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Tuesday December 7th, 2021 6:44AM

Truex in tight NASCAR chase for start of round of 8 in Texas

By Stephen Hawkins - AP Sports Writer
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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Martin Truex, Jr. remembers the hours of boredom watching television and the rain in Texas, then coming so close to another championship chance when that playoff race last fall finally ended three days after it began.

The forecast is much better this time, both weather-wise and for Truex's playoff push, though things are tight and there are some changes in Texas.

Instead of being the middle race in the round of eight like Texas was in the past, Sunday is the first of the three races (Kansas and Martinsville to follow) that will determine the drivers that make up the championship four in the season finale at Phoenix.

“The round of eight is really as tough as it gets,” said Truex, the 2017 Cup champ who finished second in both 2018 and 2019. “All three races are equally as important. So it really doesn’t matter, you know, where they lie. Obviously the ultimate way to go about this is just go win the first one. But there’s a lot of guys with that in mind as well.”

Kyle Larson, who won the NASCAR All-Star race at Texas four months ago, is the points leader. While the Hendrick Motorsports driver has a significant edge over Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Truex, only eight points separate second-place Hamlin and defending champion Chase Elliott in sixth place. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch round out the top five. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, 16 points below the cutline, are the other drivers still in the playoffs.

Truex desperately needed a win last October in Texas, where he had to start at the back of the field because of an illegal spoiler and was docked 20 points. It was a crucial penalty given he was already out of the top four, in seventh place. He led 53 laps before a runner-up finish, less than a half-second behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Busch. Truex stayed seventh in points then, and the rest of the season.

“The race went really well. We were really strong and, you know, we were really one lap away from I think the 18 (Busch) running out of gas and us closing in for the win,” Truex said. “So it was definitely close. ... Second is pretty good, but it’s not what we’re after. So try to win it this year, hopefully.”

Busch is one point out of fourth place going to Texas, where his only win all last season came in that Wednesday finish after he had already been eliminated from possibly defending his 2019 Cup title.

While Busch felt bad about denying his teammate a spot in the championship four, that gave Busch a victory in 16 consecutive seasons. He has already won twice this season to extend that impressive streak that is one shy of Richard Petty's record 18 in a row (1960-77).

A four-time winner at Texas, Busch will be without crew chief Ben Beshore after his suspension for two loose lug nuts on the No. 18 Toyota after last week’s road-course race in Charlotte. Busch has two wins each at Kansas, including in May, and Martinsville.

“This round lays out very well for us. We have three tracks where we have had a lot of success at over the years," Busch said. “We won at both Texas and Kansas within the last year, so I feel like that’s a good omen for us.”

FEUD FINISHED?

NASCAR held a conference call this week to squash a raging feud between Elliott and Kevin Harvick. Both teams were warned of severe consequences if the drivers continue their fight.

Harvick was eliminated from championship contention last week when he wrecked himself as Elliott closed in on his rear bumper. Harvick had wrecked Elliott earlier in the race at Charlotte as payback for Elliott costing him a win three weeks earlier at Bristol. After the crash at Charlotte, which briefly put Elliott in danger of playoff elimination, Elliott's crew told him to wreck Harvick if given the chance.

DIFFERENT TIME AND TEMP

Until now, the high-banked, 1 1/2-mile Texas track had hosted the eighth of the final 10 races every year since first getting a fall race in 2005. That made it the middle race of the final elimination round since the introduction of the format in 2014.

Last October, only 52 of the scheduled 334 laps were completed after the race started on a Sunday. After no laps over two days with misty and cool conditions, the race finally resumed on a Wednesday, nearly 72 1/2 hours after it had stopped — with temperatures still in the mid-40s.

The forecast this weekend calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the low 70s.

ODDS AND ENDS

Truex is 0 for 31 getting to victory lane at Texas. Busch (four wins) and Hamlin (three wins) will each make his 31st start at the track Sunday. Truex and Busch both have 17 top-10 finishes, the most among the eight playoff drivers, with Busch's 11.0 the best average finish. ... Blaney has six top-eight finishes in his last seven starts at Texas. “It's just been a place that kind of works for what we do,” he said. ... The 41st Cup race at Texas will be the first without Eddie Gossage. He worked 32 years for Speedway Motorsports and oversaw the Texas track from its first race in 1997 until the All-Star race in June. New general manager Rob Ramage had been the track's general counsel since 2013.

WDUN will carry live PRN Radio coverage of Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 from Texas Motor Speedway beginning at 1 pm on 102.9 FM, AM 550 and streaming live on AccessWDUN.

NASCAR Cup Series
Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, TX
Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 - October 17, 2021

Sunday's Starting Line Up

Pos    Car    Driver    Team    Time    Speed
1.    5    Kyle Larson (P)    HendrickCars.com Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
2.    11    Denny Hamlin (P)    Craftsman Toyota    0.000    0.000
3.    18    Kyle Busch (P)    Interstate Batteries Toyota    0.000    0.000
4.    12    Ryan Blaney (P)    DEX Imaging Ford    0.000    0.000
5.    22    Joey Logano (P)    AAA Insurance Ford    0.000    0.000
6.    9    Chase Elliott (P)    Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
7.    2    Brad Keselowski (P)    Discount Tire Ford    0.000    0.000
8.    19    Martin Truex, Jr. (P)    Bass Pro Shops Toyota    0.000    0.000
9.    8    Tyler Reddick     Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
10.    17    Chris Buescher    Fastenal Ford    0.000    0.000
11.    20    Christopher Bell    Rheem Toyota    0.000    0.000
12.    24    William Byron    Axalta Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
13.    21    Matt DiBenedetto    Menards/Atlas/Mohawk Ford    0.000    0.000
14.    48    Alex Bowman    Ally Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
15.    3    Austin Dillon    Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
16.    34    Michael McDowell    Love's Travel Stops Ford    0.000    0.000
17.    1    Kurt Busch    Monster Energy Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
18.    23    Bubba Wallace    Columbia Toyota    0.000    0.000
19.    99    Daniel Suarez    Freeway Insurance Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
20.    41    Cole Custer    Feeding America/Wow Wow Ford    0.000    0.000
21.    43    Erik Jones    Medallion Bank Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
22.    10    Aric Almirola    Smithfield/Walk-On's Ford    0.000    0.000
23.    37    Ryan Preece    Little Hug Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
24.    4    Kevin Harvick    Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford    0.000    0.000
25.    42    Ross Chastain    Chevrolet Accessories Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
26.    14    Chase Briscoe #    Rush Truck Centers/Cummins Ford    0.000    0.000
27.    47    Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.    Kroger/Healthy Choice Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
28.    38    Anthony Alfredo #    Speedy Cash Ford    0.000    0.000
29.    7    Corey LaJoie    Schluter Systems Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
30.    00    Quin Houff    8 Ball Chocolate Whiskey Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
31.    6    Ryan Newman    Violet Defense Ford    0.000    0.000
32.    77    Justin Haley(i)    Alloy/Shavelogic Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
33.    52    Josh Bilicki(i)     Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
34.    51    Cody Ware(i)    Nurtec ODT Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
35.    78    B.J. McLeod(i)    NASCAR 21 Ignition Ford    0.000    0.000
36.    15    Garrett Smithley(i)    Trophy Tractor Chevrolet    0.000    0.000
37.    53    Joey Gase(i)     Ford    0.000    0.000
38.    66    David Starr(i)    Conectus/Kyocera Ford    0.000    0.000
39.    13    Timmy Hill(i)    Broken Bow Luxury Cabins Toyota    0.000    0.000

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