Tuesday May 28th, 2024 2:54AM

Texas could be a great place for those looking for their first win this season

By Holly Cain NASCAR Wire Service

Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron arrived in Fort Worth this weekend both the most recent NASCAR Cup Series winner – at Martinsville, Va. last week – and also the defending winner of Sunday’s AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

WDUN will have live coverage of the EchoPark Automotive 400 on AM 550 and FM 102.9 on Sunday, beginning at 2:30 p.m. and streaming online. 

It’s been that kind of season for the 26-year-old Charlotte native. But winning back-to-back races at the 1.5-mile Texas high banks has proven to be quite the task in recent years. The last driver to do so was another Hendrick star, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Jimmie Johnson, who actually won three straight in the 2014-15 seasons. Johnson, owner-driver of Legacy Motor Club, will be making his second start of the season this week at Texas, where he is the all-time winningest driver (seven victories).

Texas has certainly proven to be its own unique challenge, and that may open the door for a handful of drivers high in the rankings who are still racing for their first victories of the year.

Hendrick’s Kyle Larson leads Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. by 14 points in the standings. Larson, last year’s Texas runner-up and the 2021 race winner, spent part of this week participating in the Indianapolis 500 open test in preparation to run racing’s great “Double” the Indy 500 and NASCAR’s esteemed Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, N.C. in the same day.

Truex, the 2017 series champion, has never won at Texas but has three runner-up finishes. His No. 19 JGR Toyota has led laps in four of the last five races. And 12 of 34 career wins have come on 1.5-mile tracks.

“It’s been one of those places where we have been snakebit a lot,” Truex said. “We’ve had some good runs; we’ve had some struggles at times since they repaved it. Just one of those things, but I feel confident going there with what we have that we’ll run well, especially how we ran there the last couple of years.

“It’s been tough. We’ve gotten a lot of poles there and led a lot of laps, but we just haven’t been able to win there.”

Truex is one of three drivers ranked among the top 6 still looking for that first win of this season. Reigning series champion Ryan Blaney and 2020 series champion Chase Elliott are the other two.

Blaney, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford, has top-10 finishes in eight of the last 10 Texas races, winning the pole position and finishing runner-up in 2018. He has top-five finishes in four of the eight races this season, including both 1.5-mile tracks, with a season-best runner-up at Atlanta in February. He’s coming off a fifth-place finish at Martinsville last week.

Elliott scored his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at Texas in 2014. The driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet finished top-10 in half of his 13 NASCAR Cup Series starts at the track, with a career best showing of fourth-place in 2016. He’s had only a single top-10 in the last seven races, however.

This season marks a huge turnaround for the former champ, who missed seven races last year recovering from a skiing injury and a suffering a one-race suspension. He’s ranked sixth in points, only 51 points off the pace of his Hendrick teammate Larson and is coming off back-to-back top five efforts at Richmond, Va. and Martinsville.

Where a driver starts on the Texas high banks has proven to be especially key to where a driver finishes. More than 76 percent of the races have been won from a top-10 starting position. So far this season, Elliott and Team Penske’s Joey Logano lead the series with six top-10 starts. However, neither driver has won a race.

A 45-minute practice session is set for 10:35 a.m. ET on Saturday, followed by Busch Light Pole Qualifying at 11:20 p.m. ET. Both will be televised live on FS1.

Since the repave, Allgaier has Texas dialed in

Veteran Justin Allgaier has plenty of reason to feel especially optimistic about this Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 (1:30 p.m. on WDUN FM 102.9 and streaming at accesswdun.com). A year ago, he started on pole position and led a race-best 133 of the 200 laps but finished fifth as John Hunter Nemechek claimed the trophy, leading only seven laps on the afternoon.

Allgaier, driver of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, had another trophy near-miss this season, claiming both stage wins and leading 52 consecutive laps in the closing portion of the Phoenix race when he crashed with a tire problem only three laps shy of the checkered flag.

Drivers always remember the near misses, but Allgaier goes into the weekend feeling more motivated than frustrated. He’s got a promising record at the Texas 1.5-miler. He’s had 14 top-10 finishes in 26 starts and led at least 20 laps in five of the last seven races.

