The Top Five: Breaking down the Texas playoff race

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

1. Ford goodness’ sake

After yet another Ford-dominated weekend — Ford drivers combined to lead 321 of the 337 laps at Texas — Martin Truex Jr. brought up a solid point.

What if the Toyotas were crushing everyone like the Fords are now?

“If this is last year, they would all be complaining we’re too fast,” Truex said on pit road. “So I don’t know if I should do a (Brad) Keselowski and start whining about it or not. They’re really fast, and if we’re off just a little bit, we can’t run with them.”

That was the case at Texas, as none of the top Toyotas — or Chevrolets, for that matter — could hang with the Fords. And with only two weeks to go in the season, nothing is going to change before Homestead. It’s a Ford world now.

In all likelihood, that means Texas race winner Kevin Harvick is going to head to Miami as the heavy favorite for the championship. I’d even put Joey Logano above Truex and Kyle Busch at this point, since they just don’t have the raw speed the Fords seem to.

It’s not a given Harvick will win it all — Jimmie Johnson won his most recent championship as the fourth-fastest car among the title contenders — but the final four is going to feel more like “Harvick and Friends” than “The Big Three and Joey.”

Who is going to beat the No. 4 team aside from themselves?

“I feel as a team we’ve been strong down there,” crew chief Rodney Childers said. “Last year going into Homestead, I felt we didn’t have the cars to run for a championship, and we almost ran with them. So overall I think we have good cars right now.

“Everybody has done a great job. It’s just going to come down to executing and doing the best we can on pit road.”

I feel like I’ve written this a zillion times in 2018, but it’s still Harvick’s championship to lose.

2. Veteran move

Experience still matters sooooo much in today’s Cup Series, and that’s why drivers like Harvick can make the difference in crunch time situations.

Just look at Texas. Harvick got beaten by Ryan Blaney on a late restart, but he patiently caught back up and stuffed his car underneath Blaney’s in Turns 1 and 2 for what seemed like the winning pass. It was a pretty slick move that appeared easier than it was.

Then, on the overtime restart, Harvick switched up the strategy and started on the top — something no leader had chosen to do all race. If anyone doubted him, though, it worked — he easily cleared Blaney and sailed on to victory.

Blaney, to his credit, anticipated Harvick’s decision.

“I figured he wouldn’t make that move three times,” Blaney said. “We almost cleared him the first restart up top. Then I did on the second one. I figured he’d take the top.

“You get beat in one, you almost get beat the next one, you’re going to take the top, not restart on the bottom.”

Blaney can put that in his memory bank for the future, and that’s valuable. Those kind of scenarios can’t be simulated or pre-planned — only learned through actually being in those environments. But the winning veterans, like Harvick or Keselowski or Kyle Busch, already have those situations in their driver toolkits.

3. NASCAR mistake

Fans are continuing to light up NASCAR officials after Jimmie Johnson was mistakenly sent to the back of the field prior to the race.

For what it’s worth, NASCAR apologized in person to Chad Knaus and Hendrick representative Jeff Gordon, then told the media (through executive vice president Steve O’Donnell) the error was “unacceptable” and “disappointing.” O’Donnell vowed to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.

It was certainly a big mistake, and this isn’t the first time NASCAR has goofed on a call. It seems to happen more often than anyone would like, which is inexcusable.

That said, I remember the not-too-distant past, when NASCAR officials never would have admitted fault on something like this and instead made up some B.S. reason to justify the call. They’d say something like, “Oh, that’s our policy now. You didn’t know that?” Seriously, I feel like that used to be practically commonplace. I hated that about covering this sport; it drove me nuts.

Now NASCAR has a tendency to admit fault and apologize when something like this happens. Yeah, the whole thing isn’t good, and acknowledging an error doesn’t erase the error — but at least it takes some of the sting out of it.

4. Texas needs help

It’s time to stop racing 1,000 miles per year at Texas Motor Speedway.

The repave and reconfiguration hasn’t made for good racing in the Cup Series, this time even drawing the ire of typically mild-mannered Chase Elliott.

Elliott said Texas is “a really frustrating racetrack ever since they ruined it two years ago” and added: “I don’t know what genius decided to pave this place or take the banking out of (Turns) 1 and 2, but not a good move for the entertainment factor, in my opinion.”

