and fourth in the fall. When I look at the two races on 1.5-mile tracks this season I see that he finished fifth at Atlanta and third at Las Vegas.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #24 Chase Elliott (8/1)
2) #42 Kyle Larson (6/1)
3) #78 Martin Truex Jr (8/1)
4) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (8/1)