Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:56 AM

AAA Texas 400 Preview

There are dozens of juicy storylines coming into Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway that heighten the anticipation for the second of three races in the Round of 8. One driver, Martin Truex Jr., has already clinched one of the Championship 4 berths and the seven other eligible drivers to participate for the 2019 Cup Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 17 will fight it out for the three other spots.

And fight it isn’t just a loosely term thrown out there. Two championship contenders went after it last week at Martinsville, or at least their crews did. Joey Logano wasn’t happy with the way Denny Hamlin pinned his car to the wall last week. He talked with Hamlin after the race and it looked civil at first, but as Logano was about to leave the conversation, he shoved Hamlin and then walked away, and then it was on.

Logano still ended up finishing eighth so the big question is whether or not he thinks he needs to retaliate at Texas or Phoenix in an attempt to end Hamlin’s championship hopes the way Matt Kenseth did to Logano in 2015. The way I see it is that Hamlin still owes Logano a few more paybacks in a rivalry that includes spinning Hamlin at 200 mph at Fontana in 2013 that resulted in Hamlin hitting the wall hard and breaking his back. He missed four races because of it.

It would be a shame if Logano tries to damage Hamlin’s championship run, and it’s not only because I’m holding a 25/1 futures ticket on him to win the title. It’s because Hamlin is having the season of his career with a 9.2 average finish and a series-leading 18 top-fives. He comes into Texas confident after winning there in the March race, his third Texas win.

“It would certainly help, clinching a spot to move on and not have to worry about it in Phoenix,” Hamlin said. “We’re all going to work as hard as we can to prepare and position ourselves to end up in Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway.”

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook has Hamlin listed at 7/1 odds along with four other drivers with Kyle Busch and Truex co-favorites at 5/1 odds.

With a win, Hamlin would become the only driver to ever sweep a season at Texas, twice. Jimmie Johnson (2015), Carl Edwards (2008), and Hamlin (2010) are the only three to sweep Texas.

A good reason to support a Hamlin wager this week is that he has three wins in the 16 races using this week’s race package with cars having aero ducts and engines producing 550 horsepower. No other driver has more with it. The last race using it was also the last race on a 1.5-mile track at Kansas two weeks ago and Hamlin won.

Another driver not a Logano fan is Kevin Harvick, who is also listed at 7/1 odds to win and the reason to support him begins with it being the playoffs and Harvick currently outside looking in while sitting fifth in points. Of all the clutch moments in the playoffs I can remember, it seems like they’re all Harvick wins.

“Clutch moments – there’s nothing like them,” Harvick said. “It’s one thing to dominate a race all day and win – that’s great. But, making a last-lap pass, an end-of-the-race pass or winning on a day when you’re not supposed to, there is just no better feeling than getting out of the car and looking at those guys. Having the rest of the field asking how was he able to win today.

“Those are the types of moments that I love to be a part of. We’ve been fortunate to experience a lot of those. That’s the adrenaline rush that comes with what we do. There is no better feeling than those particular moments.”

Two of those moments came the last two playoff races at Texas. Harvick won them both, the first two wins at Texas of his career which helped him qualify for his third and fourth Championship 4 in five chances, the first of which he won his lone Cup Championship in 2014. He’s currently on a run of 10 straight top-10s at Texas, which also includes three runner-ups.

Harvick was eighth in the Texas spring race, but his team hasn’t gotten much better with this particular race package since August. He’s won at Michigan and Indianapolis with it and was also runner-up with it at Las Vegas.

This particular round seems like it was almost hand crafted for Harvick because of his amazing active streak at Texas and also being the all-time leader at Phoenix nine wins. If he doesn’t win Sunday, he’s a good bet to win at Phoenix next week as the favorite.

But the driver who has slowed Harvick’s groove at Phoenix lately has been Kyle Busch, who has won the last two races there. He’s a three-time winner at Texas and is absolutely starving for a win. Everything was gravy when he notched his then series-leading fourth win of the season at Pocono on June 2. But he doesn’t have a win since. He currently sits third in points and knows what he has to do to advance considering he’s been in the Championship 4 the last four seasons.

“I believe every year is a new year, but you certainly can’t forget what you’ve done and what’s gotten you to that point of being in the Championship 4,” Busch said. “I do feel like the experience we’ve had and the times that we’ve been there, we can lean on some of that and some of those bullet points that have given us that success to be able to get to the final four and rely on that information over again.

“Some of these guys who haven’t made it there have made it to the Round of 8 but haven’t been able to transfer through. They’ve certainly learned some of the things of what not to do, but I feel like we just have to continue doing the things we know to do and hopefully that all comes to fruition.”

In 27 Cup starts at Texas, Busch has 12 top-fives. One thing to be aware of if betting on Busch to win or in driver match-ups is that Aric Almirola has vowed revenge on Busch after Kyle ended his day at Martinsville. If a driver says they’re gonna do it, like Kenseth did to Logano, they’re gonna do it and not look like a fake badass if not doing it.

I love the tension.

Another thing exciting about the Texas race is that all the drivers that almost have to win to advance to the Championship 4 are all capable of winning. Chase Elliott is the active leader at Texas with an eighth-place average. Kyle Larson has top-five finishes in five of his last eight starts using this week’s race package. Ryan Blaney sits sixth in points and has shown to be one of the more consistent drivers at Texas in his last five starts, which includes leading at least 40 laps in three of them and finishing eighth or better in eight of the 10 stages. He was runner-up in this race last season.

Those three drivers will be letting it hang out and would probably bump their Mom out of the way for a win. They’ll be extremely aggressive. They’ll make late two-tire pit stops when others take four. Their entire goal will be to get out front and win. It’s the playoffs, win or go home. I love it!

The top longshots I threw into my betting equation this week was Jimmie Johnson (40/1), William Byron (30/1), and Kurt Busch (25/1). Johnson holds track records with wins (7), top-fives (16), and laps led (1,112) and his best look this season was his fifth-place at Texas in March where he started from the pole and led 60 laps. His teammate Byron has finished seventh or better in the last three races using this week’s race package. And Kurt Busch has a win at Kentucky and fourth-place at Kansas two weeks ago using this package.

Top-5 Texas Finish Prediction:

1) #4 Kevin Harvick (7/1)
2) #11 Denny Hamlin (7/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (5/1)
4) #9 Chase Elliott (7/1)
5) #42 Kyle Larson (7/1)

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