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

O'Reilly Auto Parts 500: 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 All-Star short-track action of Bristol Motor Speedway, the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is up next.  This event was rescheduled from being postponed earlier in the year due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  It also signals a return to the lightning-fast intermediate ovals on the circuit.  The teams that performed well earlier in the schedule at both Atlanta and Charlotte can look forward to similar racing this Sunday at the Texas oval.  For the drivers that finished well in Wednesday night's All-Star race, it's time to sharpen up and refocus once again on points racing.  The drivers who do well on the intermediate ovals and are looking for a boost in the championship 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 NASCAR Cup Series schedule.  We can look back at the results from Charlotte Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway a few weekends ago and get a good indication of who will perform well at TMS this

We make a return to the intermediate ovals for the first race of the season in Fort Worth this weekend.  After the All-Star short-track action of Bristol Motor Speedway, the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway is up next.  This event was rescheduled from being postponed earlier in the year due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  It also signals a return to the lightning-fast intermediate ovals on the circuit.  The teams that performed well earlier in the schedule at both Atlanta and Charlotte can look forward to similar racing this Sunday at the Texas oval.  For the drivers that finished well in Wednesday night's All-Star race, it's time to sharpen up and refocus once again on points racing.  The drivers who do well on the intermediate ovals and are looking for a boost in the championship 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 NASCAR Cup Series schedule.  We can look back at the results from Charlotte Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway a few weekends ago and get a good indication of who will perform well at TMS this 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.  Outside of Chase Elliott, the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets struggled a bit at Charlotte 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 and Stewart Haas Racing have flourished in the intermediate oval events of the 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 Atlanta and Charlotte with some degree of 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 Atlanta and Charlotte, both should provide us with valuable information for this Sunday afternoon's race.  The loop stats in the table below cover the last 15 years or 30 races at Texas Motor Speedway. 

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Matt Kenseth8.49384377336,650103.8
Jimmie Johnson10.71,1037281,1527,185102.6
Kyle Busch11.61,0326029486,714102.1
Kevin Harvick9.81,1695146127,14597.2
Martin Truex Jr.13.59743306056,65693.9
Erik Jones9.4295571031,75793.9
Kurt Busch14.71,0973253346,49090.3
Chase Elliott11.034884442,04789.2
Joey Logano14.06562234434,47989.1
Denny Hamlin13.81,0782602775,81188.6
Ryan Blaney19.63371512332,01886.9
William Byron12.3175232492285.8
Brad Keselowski17.76093486394,01185.6
Clint Bowyer15.59012111245,28984.5
Daniel Suarez16.019753341,00779.8
Ryan Newman17.881781213,51772.9
Aric Almirola18.134384651,87772.9
Austin Dillon20.937857122,00870.5
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.20.831426101,67569.2
Bubba Wallace20.0581225162.3

In this event one year ago, Denny Hamlin surged late in the event and upstaged some fast contenders to capture his third-career win at Texas Motor Speedway.  It was one of six victories last season for the driver of the No. 11 Toyota, and one of two wins on intermediate ovals.  When the series returned in the fall, it was the "Kevin Harvick Show" as he outwitted and outmaneuvered Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez to take the victory.  He led 119 laps in a dominant performance to take the checkers in last November's AAA Texas 500.  Since both Harvick and Hamlin have collected 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, Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. 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 Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon 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

Kevin Harvick –  The No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing team already has four victories in hand thus far this season, and we're sure they're not finished yet.  Texas Motor Speedway has been hugely successful for this driver and team the last three seasons.  Harvick has nabbed three victories and one runner-up finish in his last five starts at Fort Worth.  He rides an 11-race Texas Top-10 streak into Sunday's battle.  Harvick has led over 600 laps for his career at this facility and nearly 300 of those have come in just his last three starts alone.  He really has figured this track out.  As to the veteran driver's intermediate oval experience so far this season, Harvick has been strong.  He has a victory at Atlanta and Top-5 finishes at Charlotte and Kentucky.

Denny Hamlin – The driver of the No. 11 Toyota has started the season with a lot of speed and consistency.  The Daytona 500 win and subsequent victories at Darlington, Homestead and Pocono have Hamlin positioned well at sixth-place in the driver standings.  He comes to Texas looking to get back into victory lane once again this season.  Texas Motor Speedway has been a good oval over the years for the Joe Gibbs Racing star.  He has three wins and 13 Top-10 finishes (46-percent) for his career at this 1.5-mile oval.  His last win came in this event one year ago.  Hamlin's victory at Homestead and Top-5 finishes this season at Atlanta and Charlotte 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-5 finish and a potential run at the checkers this Sunday afternoon. 

Martin Truex Jr. – The Joe Gibbs Racing star has been a top Texas performer in recent years.  Truex has an amazing eight Top 10's in his last 10 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 has been heating up on these style ovals of late.  He notched a brilliant runner-up finish this past week at Kentucky and a strong third-place finish at Atlanta a few weeks ago, so he's getting closer to race-winning form.  Truex's young crew chief is still learning the ropes, but they're quickly getting better as a team.  Certainly a Top-5 finish in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 is expected.  Truex may finally break through to win for the first time at Texas this weekend.

