Five drivers to watch at Texas Motor Speedway

Here are five drivers to watch as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.

The NASCAR Cup Series is headed to Texas Motor Speedway after a weekend off. The last time NASCAR visited Texas, Kevin Harvick was the winner and punched his ticket to the Championship 4 in Homestead.

At Martinsville, all three drivers who were expected to run well finished inside the top-10. Rookies William Byron and Darrell Wallace Jr. both struggled in their first start at the paperclip shaped half-mile. Byron did however score a top-20 finish but was three laps down.

Will a trip back to another 1.5-mile track provide similar results to the previous two trips this season? Will Joe Gibbs Racing find victory lane for the first time this season? Can Stewart-Haas Racing continue their impressive start to the season by winning another race?

Here are five drivers to keep any eye on this weekend to see how they perform at Texas Motor Speedway.

Kevin Harvick

Harvick is the most recent winner at Texas Motor Speedway and already has three wins on the season, two of them coming at 1.5-mile tracks. There are other numbers in his favor too.

Harvick has the best average finish, 3.7, in the last three races at Texas, has led 115 laps and finished inside the top-10 in all three races.

It’s safe to say Harvick knows his way around Texas Motor Speedway and knows just how challenging the track can be.

“Turns three and four have always been fast, but now they’re what I’d call scary fast because of the small amount of time you’re out of the throttle,” said Harvick in his pre-race advance.

“If you look at turns one and two, it’s become a lot different than what it used to be just because it’s so much flatter and wider. It’s become a very unique corner that we don’t experience a lot.”

Chase Elliott turns laps during practice for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. (© John Harrelson / NKP)

Chase Elliott

Texas is one of Chase Elliott’s best racetracks. After all, he scored his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win at the track back in 2014.

The start of the 2018 season has been a struggle for Elliott, with just one top-5 and two finishes of 30th or worse. A trip to Texas could not only help Elliott but his Hendrick Motorsports teammates as well, who all find themselves 16-21 in the standings.

Elliott has finished inside the top-10 in his last three races at Texas and has the fourth best average finish, 7.0, among active drivers.

Martin Truex Jr.

In two of the last three races at Texas, Martin Truex Jr. has finished inside the top three twice. He has also led a series best 222 laps during that span and in all three races has led at least 49 laps.

It should be no surprise that Truex is one to watch at Texas Motor Speedway, given it is a 1.5-mile speedway. However, Truex failed to score the victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier this season. That’s a surprise for a driver who won seven of his eight races a year ago on 1.5-mile tracks.

Aric Almirola and his Stewart-Haas Racing team at Texas Motor Speedway. (© Matt Thacker / NKP)

Aric Almirola

Aric Almirola posted his worst finish of the season at Martinsville Speedway, a 14th place finish. With all six finishes to start the season inside the top-15 and two top-10 finishes, Almirola has the highest lowest finish among all drivers.

Can Almriola keep the momentum headed to Texas? His last three races have produced mediocre results. Two finishes inside the top-20 and a 22nd place finish aren’t anything to write home about.

With a trip to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, Almirola is already prepared for a fast track and trying to find clean air.

“Texas is a really, really fast racetrack that we go to and it’s really unique,” said Almirola in his pre-race advance. “It’s incredibly fast since the repave. I think everything is bigger and better in Texas and, wow, are the speeds higher. We’re running 215 or 216 mph getting into the turn one. It’s just a really fast racetrack.”

The challenge with that, now that you’re running fast after a repave is the air. You need clean air. You’ve got to qualify up front, run up front, have good pit strategy, and all of those things really come into effect at a racetrack like Texas.”

Michael McDowell during practice for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. (© John Harrelson / NKP)

Michael McDowell

Through six races with his new team Front Row Motorsports, Michael McDowell sits 24th in points and is ahead of drivers from Chip Ganassi Racing and Roush Fenway Racing.

McDowell’s finishes at Texas Motor Speedway put him right on part to continue his trend of sitting just outside the top-20 in points. With two finishes of 23rd and one 21st place finish in his last three races at Texas Motor Speedway, cracking the top-20 might not be too far out of reach for McDowell and his No. 34 Ford.

“Last year was great for me there,” said McDowell in his pre-race advance. “I qualified well both races. I have a good feel for the tire and for the cars there. Any time you have confidence going into a race track, it usually helps when you unload.”

McDowell has also taken notice of the repave at Texas and how drastic of a change it was from before.

“Since they repaved it, it’s been a new Texas. You’ve got to be precise, you’ve got to be willing to put your life on the line there and really hang it out. Any time we have these repaves, they’re pretty treacherous. But Texas has done a great job with it, dragging tires and doing all those things to kind of age it. And the grooves widened out way faster than we all anticipated.”

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattlovisa.

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