O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 Preview: Return to the Fast Tracks

O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 Preview: Return to the Fast Tracks

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

We make a return to the intermediate ovals for the first race of the season in Fort Worth this weekend.  After the beating and banging short-track action of Martinsville Speedway, the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is up next.  This event marks a temporary break in the spring, short track part of the schedule, and gives us just one more look at the teams on a cookie cutter oval.  The teams that performed well in the close confines of Martinsville can now focus on the business of racing at high speeds and with a return to the emphasis of handling sensitivity and the aero package.  For the drivers that finished well at the Virginia bull ring, they have a leg up in the championship standings as we enter the heart of the NASCAR schedule.  For those drivers who do well on the intermediate ovals and looking for a boost in the standings, it's time to strike while the iron is hot. 

Texas Motor Speedway possesses the trademark characteristics of the "D" shaped tri-ovals on the circuit.  This facility has 24 degree banking in the turns and very high speeds similar to that of the oval in Atlanta.  This race will give us a good indication of the drivers that will be dominant for the remainder of the season, since this style of track makes up the bulk of the Monster Energy Cup Series schedule.  We can look back at the results from Las Vegas Motor Speedway and

We make a return to the intermediate ovals for the first race of the season in Fort Worth this weekend.  After the beating and banging short-track action of Martinsville Speedway, the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is up next.  This event marks a temporary break in the spring, short track part of the schedule, and gives us just one more look at the teams on a cookie cutter oval.  The teams that performed well in the close confines of Martinsville can now focus on the business of racing at high speeds and with a return to the emphasis of handling sensitivity and the aero package.  For the drivers that finished well at the Virginia bull ring, they have a leg up in the championship standings as we enter the heart of the NASCAR schedule.  For those drivers who do well on the intermediate ovals and looking for a boost in the standings, it's time to strike while the iron is hot. 

Texas Motor Speedway possesses the trademark characteristics of the "D" shaped tri-ovals on the circuit.  This facility has 24 degree banking in the turns and very high speeds similar to that of the oval in Atlanta.  This race will give us a good indication of the drivers that will be dominant for the remainder of the season, since this style of track makes up the bulk of the Monster Energy Cup Series schedule.  We can look back at the results from Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway a few weekends ago and get a good indication of who will perform well at TMS on Sunday afternoon.   We've raced just enough on this style of track to have a good feel for who is on top of their game right now.  Teams will have made some adjustments based on what happened earlier this year on similar sized ovals.  Surprisingly, the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets struggled mightily at Las Vegas and Atlanta, so it will be interesting to see if the teams from that stable learned anything from their issues or if they will continue to have problems on intermediate ovals.  While the teams of Penske Racing, Stewart Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing have flourished in the two intermediate oval events of the young season, we'll see if their hot streaks continue in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500. 

Since we are returning to a 1.5-mile oval this week, we can look back on the data from Las Vegas and Atlanta with some confidence this weekend.  But that is really just two events in the big scheme of things.  An invaluable aid will be to examine the most recent data from the oval in Fort Worth.  The electronic loop statistics at Texas Motor Speedway will be one of our most important tools for selecting drivers for this weekend's race.  These numbers will help us to spot trends, and when combined with how the teams performed at Las Vegas and Atlanta, both should provide us with valuable information for this Sunday afternoon's race.  The loop stats in the table below cover the last 14 years or 28 races at Texas Motor Speedway. 

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Jimmie Johnson10.09977031,0526726102.9
Kyle Busch11.89015438646,175101.3
Kevin Harvick10.11,0394354936,60296.3
Chase Elliott7.22755491,75195.6
Martin Truex Jr.13.98643295956,18194.6
Erik Jones10.417236641,28293.1
Kurt Busch15.19412733335,97789.9
Brad Keselowski15.8584343639395589.2
Denny Hamlin13.79842352325,45088.0
Joey Logano14.35192074304,00088.0
Kyle Larson18.7406148742,19686.1
Ryan Blaney18.92141211881,56385.1
Clint Bowyer16.2768179854,76583.7
William Byron13562141177.5
Ryan Newman18.171881213,16372.8
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.19.62422310143671.6
Darrell Wallace Jr.16.5340221069.3
Austin Dillon22.22344871,54168.4
Aric Almirola19.82232801,29968
Paul Menard21.86325832,78467.5

