The Top Five: Breaking down the Texas Motor Speedway playoff race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway…

1. Didn’t see that coming

It’s not like Kevin Harvick was an upset winner at Texas, but his victory Sunday was definitely a surprise.

Did you expect him to win? I didn’t.

First of all, Harvick had never gone to victory lane at Texas. So there’s that.

But who would have legitimately picked Harvick to win at a 1.5-mile track when those races have been completely dominated by Martin Truex Jr. lately? It’s not like Harvick or his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates had a bunch of wins since moving to Ford, either; the only victories for SHR this season had been Harvick’s road course win at Sonoma and Kurt Busch’s restrictor-plate win in the Daytona 500.

So when Harvick tracked down Truex and passed him like it was nothing? Wow! That was both a show of power and an unexpected outcome — although crew chief Rodney Childers noted the team has been bringing more speed over the last month.

“I feel like we should have won more races this year,” Childers said. “It’s disappointing. I don’t like to lose. It’s been a hard year. So to finally get one back into victory lane, to feel like we have something we can race with the last four or five weeks, (that) has been impressive to me.”

Maybe everyone wasn’t paying enough attention as the No. 4 team crept back toward winning again. Guilty as charged here.

But either way, Harvick and Childers have served notice they’re back and are capable of winning another title.

After all, you never want to let the hard-nosed Harvick get a whiff of potential victory if you’re one of his competitors.

2. Truex vulnerable?

Almost immediately after the race, Martin Truex Jr. — unprompted — tried to get in front of the potential storyline that his team had somehow lost momentum by finally failing to win a 1.5-mile track race.

“People are going to say, ‘Well, I think the balance of power (has shifted)’ and ‘Did Harvick steal our confidence by beating us at the end?'” he said. “All that Voodoo stuff I’m sure will be brought up.

“The bottom line is our last run we weren’t as good as we needed to be. We got beat, but we still did what we needed to do. … To think we came up eight laps short…is pretty good.”

It’s true Truex has been dominant on 1.5-milers (he’d won four in a row and six overall this season), but his playoffs have been a bit odd compared to the regular season. Where Truex won 18 stages in 26 regular-season races, he’s won just one stage in the eight playoff races.

That’s a bit misleading considering he has three wins in the playoffs, but it still could be a sign the team isn’t unloading as fast off the truck as it was earlier in the year.

Yes, Truex will still be the favorite going into Homestead no matter what. But Harvick tracking him down and passing him late in a playoff race on a 1.5-miler shows the 78 team is certainly beatable in the right circumstances.

3. Last One In

In theory, there are five drivers fighting for one spot at Phoenix. Personally, I think it’s more like two.

Brad Keselowski currently holds the final playoff spot by 19 points over Denny Hamlin. I think the race will come down to those two.

Sure, Ryan Blaney is within range — he’s only 22 points behind Keselowski. But although the Wood Brothers Racing driver has two top-10s in three Phoenix starts, I don’t see him outrunning the other two drivers by enough points to make it.

Then there’s Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott, but it’s hard to imagine either of them winning outright — which will be a must next week.

So the battle is likely between Keselowski and Hamlin. And even though he’s behind, I’ll give the edge to Hamlin.

Here’s why: If you recall, Toyota drivers dominated the two New Hampshire races this summer — those drivers led 589 of 601 laps at NHMS this year — and that track is a 1-mile flat oval that is the most similar to Phoenix.

With stage points playing such a factor in the standings these days, I can envision Hamlin running in the top three and chipping away at Keselowski’s lead before the halfway point — then outrunning him in better equipment at the finish.

Nothing against Keselowski, but it just seems like the better bet is the team that has consistently shown more speed.

4. The Levy Was Dry

Barring a Johnson or Elliott victory at Phoenix, Chevrolet is headed toward being shut out from Homestead for the first time in the existence of the new format.

Chevy had two entries among the final four the first two years of the championship race, then had one entry last year. Toyota has had at least one driver every season — and will now have at least two for the second straight year — and Ford missed 2015 but had one in the other two seasons.

Even though we know Hendrick Motorsports has been down this season, it’s still jarring to think of no Chevrolets running for the title — especially since many people viewed Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson as a lock to make it.

A lot of people are banking on the new Camaro changing Chevrolet’s fortunes next year, but I’m not sure it will be that simple.

 

5. Daydreaming

Hey, remember last week at Martinsville when the race was totally awesome and featured thrilling battles for the entire 3.5-hour event?

And remember how energized everyone seemed after so much excitement and drama that showcased the best of what this playoff format has to offer?

And remember how the race was so good that we talked about it for the like whole week?

Yeah.

