If the first round results are anything to go by, the 2022 Cup Series playoffs were indicative of a changing NASCAR landscape. Four drivers who are in the round of 16 have never competed for a Cup championship, while the four drivers eliminated after the round of 16 contain two future Hall of Famers with three championships between them. And for the first time in NASCAR’s playoff era, not a single playoff driver won a round of 16 race as the rest of the field did their best, as did the drivers competing for the championship.
The relative lack of championship pedigrees in the playoff field and the goose egg in the victory column for playoff drivers means the round of 16 represents a great opportunity for someone to strike first and perhaps establish themselves as a favorite for the Cup Series championship. That process begins this week at Texas Motor Speedway, where autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 opens the round of 16.
How to watch the NASCAR playoffs in Texas
- Date: Sunday 25 September
- Location: Texas Motor Speedway – Fort Worth, Texas
- Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
- TV: USA network
- Electricity: fuboTV (Try it for free)
Something to see
A sticky situation
A little over a quarter century ago, the Texas Motor Speedway served as the physical embodiment of NASCAR’s late 1990s expansion as it represented a time of opulence and prosperity in racetrack construction. But in recent years the track has lost much of its luster – in part because it has become a cautionary tale about what can happen if you try to artificially treat a racing surface.
After Texas was repaved and reconfigured in 2017, the track began liberally applying PJ1 traction compound in its corners to create more high groove grip and more usable raceways on a new surface. But as the track’s tarmac has aged, applying PJ1 has done more harm than good.
The darker surface PJ1 was applied to reacts differently to heat and can easily turn into a slick no-go zone if not picking up rubber. And the PJ1 has historically been laid on so thick that it’s managed to pollute the tarmac to the point where it can’t really be scrubbed away. The end result was a string of individual races planned by fans and media, including a mess of an All-Star race last May.
In an effort to make more of the track usable, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller told SiriusXM earlier this week that Texas will be treated to resin and a tire kite ahead of this weekend and that track preparation efforts are in progress would increase a notch higher in turns 3 and 4.
“It might not turn into race space, but if they slip out of the groove at least there’s something to hold on to.” said Mueller.
Twenty is something
This weekend marks a proud homecoming for Chris Buescher of Prosper, Texas. Last week in Bristol, Buescher became the 19th different driver to win a Cup race that season, tying the record for most different winners in a single season previously set in 2001.
What’s remarkable about the 2022 season, particularly over the course of the last month, has been the sheer speed at which various drivers have moved down the victory lane. In 2001 there were 15 different winners in the first 29 races and it took Robby Gordon to win the season finale in New Hampshire to hit the 19 win mark. There are now seven races left to determine 20 different winners, or possibly even more.
If the record falls this weekend, the natural contender for the 20th win this season is Ryan Blaney, who won the Texas All-Star race in May and remains the only playoff driver not to win a race. But if Blaney is to do that, he’ll have to make do with the sword of Damocles hanging over his team: After a one-race disaster at Bristol, crew chief Jonathan Hassler and two members of Blaney’s pit crew were suspended for the next four races after an improperly fitted wheel from Blaney’s car fell and rolled down the pit lane.deferring the suspensions until after the appeal hearing and allowing Blaney to have his usual crew this weekend.
Aside from Blaney, the odds of a new winner in Texas are heavily aided by the premium Texas is putting on track position and whether a still winless rider can use the right strategy to get to the top. That was the case in August 2020 when Austin Dillon took just two tires on his final pit stop to take the lead late in the race and stay there.
Everything is longer in Texas
While it doesn’t have the history or prestige of races like the Southern 500 or the Coca-Cola 600, it should be noted that this weekend marks the final 500-mile race of the season at a non-superspeedway. That makes Texas one of the longest remaining races this season at a track that hasn’t quite put the next-gen car to the test in the long run. With the All-Star Race in May in a special format, the current generation of cup vehicles has only seen Texas in brief bursts so far.
After a series of mechanical failures during the round of 16 and a high rate of tire failures during the first race in Bristol’s specific configuration last week, keep an eye on how the next-gen car and its parts – not exactly in Kevin Harvick’s favor or Martin Truex Jr. – pass the test of 500 miles in Texas.
Choose to win
(Odds via Caesars Sportsbook)
Christopher Bell (+800): With overtaking being so difficult at this circuit, whoever wins on Sunday will likely be the driver who can find a way to move up late in the race. But when we’re picking someone on raw speed, I really like Christopher Bell’s odds. Not only was he very quick in the All-Star Race before a mid-race spin, he also excelled in the round of 16 and seems to be peaking at just the right time in the season. Bell also has a great history in Texas, with two third places in his last two starts at the track.
In the first three races of the playoffs, Bell finished fifth, third and fourth, and also led for 149 laps. That gives me confidence that he could secure a place in the round of 16 at the Oklahoma native’s home track this week.
https://www.cbssports.com/nascar/news/nascar-playoffs-at-texas-how-to-watch-stream-preview-picks-for-the-autotrader-echopark-automotive-500/ NASCAR Texas Playoffs: How to Watch, Stream, Preview and Vote on the EchoPark Automotive 500 Autotrader