In this event one year ago, Kyle Busch mounted a late rally and upstaged some fast contenders to capture his third-career win at Texas Motor Speedway.  It was one of eight victories last season for the driver of the No. 18 Toyota, and one of three wins on intermediate ovals.  When the series returned in the fall, it was the "Kevin Harvick Show" as he outwitted and outmaneuvered Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano to take the victory.  He led 177 laps in a dominant performance to take the checkers in last November's AAA Texas 500.  Since both Harvick and Busch have missed out on wins in this season's earlier cookie cutter track races, it will be interesting to see if they can make a stand at Texas.  It's shaping up to be a battle primarily between Harvick, Busch, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano since they've been the strongest and most impressive drivers on intermediate ovals to-date this season and have the hot hands entering the weekend.  When we take a look at Chevrolet, we see that Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott will be the trio of drivers to watch closely this Sunday afternoon.  If Chevy hopes to play some catchup this weekend the burden will largely fall on those three driver's shoulders.  They have their work cut out for them, but they have the best potential to shine for the bowtie brand.  Throw in the steady and consistent Fords of Penske Racing and we have what is shaping up to be a multi-team, multi-manufacturer brawl this weekend in Texas.  We'll take a look at recent intermediate oval stats and historical trends at Fort Worth in order to give you the drivers to win in your fantasy leagues in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Brad Keselowski - The Penske Racing star is surging coming to Fort Worth this week.  After the dominant performance and victory at Martinsville Speedway this past Sunday, this team is on a roll coming to Texas Motor Speedway.  Keselowski has been flawless on the intermediate ovals thus far in 2019 with a victory at Atlanta and runner-up finish at Las Vegas.  He's led a combined 50 laps between those two events.  Now we visit another 1.5-mile oval, and the No. 2 Ford team are the clear top contenders.  Keselowski has five Top-5 and eight Top-10 finishes at this facility, but he's never won at the Fort Worth speedway.  With over 600 laps led at TMS, and two runner-up finishes it's a bit surprising he's never grabbed a victory at Texas.  That could very well change this weekend.

Kevin Harvick - The No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing team is off to a good start in 2019, but he's not visited victory lane yet.  Texas could be the perfect setup to get Harvick his first win of the season.  Texas Motor Speedway has been hugely successful for this driver and team the last two seasons.  Harvick has nabbed two victories and one runner-up finish in his last three starts at Fort Worth.  He rides a four-race Texas Top-5 streak into Sunday's battle.  Harvick's pair of wins and 10 Top-5 finishes have largely come since the 2014 season.  He really has this pace figured out.  As to the veteran driver's intermediate oval experience so far this season, Harvick has been strong.  A pair of Top-5 finishes and 130+ laps led between Atlanta and Las Vegas speaks volumes.  It could be Harvick's turn to lift a trophy this Sunday afternoon.

Kyle Busch  - An impressive third-place finish at Martinsville has the Joe Gibbs Racing star perched comfortably atop the championship driver standings coming to Texas.  Busch has scored two victories and four Top-3 finishes in his last four events heading into Fort Worth.  This particular oval has suited Busch well in the recent past.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star has three-career victories, including this event one year ago, and 12 Top-5 finishes (46-percent) at Texas Motor Speedway.  It's been one of his better intermediate ovals on the Monster Energy Cup Series circuit.  Busch has stood tall the last four race weekends, and he represents the best shot of upsetting the top two contenders this week.  That fact places him solidly within our contenders list this week.

Joey Logano - Logano is another driver who has had great success on the intermediate ovals of late.  He won the season finale at Homestead last November, and he won at Las Vegas just a few weeks ago.  The driver of the No. 22 Ford has been pretty strong in recent Texas outings.  Logano rides a six-race Texas Top-10 streak into Sunday's action.  The string includes four Top-3 finishes, so he's been in the mix to win these races.  The Penske Racing star owns one-career victory and a strong 43-percent Top-5 rate at Texas Motor Speedway.  Logano is a driver to roll with confidence in all fantasy racing formats for this weekend's 500-mile battle. 

Solid Plays – Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Martin Truex Jr. - The Joe Gibbs Racing star has been a top Texas performer in recent years.  Truex has an amazing seven Top 10's in his last eight starts at the Fort Worth speedway.  Victory lane has been an elusive animal for the driver of the No. 19 Toyota at Texas Motor Speedway, despite leading a staggering 350+ laps here since 2016.  Truex notched a brilliant runner-up finish at Atlanta and a steady eight-place finish at Las Vegas this season, so he's yet to be in race-winning form.  Still, with this driver and crew chief it's just a matter of time before they break through at one of these cookie cutter tracks.  Certainly a Top-10 finish in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 is expected.  Truex may finally break through to win at Texas this Sunday afternoon.

