This weekend the Monster Energy NASCAR Truck Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. With his victory at Martinsville, Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski became the first driver to grab multiple wins this season. But did you know that Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, the two most successful active teams in NASCAR, are winless after six races?
Texas may be the perfect track for these teams to rebound. HMS driver Jimmie Johnson has the best overall driver rating (107.1) at the 1.5-mile track but so far this year his best finish was ninth place at Phoenix. However, with a track-record six wins, history may be on his side.
Or maybe Chase Elliott will break through and capture his first win at Texas. He had two top-fives in his 2016 rookie season and is currently in second place in the standings, only four points behind leader, Kyle Larson.
JGR’s Kyle Busch is also hungry for a win especially after last week’s race at Martinsville where he led a race-high 274 laps only to see victory elude him. He has scored two checkered flags at Texas and is the defending race winner with 11 top fives, 12 top 10s and one pole at Texas.
But the bigger story may be the newly repaved track surface that was completed during the offseason. Did you know that the entire track was repaved and an extensive drainage system was added on the frontstretch and backstretch? Turns 1 and 2 were also reconfigured with the banking reduced from 24 to 20 degrees and the racing surface widened from 60 to 80 feet through Turns 1 and 2.
Some of the drivers have expressed concerns about the unpredictability of heading to Texas to compete on the new surface, especially since there will be no opportunity for pre-race testing.
“To head into Texas with no formal tire test, no official track mapping, let ’er rip, this is new territory for our sport,” Stewart-Hass Racing’s Kurt Busch said. “I think it shows how much we’re having to adapt on the fly. Is it a good thing? A bad thing? It doesn’t matter. It’s what it is, and it’s unique the way we’re headed in there to go 215 mph with no track time.”
JGR driver Matt Kenseth, who has the second-best driver rating of 104.7 at Texas, calls it “unprecedented,” adding, “I don’t think that we’ve ever gone to a newly paved race track without some sort of a test day, a tire test, or something along those lines.”
There’s no doubt that this weekend will likely test the skills of even the best driver but let’s look at some statistics to set the stage.
Did you know that four active drivers have multiple wins at Texas Motor Speedway? Johnson leads the way with six followed by JGR’s Denny Hamlin, Kenseth and Kyle Busch with two each. Roush Fenway Racing leads the Cup Series in victories with nine while Hendrick Motorsports has eight and Joe Gibbs Racing has six.
There have been 32 MENCS races at Texas, one each year from 1997-2004 and two per season since 2005, resulting in wins by 18 different drivers. But did you know that 78.1 percent (25 of 32) have been won from a top-10 starting position? And, to narrow it down more, starting in third place has produced more wins (six) than any other starting position.
Don’t miss the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 Sunday, April 8 at 1:30 p.m. on FOX as the 2017 season continues at Texas Motor Speedway. While you’re waiting, check out the gallery below for a preview of the paint schemes we’ll see this weekend.
Follow @angiecampbell_ for the latest NASCAR news and feature stories.