Texas Preview: Late-Season Chase Race Brings Out Worst in Drivers

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By Jared Turner

Long known for breeding major drama and conflict among drivers, Texas Motor Speedway has a way of bringing out the worst in people – especially in the final weeks of the season.

On the heels of last Sunday’s wildly contentious showdown at Martinsville Speedway, just about anything is possible in this Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 where seven drivers will look to join Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon in claiming one of the four spots for the winner-take-all Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The driver arguably in most need of a win is Joey Logano, who was headed toward a likely victory at Martinsville before contact with Matt Kenseth took him out of the race and left him in a deep points hole.

Now last among the eight remaining title contenders, Logano probably needs to get to Victory Lane at Texas or the next weekend at Phoenix to reach the Championship Round.

This much is certain: There will be no shortage of motivation for the Team Penske driver this weekend after getting deliberately wrecked by Kenseth, who retaliated for their run-in two weekends earlier at Kansas Speedway.

“We’ll go to Texas and try to win,” said Logano, who prior to Martinsville had reeled off three consecutive victories. “We’re on a heckuva run. We were still leading the race. We’re not gonna let this take us down. This is a strong team.”

Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, is likewise confident that the driver and team will be able to bounce back from their Martinsville disappointment.

“I know this race team’s done an awesome job and we’d won three [consecutive] races coming here and we were leading when we got wrecked,” he said at Martinsville. “And we’ll go to Texas and do that again.”

Seventh among the eight title contenders and also in need of a standout performance at Texas is 2004 Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch, who was running near the front at Martinsville when he was caught up in a wreck that started with contact between Kenseth and Brad Keselowski.

“We are down but we’re not out,” said Busch, another former Texas winner. “We can go to Texas and win, we can win at Phoenix, and we want to get an invite to Homestead.”

Other than Jeff Gordon, who already has locked up a berth in the Championship 4 at Homestead, those in position to advance are Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick.

Kyle Busch and Truex are tied for second in the standings, just eight points behind Gordon, while Harvick is just another two points back in fourth.

“I feel like Texas has been a very good race track for us as we’ve gone through the past couple of years at Stewart-Haas; and we all know how Phoenix has gone,” said Harvick, the reigning Sprint Cup champion. “So, we just need to have two more solid weeks and hopefully position ourselves well to have a chance to get to Homestead.”

Carl Edwards, in fifth, is seven points behind Harvick and the first driver outside the cutoff for Homestead. But it’s a significant 17 points back to sixth-place Keselowski, who is two points ahead of Kurt Busch and four ahead of Logano.

Like Logano and Kurt Busch, Keselowski has his work cut out for him.

Gordon, meanwhile, has nothing to lose and nothing to gain over the next two weeks, having already punched his ticket to Homestead.

 

Five Favorites

Joey Logano is going to go for broke at Texas – a track where he’s won before and certainly can win again.

Jimmie Johnson has won the past two races at Texas and is plenty capable of completing the season sweep.

Jeff Gordon has no reason to hold anything back at Texas, a track where’s only enjoyed modest success.

Carl Edwards swept Texas in 2008 when he drove for Roush Fenway Racing.

Kyle Busch knows his way to Victory Lane in the Lone Star State. He’s never won at Texas in the Chase, however.

 

 

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