This weekend’s races at Texas Motor Speedway were a little weird. Saturday’s XFINITY Series race was run in mid-30’s temperatures and featured three cautions in the first fifteen laps. Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race started with a wreck on lap 2, and went on to have eight cautions, about a dozen cars in the garage, and a significant portion of the field dealing with loose wheels.
At least 20% of the field has pit under green for a loose wheel today. Among them: Harvick, Johnson, Blaney.
— Tom Bowles From Frontstretch.com (@NASCARBowles) April 8, 2018
By my count, there were fifteen drivers who earned their best finish of the 2018 season on Sunday. Most of this was because of the parade of big-name drivers getting caught in bad luck, including Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin. But still, good days ought to be celebrated, no matter what circumstances led.
Kyle Busch locked himself into the playoffs with Joe Gibbs Racing’s first victory of the season in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, followed by Kevin Harvick and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jamie McMurray. Busch’s JGR teammate Erik Jones and Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five.
The Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team drew the ire of NASCAR after Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers were critical of the malfunctioning mandatory pit guns.
Rookie William Byron earned the first top-10 finish of his MENCS career with his 10th-place run in the slightly-repainted Liberty University No. 24, the best of the Hendrick Motorsports cars. He has led 17 laps so far this season, the most of any Hendrick driver, and third-most among all Chevrolet drivers after Larson and Ryan Newman.
Daniel Suarez was part of the lap 2 wreck, and although his car wasn’t totaled, his hopes for a good day were. He wound up 29th, completing 290 laps. This drops his average finish to 22nd this season, and to 26th in the standings. And that wreck didn’t just tear up the car, either; Suarez also injured his left hand in the crash.
Byron’s fellow rookie Darrell Wallace Jr. earned the second top-10 of his MENCS career after putting the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 in the eighth position. It was his best result since his runner-up finish in the Daytona 500. Wallace sits 20 points outside the playoff cutoff right now.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. looked like he was going to score Roush Fenway Racing’s best finish this season until a late-race suspension failure ended his day in 25th. His average finish is 23.1, and he’s in a three-way tie for 20th place in the standings.
Chip Ganassi Racing has been inconsistent but speedy this season, as Kyle Larson scored top-five finishes at Las Vegas and Auto Club. Larson’s day ended early, but Jamie McMurray picked up the slack and fought hard all day, coming home third in the No. 1 for the 62nd top-five finish in his MENCS career. The previous best finish for the veteran Missourian this season was 16th in the Daytona 500, snapping a five-race streak of averaging a 25th-place finish.
Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon has led one lap this season – which was, of course, the final lap of the Daytona 500. Since then, he’s run midpack at best, and followed his 30th at Martinsville with a 26th-place finish on Sunday, scored as running at the finish, but 30 laps down, just ahead of teammate Ryan Newman. On the other hand, his brother Ty matched his car number with a 13th-place finish for Germain Racing, his highest finish since running 11th at Phoenix last fall.
Paint Scheme of the Week
Trevor Bayne‘s Performance Plus Motor Oil No. 6 wins this spot this week. The yellow’white/black leaves an impression, but doesn’t look overdesigned. There also aren’t many teams sponsored by car products these days, so that feels appropriate. Bayne also finished 12th, a season high for Roush Fenway, and his best result since a sixth-place run at Martinsville last fall.
A half mile of concrete chaos awaits. It feels like all the big guns have won at Bristol Motor Speedway – the Busch brothers, Hamlin, Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski have all taken the checkered flag in Thunder Valley, though it seems unlikely that any of them could surpass Darrell Waltrip’s 12 wins at the track. The Busches lead active drivers with six (Kyle) and five (Kurt) wins, other active drivers with multiple wins include Johnson, Keselowski and Logano (two apiece). Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon and Erik Jones have all won there in XFINITY, so they should be contenders, too.
Short tracks usually cause flared tempers and mashed fenders; there will be some racing-related controversy we’re talking about this time next week. Since the race is on Fox, it should draw a larger audience than this week’s FS1 coverage, and one of the Busch brothers will add to his Bristol win total – Kyle’s got his initial win now, which could start one of his streaks, and Kurt’s been helped by SHR’s dominance, with three top-10s already and coming off a seventh-place run. The Food City 500 takes the green flag on Sunday, April 15, at 2 p.m. ET on Fox.