Texas wasn’t very entertaining before, and now it’s gotten worse. A controversial new rules package will arrive for Cup next year, which could make the racing better — but it’s also going to make it a lot longer.

With the cars going slower, the 3.5-hour average time of the Texas races could creep closer to four-hour territory. Is that really necessary?

Even Texas president Eddie Gossage, by all accounts a great promoter, can’t do much with the racing product recently. Gossage’s customers have told him they don’t want any races to be shortened — they want more miles for their dollars — but given the sparse attendance on Sunday, is that even a consideration anymore?

A 300-mile race could be a lot more entertaining at Texas, since it could promote urgency and take away the time where drivers can just log laps. Either that, or it could be a chance for NASCAR to try a timed, three-hour race — just as an experiment.

Neither of those ideas could make it any worse, right?

5. Points drying up in the desert

At first glance, it doesn’t look like NASCAR is in store for much drama at Phoenix. The points are blown wide open, with the two remaining spots held by drivers who are at least 25 points ahead of the cutoff.

Kurt Busch isn’t in a must-win situation, but close. He’d need a lot of help. Meanwhile, Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer have to win Phoenix or will miss out on the final four.

But if there is a new winner among that group, things could get interesting very quickly. Kyle Busch and Truex would be in position to battle for the last spot on points, and they’re only separated by three at the moment.

“We might be racing the 78,” Busch crew chief Adam Stevens said. “We’ve got to out-run the 78 to make sure we’re OK, then hope there is a repeat winner or a non-(playoff) winner, I guess.”

If anyone can do it, the pick would be Elliott. He has the second-best average ever at Phoenix (6.8, second only to Alan Kulwicki) in his five career starts. He’s never finished lower than 12th there and has a second- and third-place result in his last two Phoenix races.

20 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Texas playoff race”

  1. “ Gossage’s customers have told him they don’t want any races to be shortened — they want more miles for their dollars “

    This is a load of BS. Promoters want the length so there are more concessions and purchases at the track. Meanwhile the on-track product is quite close to unbearable. Next year? I’m calling it “The Reckoning” for NASCAR. The new package will be devastating for TV, tracks, drivers, owners, sponsors and most importantly fans.

    1. Not B.S. I do NOT want the 500 mile race I attend at AMS shortened. I went th Vegas 5 times and always felt 400 miles was too short for what I was paying.
      Some races already too short like Phoenix, Loudon, and both road courses.
      But if they do shorten some races then make the “official race” be 75% of full race.

  2. With what most of us pay (cumulative, not simply price of ticket), I’d rather it be 600 miles. Give me everything you’ve got since it’s already difficult enough as is to attend if you don’t live nearby and do a day trip. :-/

  3. Regarding point 4., wouldn’t it be fun for a fan to draw out of a hat a mystery race ending lap, (before the race), say lap 255, where no one knows when it might end, creating a sense or urgency, kind of like a big storm coming.

  4. It has nothing to do with the reconfiguration, Texas was poorly designed period, from day one the transitions were incredibly flat, in 98 TMS removed the “Indy car” banking and reconfigured the track so that it was 24 degrees from the top to bottom, at that time they also extended the banking in to and off the turns, but they where limited to what they could so with seating almost the entire way around the track. from the the track was repaved again prior to 2002 to fix turn 1 where a sink hole was developing over the tunnel under 1 and 2. With its flat transitions it was a one grove track for until 04 ish years and it took another 5 years before they could run to the wall and that was in large part due to the bumps. Weepers had got so bad that 4 cup races where postponed a day and an Indy car race was rescheduled and then delayed again because they could not dry the track. It took almost 10 years after the last repave for good racing to take place. who knows how long it will take this time. but with the flat transitions texas will never have racing atlanta, chicago, kansas or even autoclub. the sad part is no one sits in any of those low seats now so they could have really fixed that issue with the last reconfiguration.

  5. I have not heard a lot of yammering to return the Pocono races back to 500 miles.

    One article mentioned the media knew ten minutes before the crew chief that the 48 was going to the rear of field, and the timing and the circumstances prevented/impaired the team from appealing the wrong decision.

