NASCAR Playoffs: What we learned during the Texas AAA 500


Despite the admittedly catchy nickname plastered on the welcome sign as you drive through the front gate at Texas Motor Speedway, the limitations are quite endless these days.

Limitless lethargy.
Limitless weariness
Limitless despondency.

Track president Eddie Gossage and Speedway Motorsports Inc. made a significant misstep last summer when they reconfigured Texas from a listless intermediate circuit to an even more torpid intermediate circuit.

It showed:

Limited imagination.
Limited vision.
Limited foresight.

And even as drivers, fans and media all languished over the fact that one of the more procedural venues would only get worse under a repave and a banking reduction in Turns 1 and 2, Gossage was more concerned with arguing with the industry at-large over whether his track was 1.5-miles or 1.44-miles, seemingly oblivious to the fact that both are equally odoriferous for stock car racing.

Such was the story of watching the AAA Texas 500, the latest in a long line of tedious Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series events that took place in Fort Worth.

Kevin Harvick won his way into the Championship Race in two weeks at Homestead Miami Speedway, something that seemed like a foregone conclusion all afternoon, even if circumstances and an overtime finished teased the possibility of a Sunday Surprise.

Alas, Harvick led 177 laps, many of which saw those in attendance and watching at home performing a kind of hate-watch at the end where you’ve already invested this much time into the product so stay tuned-in just in the faint hopes that something … anything … will happen.

Look, the racing equivalent of blowouts occasionally happen in NASCAR. Sometimes, the dominant teams simply hit on the set-up, and combined with an elite driver, open a can of Texas whoop-ass and drive away.

But the truth is that Texas Motor Speedway just hasn’t been good in a very long time.

And what made it all the more frustrating on Sunday is that Gossage and Co. had an excellent opportunity to shake-up the status quo during the reconfiguration period. It could have been the track to first attempt the roval experiment or reduce its track length from 1.5-miles to something shorter.

Back in 2016, part-time driver and NBC Sports color analyst Parker Kligerman went as far to suggest a Trenton Speedway style kink on the backstretch at Texas — anything to break out of the intermediate dilemma that its parent company exaggerated around 20 years ago.

Instead, fans were treated more of the same, a limit on No Limits, Texas.

It was so exhausting to watch that it even made the equally woeful 2019 Cup Series rules package seem like a good idea in comparison.

So, let this serve as a cautionary tale to Speedway Motorsports, Inc. The repeated sin of trying the same thing over-and-over again has already been committed at both Texas and Kentucky. It’s too late. However, something must soon be done with Atlanta’s aging surface and there is an opportunity to give fans what they want.

Reconfigure Atlanta into a true short track.

And not a short track like Richmond, Iowa, and New Hampshire, mind you. Give the fans an honest to God bullring around a half-mile in the spirit of Bristol and Martinsville. The company still receives a tremendous amount of hell for what ultimately become of North Wilkesboro, so give the fans the Wilkesboro experience just outside of Atlanta.

Or y’know, just keep giving them mile and a half tracks until they stop coming altogether.

The rest of what we learned at Texas Motor Speedway can be read below.

Similar to us there. The old pavement was great, and the track layout. Now with T1-2 tighter apex radius, it makes it nearly impossible for an outside lane to work at all. Pavement is very slick up high.

“Stop racing me hard?”

What in the world has the highest level of stock car racing become?

For the second week in a row, Joey Logano was maligned for racing the competition too hard or something. Last weekend at Martinsvile Speedway, he was vilified for executing a last lap bump-and-run on Martin Truex Jr. to win his way into the Championship Race.


This weekend, it was Aric Almirola throwing shade at Logano for making his life difficult while racing for a position inside the top-five. In this instance, Logano didn’t even initiate contact, simply driving to the high side around Almirola and forcing him into an aero loose scenario in the middle of the corner.

His post-race comments essentially came across as, "you've already won a race so stop racing me hard."

That’s embarrassing for the sport, especially from top-level drivers who are paid to win races and compete for a championship.

This isn’t a relatively new trend either.

Matt DiBinedetto took exception to Almirola to how they raced each other at Pocono in July. Elliott Sadler still blames Ryan Preece to this day for costing him a championship back at Homestead-Miami Speedway last season. In that instance, both drivers were inside the top-five and Preece was racing for the owner’s championship.

This whole ordeal just speaks to an embarrassing softness growing inside the Cup Series garage.

It’s one thing when one driver dumps another or legitimately races recklessly around their competition. But late in the race, when championships or victories are on the line, these guys should be expected to compete.

If Almirola, Truex or any driver feels like they’re being raced too hard, they are more than welcome to wave that competitor by and seek comfort outside of the top-10.

It’s that simple.

Must Win Scenario

Kevin Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas teammates were probably the only ones happy with their trip to Dallas-Fort Worth this weekend with a victory that puts them back in the Cup Series championship Race for the fourth time in five seasons.

More on that in a minute.

Meanwhile, his counterparts in The Big Three were not as easy-going upon checking out on Sunday night. Loose wheels took Martin Truex and Kyle Busch out of the mix with finishes of ninth and 17th respectively.

However, their regular season and the corresponding playoff points continue to serve them well as both should advance into back-to-back championship races so long as someone below the cutline doesn’t win on Sunday at Phoenix.

First, let’s check the cut line.

1. Kevin Harvick Win, advanced
2. Joey Logano Win, advanced
3. Kyle Busch +28
4. Martin Truex Jr. +25

5. Kurt Busch -25
6. Chase Elliott -39
7. Aric Almirola 57
8. Clint Bowyer -73

So, it’s not impossible for Kurt Busch or Chase Elliott to point their win, but it’s going to require Kyle Busch or Truex having an early problem, not scoring stage points or finishing outside of the top-25 … combined with top-5s from either Elliott or the elder Busch.

Meanwhile, Almirola and Bowyer is going to have to win their way in.

And for Almirola’s sake, he had best be prepared for a dogfight on the one-mile short track, especially if an equally Elliott, Bowyer or Busch is also in the top-five.

Elliott is the most-likely bet to win his way in as he’s contended for the win in both of his most recent appearances. Bowyer and Almirola do not have lofty stats on the one-mile track in the desert but these are the moments that bring out the most in championship contenders.

We’ve seen these sort of Game 7 Moments© in the valley before with Harvick winning his way into the Championship Race before winning at Homestead in 2014. Logano won in the desert in 2016 and made his second Championship Race as a result.

Last year’s penultimate race of the season was one for the ages, with Elliott exacting revenge on Denny Hamlin for what happened the previous month at Martinsville and leading at Phoenix until nine laps to go when Matt Kenseth won for the final time.

This race tends to be money and the stage is set.

But it may not even matter the way the No. 4 team is performing right now.

As has always been the case since Harvick joined SHR and linked-up with crew chief Rodney Childers, the most likely bet to beat the No. 4 team is the No. 4 team themselves. Pit road miscues or some other lack of execution is typically what costs Harvick victories these days.

But if they are flawless on that front, it’s a safe bet that the championship will run through Harvick next weekend in South Beach.    

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