Kurt Busch  - The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran has had a seamless transition into the No. 1 Chevrolet team early this season.  Busch has grabbed four Top 10's in the first six races, two of those coming at intermediate ovals of Atlanta and Las Vegas.  He rides a steady 10th in the overall driver standings into Texas this week.  The oval at Fort Worth has been kind to Busch in his career.  With one victory and 19 Top-10 finishes (59-percent) at Texas Motor Speedway he's been a top performer at this facility.  Busch rides a four-race Texas Top-10 streak into Sunday's 500-mile race, so the success has been recent.  It should be no trouble translating that performance to his new No. 1 team this weekend.

Aric Almirola - Sticking with the Stewart Haas Racing theme, we have to talk about Almirola this week.  He and the No. 10 Ford team have looked very strong since the season-opener at Daytona.  After one Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes to start the season, Almirola strides into Texas sixth-place in the driver standings.  The veteran driver has an average finish of 8.0 over his last three1.5-mile oval starts, including a seventh-place finish at Las Vegas most recently.  He finished eighth at TMS last November in the AAA Texas 500, and that was Almirola's last performance at the Texas oval.  His historical Texas stats aren't that impressive, but don't let that deter any fantasy racing expectations this Sunday.  There's a very good chance he posts a career-best Texas finish in Sunday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.

Denny Hamlin - The driver of the No. 11 Toyota has started the season with a lot of speed and consistency.  The Daytona 500 win, three Top 5's and five Top 10's has him positioned well at second-place in the driver standings.  Hamlin comes to Texas looking to build on his strong Top-5 Martinsville finish.  Texas Motor Speedway has been a good oval over the years for the Joe Gibbs Racing star.  He has two wins and 12 Top-10 finishes (46-percent) for his career at this 1.5-mile oval.  Hamlin's 11th- and 10th-place finishes this season at Atlanta and Las Vegas are a good measure of his potential.  All things being equal, it would be hard to imagine Hamlin falling flat at Texas.  There's a very good chance of a Top-10 finish this Sunday afternoon.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Texas who can provide a solid finish

Kyle Larson - Six races into the season and Larson is not quite off to the start he had hoped.  Still, his performances on the larger ovals has been pretty steady.  Larson scored a pair of 12th-place finishes at Atlanta and Las Vegas, so these ovals have been his strength to this point.  The 142 laps he led at Atlanta in particular stand out.  The CGR star is coming to yet another intermediate oval this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, so there's ample evidence to forecast a good performance for the No. 42 Chevrolet team this week.  Larson doesn't have an impressive resume at TMS, but his body of work on similar ovals the last three events can't be denied.  His last start at Texas Motor Speedway last November yielded an eye-opening fifth-place finish in the AAA Texas 500.

Ryan Blaney - The Penske Racing youngster will be visiting an oval he knows all too well this Sunday afternoon.  Blaney has made eight Monster Energy Cup Series starts at this track, with his last effort netting a Texas career-best second-place finish last November.  The young driver has impressed this season with a pole position and three Top 5's all in the last three races, and a lofty eighth-place slot in the driver standings coming to Texas.  Blaney's starts in the two intermediate ovals earlier this season were learning experiences with the new aero package, and now we expect him to show what he's learned this weekend.  The No. 12 Ford team brings a lot of potential to the table this week at Texas Motor Speedway.  Don't overlook him in weekly lineup fantasy leagues.

Chase Elliott - Elliott had a great outing at Martinsville in our last race.  He would battle all afternoon to get a hard-fought second-place finish in the STP 500.  He should be very eager to see an intermediate oval this week.  Elliott and the No. 9 team brought good, but not great cars to both Atlanta and Las Vegas, so all eyes will be on this driver at team this week at Fort Worth.  The Hendrick Motorsports driver won his first-career Xfinity Series victory at the oval in Fort Worth in 2014, so he knows how to lead laps and get around this 1.5-mile oval.  Elliott's ninth-place finish at the similar oval in Las Vegas a few weeks ago show that the No. 9 team are good and improving on these intermediate ovals right now, but no serious threat to win.  It's notable that Elliott is five-for-six in starts and Top 10's in his brief Cup Series career at the Texas oval.

