The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs move into the round of 16, and the next stop is Texas Motor Speedway for Sunday’s autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500.
The autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 (2:30 p.m. CT, TV: USA Network, Radio: SiriusXM Ch. 90, PRN, 95.9 The Ranch local) will be the opening race of the second round of the playoffs, which also includes Talladega Superspeedway (Oct .) includes ) and the Charlotte ROVAL (Oct. 9).
Four riders – Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick – were eliminated after the round of 16, leaving a dozen in the running to advance to the second of four rounds in the elimination playoff format.
The 12 drivers are Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, William Byron and Alex Bowman from Hendrick Motorsports; Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric of Team Penske; Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing; Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez; and Chase Briscoe of Stewart-Haas Racing.
Here are the “Fast Five Things to Watch For” in the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500:
1. RYAN BLANEY opens the round of 16 as the eighth seed, but Texas Motor Speedway could give him a quick start. The Team Penske driver won the NASCAR All-Star Race there in May and has also recently been strong in the points races on the 1.5-mile oval. He’ll be looking to follow the pattern set last season by Larson, who won the debut NASCAR All-Star Race in Texas and then dominated the playoff race by leading 256 of the 334 laps. Blaney has also finished eighth or better in his last four points-paying starts and seven of his last eight starts, including three in the top five during that stretch. He finished this race in 2018 with a personal best of second place and finished sixth last year.
2. KEVIN HARVICK and KYLE BUSH were knocked out of playoff contention after the round of 16 but expect the duo to potentially make an impact in this race having enjoyed career success in Texas and not worried about points to advance. Harvick recorded three straight wins in this fall playoff race from 2017-2019 and has 13 top 10 finishes overall in his last 14 starts at Texas Motor Speedway. He has an average finishing score of 9.7, backed by a track record of 24 top 10 finishes. Busch is tied with Carl Edwards for TMS’ second-most cup wins with four and is second in career rounds guided (1,069). He arrives in Texas with five consecutive points-paying top 10 finishes, including a win at that event in 2020. Busch also made a strong impression in the NASCAR All-Star race, winning the first stage and leading every lap of the race – 47 total – at the time he had a tire problem that led to an accident with Chastain at the end of the race.
3. The 16 playoff contenders were eliminated in the opening round as non-playoff drivers won all three races. ERIK JONES won the opener in Kansas and followed that up with wins BUBBA WALLACE born in Kansas and Prosper, Texas CHRIS BUSCHER in Bristol last Saturday night. No playoff driver could automatically advance to the next round based on a win, which meant a bonus to points. That streak could potentially extend to four races with Busch and Harvick out of contention and on the horizon.
4. CHASE ELLIOTT opens the round of 16 as a top seed and hopes he’s headed in the right direction at Texas Motor Speedway. He finished seventh in last year’s playoff race in Texas for a streak of four straight points-paying races without a top 10 finish. His best result in Texas is fourth, which he achieved in 2016 at the event. Elliott has also not led a lap in his last four starts with TMS and has just 44 in 11 career scoring starts. However, he has been solid in qualifying with starting positions of eight or better in four of his last five visits.
5. Only three drivers – DENNY HAMLIN, KYLE LARSON and JOEY LOGANO – are among 12 playoff contenders who previously won a points race at Texas Motor Speedway. Larson was the youngest of the trio and won the 2021 playoff race wire to wire in a dominating manner. Hamlin is a three-time winner, most recently at the 2019 spring race. Logano registered his win in spring 2014.
The newly renovated 1/5 mile dirt track at Lil’ Texas Motor Speedway will open the race weekend with the inaugural MICRO MANIA by C. Bell. The four-day event (September 21-24) includes practice on Wednesday, qualifying races on Thursday and Friday, and the main and finals on Saturday. Micro Sprints are smaller versions of full-size sprint cars with side-mounted 600cc motorcycle engines capable of producing 140 hp with a similar chassis and body style to the larger versions. NASCAR stars currently confirmed to compete include Christopher Bell, two-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Kyle Busch and his son Brexton Busch, Sheldon Creed, Daniel Hemric, Brett Moffitt and John Hunter Nemechek.