O'Reilly Auto Parts 500
April 5, 2018
By Micah Roberts
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I realize the NASCAR Cup Series teams and drivers need a break once in a while during a long a grueling season, and they got their first one last week over Easter, but boy did I need some racing action on Sunday sandwiched between Saturday's Final Four and Championship game on Monday. But they're back in action this weekend for Sunday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Let's do a quick recap of what happened in the first six races so far. Clint Bowyer came up with an awesome performance two weeeks ago at Martinsville for his first win since 2012 and Martin Truex Jr. ended Kevin Harvick's bid for four straight wins three weeks ago at Fontana. Austin Dillon won a thriller in the season opening race at Daytona.
Yes, Kevin Harvick has three of the six wins. He's won half of the races and he's a huge favorite to win Sunday, a place he won at the last time there in November for the first time in his career.
This week, he won't be using any of the winning cars from this season or the fall Texas winning chassis, but you still know it will be fast with sweet set-up notes they aren't sharing. The chassis he's using started second and finished sixth last season at Indianapolis. The team has done a great job changing over those Chevy bow-ties from last year to a blue Ford oval logo.
There's been three down force tracks this season and he won on two of them (Las Vegas, Atlanta) and the the only reason he probably didn't win at Fontana is because he foolishly wrecked himself early. The No. 4 has got an edge over everyone, but the one element that could some drama and excitement this week -- and maybe a new winner -- is the track itself which was resurfaced before last season.
“Texas has become a very unique racetrack," said Harvick who is the 3/1 favorite. "I know we have a different left-side tire that we’ll have to get used to this weekend. When they repaved the racetrack, they made the two ends of the racetrack so different – turns one and two have become very challenging, especially in the Cup Series car because of how flat it is.
"Really, the hardest thing about turns one and two at Texas is that it’s so wide when you get to the entry that you have a hard time picking up the bottom of the corner. When you enter the corner, you don’t use the entire racetrack anymore because they put the bottom of the corner so far down the racetrack. It’s very unique and different. You have to make your car turn well and not be too loose into the corner of turn one, and it has to turn well in the middle of the corner in order to carry speed off, otherwise you’re just lugging up off the corner. As you get to turns three and four, it’s about letting off the throttle halfway and hope you can put it right back down. There are already a few bumps in the corner that, when you’re trying to maintain speed, it either hits the splitter or bounces a little bit. That end of the racetrack has always been very fast through turns three and four but, once the repave came, it’s become really fast every lap.”
I haven't seen any evidence to believe any other driver will be better than him on Sunday which makes it tough to bet, but the track surface does an an element I like. So is him using a different chassis giving it an unknown element on 1.5s. I'm just eager to take a few drivers at 12/1 odds or higher, but Harvick is so good and ahead of everyone else that the only way he doesn't win is if he wrecks himself again, his pit messes up late or he had a late speeding penalty, all of which he's done in the past year. And let's add the surface in the mix as well.
I'd like to take Kyle Busch to finally win a race this season after finishing second or third almost every week, but I can't get justified odds on him. It's like the sports are saying, "Yes we know Harvick is going to win, but if he doesn't it'll be Kyle or Truex, so how about we bait you with some Jimmie Johnson at 25/1?". Busch and Truex are both 4/1 offerings this week at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
Yeah, no thanks sports books, even though Johnson is a seven-time Texas winner, including winning this race last season. Johnson has a junky jalopie and I never thought I'd say that about the seven-time champ who is also losing his Lowe's sponsorship after the season.
The hungry Busch keeps lingering in my head as a winner this week despite finishing 15th or worse in his two starts there last season. He's also got the surface on his mind as the main subject coming in.
“Texas is still a bit of an unknown for us since this is the third race on the new pavement," Busch said. "I know they’ve been working on the track, but you are still trying to put rubber down. With a newer surface, it’s hard to understand what you’re feeling with your car because you can think you’re tight, you’ve got all the grip in the world, you’re going around the corner and then, ‘Boom,’ it just busts loose right out from under you with no warning. That’s why the older racetracks, the more aged racetracks – the Atlantas, the Californias – you’re sliding the whole time, so you’re already against the slide. You don’t have maximum grip. You’re already playing with it and trying to get the most out of yourself and the car that you possibly can.
"At Texas, you’re not just locked down, you’re locked in solid, then it can jump out from under you in a hurry. We ran a bit better there last year than at some of the other recently repaved tracks. We’ve had good cars this year, so hoping we can qualify well and stay up front and get our Interstate Batteries Toyota back to victory lane there.”
Busch has finished second three times and third once this season, and he's a two time winner at Texas (2013, 2016). He's just a notch below Harvick right now.
As for Truex, he's never won at Texas which is odd because he won on seven of the eleven 1.5-mile tracks last season. He was runner-up last fall leading 107 laps and eighth last spring leading 49 laps. He never won at Fontana, either, before winning there a few weeks ago, but he didn't have Harvick to deal with. It's as though Harvick is the new version of the 2017 Truex, which is a gateway to the championship. Win on these type of tracks consistently and a title is likely in the end.
I think the best value, if any, rests with the Team Penske trio of Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano, who appear to be catching up with whatever Harvick is doing to have such edge on these type of tracks.
I love the way Blaney wheeled the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford in this race last season leading a race-high 148 laps. On that same note, if looking for the one live barking dog of a lottery ticket, check out Paul Menard at 100/1 in the No. 21 this week. Both Keselowski and Logano have been very consistent here. Logano won in 2014 and has finished seventh or better in seven of the past nine Texas races. Keselowski has something similar -- two runner-ups his best -- and has been ninth or better in eight of his last 11 Texas starts. On the new surface last season Keselowski was fifth and sixth and Logano was third and seventh.
That's all I got this week, all the best!
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #4 Kevin Harvick (3/1)
2) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (4/1)
4) #12 Ryan Blaney (15/1)
5) #22 Joey Logano (12/1)