Clint Bowyer - The driver of the No. 14 Ford has battled some consistency issues this season, but is coming off a good seventh-place performance at Martinsville Speedway this past week.  That boost should hopefully propel the team into Texas this weekend.  The veteran driver has steady stats at this oval with 11-career Top-10 finishes which checks in at a decent 42-percent rate.  Bowyer nabbed a brilliant fifth-place finish at the similar oval in Atlanta recently, so the level of performance right now checks out.  The Stewart Haas Racing veteran finished ninth in this event one year ago, and that's a good mark to expect for this time around at TMS.  We only see this driver and team getting better as the season rolls on, so Bowyer could outperform some bigger names in Sunday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.

Erik Jones - Jones has had a tough start to the 2019 season, but things have been pretty decent on intermediate ovals.  Finishes of seventh at Atlanta and 13th at Las Vegas are really just the floor level for this driver and team.  Jones should be able to shake off his slow start to the season with a return to a 1.5-mile oval.  The driver of the No. 20 Toyota has five-career Cup starts at Texas Motor Speedway with finishes of 12th-, 22nd-, 10th- and a pair of fourth-place finishes.  Those fourth-place finishes both came last season for Jones and his JGR team.  The notes from those outings should be fresh in crew chief Chris Gayle's notebook.  Jones is a good rebound candidate in this Sunday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.

Daniel Suarez - The Stewart Haas Racing youngster is another driver struggling to get traction in this early season.  Suarez just nabbed his second Top-10 finish of the season this past Sunday at Martinsville, so things are looking up.  A good measure of potential was his other Top 10 of 2019 which came at Atlanta Motor Speedway earlier this season.  He started fifth and finished 10th in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.  Suarez also finished a respectable 17th at the similar oval in Las Vegas more recently.  Texas Motor Speedway hasn't held that much success for the driver of the No. 41 Ford with just one Top 15 in four starts, but that should change this Sunday afternoon.  Suarez is coming on, and it's clear in his recent performances.  A career-best Texas finish should be in store.

Slow Down - Drivers to Avoid This Week

Jimmie Johnson -  Johnson is a seven-time winner at Fort Worth, but we have to step back from that historical stat.  His last three outings at Texas Motor Speedway have netted finishes of 27th-, 35th- and 15th-place.  That's very uncharacteristic for the NASCAR icon, but represent some of the struggles he's had the past couple seasons.  After a shockingly poor 24th-place finish at Martinsville, Johnson comes to Texas looking for answers.  With just two Top 10's for the season, he sits a distant 15th in the driver standings.  Johnson's Atlanta and Las Vegas performances early this season don't inspire much hope either.  Those 24th- and 19th-place finishes are just as puzzling.  Crew Chief Kevin Meendering and Johnson have a lot of work to do to turn the No. 48 team around from its current malaise. 

Austin Dillon - The No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team has been hot and cold so far through the first six races of the season.  Dillon showed great speed at Atlanta and Las Vegas in practice and he qualified well, but the finishes did not follow.  The young driver posted 21st- and 20th-place finishes in those races.  So the RCR team is still searching for answers to the aero package puzzle.  Texas Motor Speedway doesn't hold much hope for a rebound this weekend.  Dillon has just one Top 10 in 12-career starts at this Fort Worth race track.  The career average finish here checks in at a lofty 22.2, and that's probably an appropriate mark to expect for Dillon this weekend. 

Ryan Newman - The move to Roush Fenway Racing has been a real shock to Newman's performance so far in the new season.  Six races into the season and he has three Top 15's but also three finishes outside the Top 20.  That's a bit below Newman's recent historical norms.  A particularly subpar finish at Martinsville this past week was uncharacteristic for Newman on one of his better short tracks.  He comes to a track this week that has been a struggle in inconsistency over the years for the veteran driver.  Newman has just six Top 10's in 31 starts (19-percent) at this oval.  He's only cracked the Top 10 once at TMS since the 2014 season, and that does not bode well for Sunday's 500-mile race. 

Darrell Wallace Jr - The Richard Petty Motorsports youngster cracked the Top 20 for the first time this season with his 17th-place finish at Martinsville this past week.  That's reason for hope, but the reality is that racing at Texas is way different than the half-mile oval in Virginia.  The intermediate ovals have been a real puzzle for Wallace this season with finishes of 27th- and 26th-place at Atlanta and Las Vegas.  His last Texas start was a similar 25th-place finish in last November's AAA Texas 500.  That's likely a similar mark to expect for this weekend.  Texas is an unforgiving intermediate oval, and particularly tough on young drivers who appear to be struggling with the new aero package.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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