The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, running the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 to kickstart its Round of 8. The next three races will decide which four playoff drivers will compete for the sport’s 2021 season championship at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, Nov. 7.
For now, the focus turns to this 1.5-miler in Fort Worth, hosting only one Cup points-paying event for the first time since 2004. The sport did visit for the All-Star Race, won by Kyle Larson, but the short sprints and weird rules for that event make it difficult to predict what it’ll be like here this fall.
The teams will run the 550-horsepower handling package here, putting a premium on track position and restarts. Now four years removed from a repave, the hope is the asphalt has started to weather a bit, allowing for greater tire wear and handling difficulties like the teams experience at sister track Atlanta Motor Speedway.
NASCAR has chosen no on-track practice or qualifying for this race as it tries to limit track time due to COVID-19 protocols. That means the field was set due to the sport’s qualifying metric described below.
50% of the metric is based on finishing position from the previous race (split between driver and owner).
35% of the metric is the team’s current position in the NASCAR Cup Series owner point standings.
15% of the metric is based on the team’s fastest lap during the previous race.
The team with the lowest total starts on the pole, then the next lowest, etc. until the starting grid is complete. During the postseason, there’s one small twist: all eight playoff drivers remaining are guaranteed to start in spots 1-8.
Thirty-nine cars are entered at Texas, leaving the grid one spot short of the typical 40-car grid. All 36 teams who have guaranteed spots are here along with three “open” cars: the No. 37 of JTG Daugherty Racing (Ryan Preece) and two MBM Motorsports cars: the No. 13, driven by Timmy Hill, and the No. 66 run by David Starr.
Open cars are not guaranteed a spot in the race and, when more than 40 cars show up, need to qualify on speed.
1. Kyle Larson (P)
2. Denny Hamlin (P)
3. Kyle Busch (P)
4. Ryan Blaney (P)
5. Joey Logano (P)
6. Chase Elliott (P)
7. Brad Keselowski (P)
8. Martin Truex Jr. (P)
9. Tyler Reddick
10. Chris Buescher
11. Christopher Bell
12. William Byron
13. Matt DiBenedetto
14. Alex Bowman
15. Austin Dillon
16. Michael McDowell
17. Kurt Busch
18. Bubba Wallace
19. Daniel Suarez
20. Cole Custer
21. Erik Jones
22. Aric Almirola
23. Ryan Preece
24. Kevin Harvick
25. Ross Chastain
26. Chase Briscoe
27. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
28. Anthony Alfredo (R)
29. Corey LaJoie
30. Quin Houff
31. Ryan Newman
32. Justin Haley (i)
33. Josh Bilicki (i)
34. Cody Ware (i)
35. BJ McLeod (i)
36. Garrett Smithley (i)
37. Joey Gase (i)
38. David Starr (i)
39. Timmy Hill (i)
(P) – Playoff driver
(R) – Rookie
(i) – Ineligible to collect Cup Series points
- Kyle Larson (pole) will start up front for the ninth time in 34 races this season. By comparison, Larson won just eight poles in his seven-year Cup career before teaming up with Hendrick Motorsports in 2021.
- Denny Hamlin (second) is the highest-qualifying Toyota. He has won both opening-round events in the NASCAR playoffs so far, at the Round of 16 (Darlington) and the Round of 12 (Las Vegas).
- Kyle Busch (third) is the defending winner of this race.
- Ryan Blaney (fourth) is the top Ford driver on the grid. He starts this round holding the final spot in the Championship 4 by one point over Kyle Busch.
- Chase Elliott (sixth) is the highest-starting Chevrolet. Elliott, the sport’s reigning NASCAR champion, is just one of two Hendrick cars to make the Round of 8 (Larson) after dominating the regular season.
- Tyler Reddick (ninth) is the best of the non-playoff drivers on the grid and could be an underdog threat for victory. He ran a career-best second at Texas while teammate Austin Dillon captured a victory here last summer.
- Chase Briscoe (26th) is the highest-qualifying rookie.
- Josh Bilicki (33rd) replaces road course specialist Joey Hand behind the wheel of the No. 52 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet. Bilicki has run the bulk of the races this year for the team.
- Live Fast Motorsports co-owner BJ McLeod (35th) replaces road course ace Scott Heckert in his No. 78 Ford.
- Garrett Smithley (36th) moves from the No. 53 Rick Ware Racing car to the No. 15, replacing Josh Bilicki.
- Joey Gase (37th) replaces Garrett Smithley in that No. 53 after taking a weekend off at the Charlotte ROVAL.
- David Starr (38th) replaces Timmy Hill in the No. 66 MBM Motorsports car this week. Hill (39th) simply moves into a second MBM entry, driving the No. 13 instead.
NASCAR Race Breakdown
Race: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500
Track: Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth, Texas)
Date: Sunday, Oct. 17
TV: NBC, 2 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
Josh Berry takes a turn around the Frontstretch podcast to talk about his latest NASCAR Xfinity Series win, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and his upcoming full-time JR Motorsports ride for 2022. Then, hosts Adam Cheek and Bryan Nolen delve into who might make a good first impression inside the Round of 8 at Texas Motor Speedway.