Kevin Harvick leads the way in the Lone Star State
The AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 will mark the final intermediate track race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. Texas Motor Speedway's 1.5-mile layout will host this 500-miler, the last cookie-cutter oval in the recipe to create this year's Championship 4.
One of those spots has already been decided with Joey Logano's win at Kansas Speedway last weekend. Track position helped Logano hold off points leader Kevin Harvick after pit strategy launched him in front of the pack during the final stage. It's his second win to start the Round of 8 in the last three years; the last time Logano did it (Martinsville Speedway), he wound up the 2018 series champion.
Texas will produce a similar style of racing with the sport's low-horsepower, high-downforce package. Austin Dillon won the race here on old tires, using track position to scoot ahead of faster cars on restarts along with Richard Childress Racing teammate Tyler Reddick. Known for its multiple grooves, Texas used to produce plenty of side-by-side action, but fresh asphalt and slower speeds allow all drivers to run virtually wide open here. That limits passing opportunities aside from lapped traffic and the first few laps after a restart.
Luckily for the eight title contenders, they automatically start up front due to NASCAR's qualifying rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. No on-track action means the lineup is determined according to the metrics outlined below.
25% of the metric will be the driver's finishing position from the previous race.
25% of the metric will be the owner's finishing position from the previous race.
35% of the metric will be the owner's current position in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings.
15% of the metric will be their fastest lap during the previous race.
All drivers remaining in championship contention (8) automatically start ahead of all others.
The key for the eight remaining playoff drivers will be keeping their track position at a Texas facility which produced 10 cautions back in July. Every yellow flag is an opportunity for someone to switch up their strategy in order to gain large chunks of time on the field.
Forty teams are traveling to Texas for 40 spots on the grid, meaning everyone who entered will start the race. The same four "open" teams as last week are attempting the event, paired with the 36 chartered cars guaranteed a starting spot each race.
These entries are Gaunt Brothers Racing (No. 96), whose Toyota is run by Daniel Suarez; MBM Motorsports (Nos. 49 & 66), entering Toyotas run by Chad Finchum and Timmy Hill; and Tommy Baldwin Racing (No. 7), whose Chevrolet is driven by Josh Bilicki.
1. Kevin Harvick (P)
2. Joey Logano (P)
3. Brad Keselowski (P)
4. Chase Elliott (P)
5. Alex Bowman (P)
6. Martin Truex Jr. (P)
7. Denny Hamlin (P)
8. Kurt Busch (P)
9. Kyle Busch
10. Ryan Blaney
11. William Byron
12. Austin Dillon
13. Aric Almirola
14. Matt DiBenedetto
15. Christopher Bell (R)
16. Cole Custer (R)
17. Erik Jones
18. Bubba Wallace
19. Tyler Reddick (R)
20. Chris Buescher
21. Clint Bowyer
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
23. Michael McDowell
24. John Hunter Nemechek (R)
25. Ryan Newman
26. Jimmie Johnson
27. Ty Dillon
28. Corey LaJoie
29. Ryan Preece
30. Daniel Suarez
31. Brennan Poole (R)
32. Matt Kenseth
33. JJ Yeley (i)
34. Quin Houff
35. Reed Sorenson
36. Timmy Hill (i)
37. Josh Bilicki (i)
38. Garrett Smithley (i)
39. Joey Gase (i)
40. Chad Finchum (i)
(P) – Playoff Driver
(R) – Rookie
(i) – Ineligible to collect Cup Series points
- Kevin Harvick (1st) starts up front for the third time in seven NASCAR playoff races this year. He's won the last three Texas fall races in a row.
- Joey Logano (2nd) is the best-qualifying Ford driver. He's qualified second in four of the eight postseason races to date.
- Chase Elliott (4th) is the highest-starting Chevrolet driver. A win would give him a first-ever Championship 4 appearance in five seasons.
- Martin Truex Jr. (6th) is the highest-qualifying Toyota driver. Truex has never won at Texas in 30 career starts.
- Kyle Busch (9th) leads all drivers eliminated from championship contention. Busch is still seeking his first Cup victory of 2020 to keep his 15-year streak of at least one race win per season alive.
- Christopher Bell (15th) has the best starting spot among rookie drivers. It's the final Texas race for owner Bob Leavine, a native of the Lone Star State, before selling his No. 95 team at the end of the year.
- Jimmie Johnson (26th) will start his final Texas race behind the wheel of the No. 48 Chevrolet. Johnson is one of just three drivers to win this fall event since 2012; he won four straight, from 2012-15, followed by Carl Edwards (2016) and Harvick (2017-19).
- Garrett Smithley (38th) returns to the No. 53 Rick Ware Racing Ford, replacing James Davison. It's his 24th start of the year and first since Bristol last month.
- Chad Finchum (40th) will make back-to-back Cup starts for the first time in his NASCAR career.
NASCAR RACE BREAKDOWN
Race: AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500
Track: Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth, Texas)
Date: Sunday, Oct. 25
TV: NBCSN, 3:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SIRIUS XM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 334 laps (500 miles)
Stage 1: 105 Laps
Stage 2: 105 Laps
Final Stage: 124 Laps
NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series newcomer Hailie Deegan stops by the Frontstretch Podcast to chat about her full-time ride for 2021. Hosts Dustin Albino and Mike Neff then turn to Texas and who might emerge with a Championship 4 bid from the Lone Star State.