Me too.

18 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Texas Motor Speedway playoff race”

  1. The last point- THAT is what I left this race with. That was the worst race you could possibly put on after Martinsville, which doesn’t help NASCAR. All the good vibes/good will built up was lost in a moment, like a pin popping a balloon.

    Samo ol’ same ol’…….

  2. A note, the coverage of the racing needs repairing, the 14 car was on the 5 minuet clock and nothing was said. The 23 car blew up and nothing was said. The announcers, gave a tutorial on strategy while taking us away from the race. The low budget teams are ignored including the 10 car. How will the teams sell sponsorship if the car will not receive any TV time. I follow the low budget cars and try to scout new performers.
    I’ll bet NAPA, if no one else realizes that all NASCAR fans will need a car part one day. Is no one at NASCAR paying attention? Chase the people’s champion. How rude is that! Thank you!

  3. I’m gonna hold on to a desperate hope for Chase. Yes, I know it looks like an impossible dream but that’s the only thing I have to look forward to. As far as Denny, I hope you lose that bet to Dado. If Denny makes it to Homestead after what he did to Chase….. I just can’t let my mind go there.I was hoping throughout the whole race his engine would blow up, I would never wish him to wreck.

    If it isn’t Chase then I’m going with Blaney. That would be so cool for Wood Brothers. Though it would still bother me a bit what with Ryan out running Chase. I do know #AnybodyButDenny

  4. TMS has been reconfigured so many times, you think the brain trust at SMI would have figured out they’d do better to just make it into a new wilkesboro (complete with uphill backstrech and downhill frontstretch)

  5. I know that each track, even the cookie cutters, have their own characteristics. The one that they all share is the type of ‘race’ we were treated to yesterday…a virtual parade, with little action 3 laps after a restart. Please stop trying to convince fans that the cookies put on exciting races. It’s all aero, and that doesn’t make fro excitement.

  6. American Pie reference- nice! I think the “voodoo,” Martin, may be coming in the form of Robert Yates horsepower. I have to say I think the 2 would make the final four much more interesting.

  7. Part of the problem is the TV coverage. I’ve gone to every Atlanta race but one since 2000, plus several races at CMS. Even if the field gets stretched out, there is good racing going on back in the pack. NBC’s near-constant focus on the leader adds to the impression that the racing on the mile and half tracks stinks. The reality is that this isn’t how you watch a race in person. If the leader is way out front, you watch better racing back in the pack, and go back to watching the leader when he starts lapping cars. This NBC (and Fox) focus on the leader makes the racing no more interesting than watching qualifying – and how many new or casual fans watch qualifying?

    1. 👍🏻 Carl, I’ve never been to a NASCAR race so I just get to see what TV decides for me to see.

      1. It’s a great experience Anita. Lucky for me, I live within 6 hours drive of 7 tracks and have been able see a lot of races over the years.

  8. Man Jeff, I picked the 4 and did so weeks ago. That team has been posting more fastest laps in a race then the 78 and the 18 the last 6 or 6 1.5 mile races, and doing so with out leading the laps. so while the 78 and 18 have had speed out front leading laps, the 4 had been setting his laps in traffic. passing the leader has proven difficult for everyone. but few drivers have kept pace with those leaders like the 4. If the 4 can get the lead, they have checked out. So this weeks win should not be that much of a surprise. the Loop Data tells much more of a story then the results

  9. There’s a reason I DVR the 1.5ers and utilize FF until I see yellow in the top left corner, or my drivers in the top right little box that pops up when there is a problem with them.

    No agony here! I haven’t watched a 1.5 in it’s entirety since 200…5? Maybe 2006. Still not missing much. And I get to watch my NFL teams go down in flames live and keep up with my fantasy points. 😀

  10. Probably the worst 1.5 mile track after that horrible repave, the crowd attendance looked like they agree….in the next 10 years NASCAR will be so desperate for fans that they’ll listen to us. Give every 1.5 mile track 1 race and the good 1.5 mile tracks 2. Add more short tracks. The sport is DYING.

    1. The list of short tracks are there. I could name 5 or 6. Take a trip to Montreal, he’ll go to Mexico City even know Mexico is dangerous. You’d see 150,000 Daniel Suarez fans packed at Autodromo on race day, it’s time to think outside the box that’s been broken for the last few years…..Dale Jr Kenseth the latest guys done…..jeez

  11. When will the “top brass” realize that the cars being sealed to the track like a Daytona Prototype sports car is NOT what this type of racing commands? The G2 COT is an amazing racecar but enough is enough. Or pump a bunch of Toyota money into some of the classic short tracks and add them to the schedule!

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