    1. No yammering here, I just took my money and stayed home. I refuse to pay as much or more for 80% of what racing was there before. I traveled 4-5 hours to go to Pocono and Dover for years, but when the cut the race length I haven’t returned. Maybe my small group of 10-15 people won’t be missed, but it doesn’t make a bit of difference to me. I’ve attended several hundred NASCAR races, but now I spend my time and money for live events by the WoO, Lucas Oil, ARCA and other series. Even my local tracks.

      If the tracks and sanctioning body want to cut the race length then they need to cut the tickets, the purse, the TV revenues and the pay for everyone working the event, including the writers and broadcasters.

  6. I don’t believe in shortening races unless you are going to cut ticket prices. I wouldn’t pay the same price for a 300 mile race as I would a 500 miler. In fact, I don’t believe length is the problem. It’s the fact that the cars are too fast and can’t race near each other.
    The biggest disappointment of the race was Aric Almirola whining that Joey raced him too hard! Dude, that’s why you will never have a fan base beyond your family and friends. Go away if you don’t want to race and you feel you are entitled.

  7. If wasn’t for all the whiners and couch chiefs and drivers Jeff Gluck and Dave moody wouldn’t have much to talk about. I see the 78 and 18 move a lot of people with there bumpers yesterday but that was ok cause it wasn’t Joey that did it!!!!

  8. Regarding SevenTime, if NASCAR can impose a post race 10 point penalty for loose lug nuts, the can give him a post race bump for their mistake. I suggest the difference between is qulifyimg position and where he actually started.

    1. I said that numerous times yesterday. They could have also let the extra man over the wall penalty go away and that would have been okay with me. What they did to JJ was totally unacceptable and just a personal apology wasn’t good enough. They ruined the mans day. And…I would probably say this regardless of who the driver was. Wrong is wrong!

  9. 1. MTJ sure does whine a whole lot lately. Last year, Cole Pearn had a lot to say about Brad complaining about Toyota. Maybe he needs to get in the ear of his own driver.

    2. It’s a shame that is the only way for drivers to pass. It’s one thing if there are multiple grooves of racing and 2 drivers happen to occupy the same lane and that move is made, but wow what a boring race.

    3. I really don’t know what to think about this. You’d think for a series worried about .000000001 of an inch in inspections would be able to pay more attention but mistakes are made. Thank God it wasn’t a playoff driver, that would be terrible for the sport.

    4. They say everything is bigger in Texas and that certainly applies to the disappointment fans get each time NASCAR rolls into Fort Worth. It’s been the worst track on the schedule for a few years now and they go to Pocono twice in, what, 45 days? It’s a pipe dream but there are two really great, unique race tracks in North Carolina that could help shake up the schedule. Maybe they could move all those flood damaged cars from Texas World Speedway to Texas Motor Speedway? Not sure how different the tracks are but after yesterday, anything would help.

    5. Part of me wants Truex knocked out, part of me wants Kyle Busch knocked, & part of me wants to see how things shake out if Harvick isn’t in the picture at Homestead and there’s a late battle between Logano and Truex.

    As always, Jeff, good writing. You never seem to have cold takes.

  10. No Jeff, 1,000 miles at Texas – 1,000 miles at Pocono – 1,000 miles at Michigan, etc. is better than a pair of 300-milers. Shorter is NOT and never will be better. Making the draft paramount again is what will make it better since it’s already doing so where the new NA18D package has run. So it could be a 4-hour race – when the lead is a serious contest then four hours goes by a lot more quickly and people relearn long attention spans.

  11. 1. My guess is Texas could make the fall race a 400 miler. To do so would probably require positive marketing, such as Gossage saying a bunch of fans want to watch the race and also watch their NFL team (the Cowboys played, or at least had a scheduled game, on Monday this year), or a bunch of fans want the race to end during daylight (the spring race is after daylight time starts next year) . Regardless of whether or not Texas changes the race length, some fans will complain (fans, like teenagers, will complain about whatever they do not have).
    2. It is nice that Jimmie has won seven championships. It would be a bummer if his legacy should otherwise become his name applied to getting screwed, whether or not erroneously, by Nascar, as in ‘Ricky Bobby got Johnsonned in the Sunday race when Nascar had him do a stop and go for…’

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