“Texas has been a really strong track for us since the repave,” Allgaier said. “We came so close here in the [2023] Fall of bringing home the win and I know that we will have the same speed again this weekend.”

He’ll certainly need it in a similarly highly-motivated field. The championship points leader, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Chandler Smith holds a 35-point edge over reigning series champion, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer. Smith is the only driver in the series to earn top-10 finishes in all seven races this season. And his 242 laps led is most among fulltime drivers.

Smith and Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Hill each have two wins this season – the only full-time championship contenders to hoist a trophy. Smith finished fourth at Texas last year, his only previous start.

Custer is the only former Texas winner among the 2024 championship contenders and has quite the Lone Star resume himself. The driver of the No. 00 SHR Ford has six top-10 finishes – four top-five – in seven Texas starts, including the 2018 victory.

The always exciting Dash 4 Cash incentive program returns this week with Allgaier, his JR Motorsports teammate Sam Mayer along with Chandler Smith and his JGR teammate Sheldon Creed all eligible for the big $100,000 prize. The bonus will be awarded to the highest finisher of the four drivers.

The top four eligible drivers coming from the Texas race will compete for the big money at Talladega Superspeedway next Saturday.

Of note, Ryan Truex returns to competition this week, driving the No. 20 JGR Toyota that Aric Almirola drove to victory last weekend at Martinsville, Va. And NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series standout Daniel Dye will make his second Xfinity Series start of the year driving the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet. Truck Series championship contender Corey Heim is entered in the No. 26 Sam Hunt Racing Toyota, and former NASCAR Cup Series driver Matt DiBenedetto will drive the No. 38 RSS Racing Ford.

Practice for the Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 begins Friday at 6 p.m. ET, followed by qualifying at 6:30 p.m. ET – both will be televised on FS1.

CRAFTSMAN Truck Series standings remain tight heading into Texas

NASCAR’s second straight triple-header weekend kicks off with the SpeedyCash.com 250 on Friday night (8:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with a tight battle atop the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series standings and a history of dramatic Texas Motor Speedway endings.

Carson Hocevar led only the last lap in claiming last year’s race, with the evening’s most dominant driver, Nick Sanchez, finishing a frustrating 16th place after being collected in a last-lap wreck. Sanchez, driver of the No. 2 REV Racing Chevrolet, led 168 of the 172 laps and swept both stage wins.

Three former Texas race winners are among the full-time competitors this week: Stewart Friesen (2022), Ty Dillon (2013), and the only multi-time Texas winner on the grid, former three-time series champ Matt Crafton, who won in Fort Worth in 2014 and ’15.

Kyle Busch and Johnny Sauter – both five-time Texas truck race winners – are also entered this week.

ThorSport Racing’s Ty Majeski arrives in Texas, the championship points leader by seven points over both TRICON Garage’s Corey Heim and McAnally-Hilgemann’s Tyler Ankrum. The season’s only multi-time race winner, McAnally-Hilgemann’s Christian Eckes – last week’s Martinsville, Va. champ – is ranked fourth, a mere 11 points off the lead. Eckes’ 306 laps led this season is nearly three times that of the next closest mark – Majeski’s 117 laps out front.

Neither Majeski, who is atop the championship, nor Eckes, the winningest driver of the season, has celebrated in Texas Motor Speedway’s iconic Victory Lane, but both have strong records on the 1.5-mile high banks. 

Majeski has two top-five finishes in three starts – finishing fifth and fourth in the last two races – although he has never led a lap at the Fort Worth track. Eckes has two runner-up finishes in four starts – leading 52 laps and finishing second in 2020 and leading 40 laps and finishing second in 2022.

Rajah Caruth (Las Vegas) and Kyle Busch (Atlanta) are the season’s previous 1.5-mile track race winners.

Practice for the SpeedyCash.com 250 is Friday at 4:05 p.m. ET followed by Cometic Gasket Pole Qualifying at 4:35 p.m. ET – both televised live on FS1 before the race.

 

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