Ryan Blaney – The Penske Racing youngster will be visiting an oval he knows all too well this Sunday afternoon.  Blaney has made 10 NASCAR Cup Series starts at this track, with his last effort netting a steady eighth-place finish last November.  The young driver has impressed this season with four Top 5's on the intermediate oval circuit.  Blaney grabbed a pair of third-place finishes in the Charlotte doubleheader, a fourth-place finish at Atlanta and a third-place recently at Homestead.  With 111 laps led on the 1.5-mile oval circuit, he's not been playing follow the leader.  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.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Aric Almirola – The veteran driver has been one of the hottest drivers in the series the last several weeks.  Almirola has nabbed five Top-5 and six Top-10 finishes in the last six events.  This streak has lifted him from 14th- to eighth-place in the driver standings coming to Texas.  The veteran driver has fifth- and eighth-place finishes in his last two 1.5-mile oval starts, which includes his performance at Kentucky Speedway this past Sunday.  Almirola turned in his career-best Texas performance last November.  He led 62 laps and challenged for the win before finishing runner-up in the AAA Texas 500.  Almirola rides a three-race Texas Top-10 streak into Sunday's action.  He'll be a strong fantasy racing play in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.

Brad Keselowski – The Penske Racing star is looking to get back into the groove coming to Fort Worth this week.  After early-season wins at Charlotte and Bristol, he hasn't been in race-winning form since.  However, Keselowski has been flawlessly consistent on the intermediate ovals thus far in 2020 with a victory at Charlotte and six Top-10 finishes in the six intermediate oval races to-date.  Now we visit another 1.5-mile oval, and the No. 2 Ford team are clearly solid performers.  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 clear he knows how to navigate this oval. 

Chase Elliott – Elliott had a disappointing outing at Kentucky in our last race.  He'll look to hit the reset button this week at Texas Motor Speedway.  Elliott and the No. 9 team should be very eager to see another intermediate oval this week.  Elliott has a win and two runner-up finishes thus far this season on the cookie-cutter oval circuit.  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 26 laps led and an eighth-place finish at the similar oval in Atlanta a few weeks ago shows his potential at the Fort Worth track.  It's notable that Elliott is five-for-eight in starts and Top 10's in his brief Cup Series career at Texas Motor Speedway, that's a strong 63-percent Top-10 rate.

Kurt Busch – The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran is coming off a strong Top-5 effort at Kentucky Speedway this past week, and looking forward to keeping the roll going in Texas.  Busch has grabbed two Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes on the intermediate oval circuit in 2020.  He sports a strong 10.8 average finish across those six events.  The oval at Fort Worth has been kind to Busch in his career.  With one victory and 21 Top-10 finishes (62-percent) at Texas Motor Speedway, he's been a top performer at this facility for years.  Busch rides a six-race Texas Top-10 streak into Sunday's 500-mile race, so the success has been recent.  It should be no surprise to see him racing among the leaders this Sunday afternoon.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Texas & solid upside

Kyle Busch – Busch's puzzling season continues after his difficulties and 21st-place finish at Kentucky this past week.  He's demoted to the sleepers list at Texas for his current struggles.  This particular oval has suited Busch well in the recent past.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star has three-career victories, including this event two years ago, and 12 Top-5 finishes (43-percent) at Texas Motor Speedway.  It's been one of his better intermediate ovals on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit.  Busch has been wildly inconsistent this season on the cookie-cutter tracks.  He has three Top-10 finishes in six starts, but he also has two finishes outside the Top 20.  We believe it's indicative of his homerun or strikeout potential this Sunday at the Fort Worth oval. 

Joey Logano – Logano is another star driver who's typically higher in our weekly article, but battling some inconsistencies of late.  He won earlier this season at Las Vegas, but is coming off a subpar 15th-place finish at Kentucky this past week.  The driver of the No. 22 Ford has been pretty strong in recent Texas outings.  Logano has seven Top 10's in his last eight Texas starts entering this weekend.  The span 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 44-percent Top-5 rate at Texas Motor Speedway.  Logano is another driver who brings a high fantasy racing ceiling but also a low floor into Sunday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.   

Matt DiBenedetto – The driver of the No. 21 Ford is fresh off a strong third-place finish at Kentucky Speedway this past week.  We expect DiBenedetto to stay hot in the 500-miler at Texas Motor Speedway this Sunday.  The veteran driver has a pair of Top-5 finishes on the intermediate oval circuit in 2020 and a strong 12.7 average finish across the six races.  DiBenedetto keeps the lead lap, and he challenges the Top 10 in nearly all these races this season.  His Texas numbers are awe-inspiring, but that's no reason to overlook this driver and team.  DiBenedetto has one Top-15 finish in nine starts at Texas Motor Speedway.  Do note, that career-best finish was a 14th-place in last November's AAA Texas 500.  He should better that mark Sunday at the Fort Worth race track. 

Cole Custer – Our surprise Kentucky Speedway winner of this past Sunday gets sleeper list status as we come to Texas this week.  Custer's thrilling four-wide battle for the win gave the rookie driver his first-career Cup Series victory at Texas last Sunday.  The No. 41 team has been heating up of late, so it wasn't too surprising to see the talented rookie win.  Custer will look to keep the roll going at Fort Worth.  The team finished a strong fifth-place at Indianapolis the prior weekend, so Custer and crew chief, Mike Shiplett, appear to have figured some things out about this no-qualifying, no-practice racing.  This will be the young driver's Cup Series debut at Texas, so we have to look at bit at his Xfinity Series experience at this oval.  Custer had one victory and four Top-5 finishes in six Xfinity Series starts at TMS, so he's quite familiar with this 1.5-mile speedway. 

Austin Dillon – The No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team has been pretty consistent on these cookie-cutter ovals in 2020.  Dillon sports three Top-10 and six Top-15 finishes in the six events to-date.  The average finish for the span stands at a very strong 9.5.  We're used to seeing Dillon mix it up with the Top 10 in these 1.5-mile oval races this season.  The track at Fort Worth has yielded one pole position and five Top-15 finishes to the No. 3 team since the 2015 season.  Dillon rides a three-race Texas Top-15 streak into Sunday's action.  The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet should be a dependable performer once again in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.

Tyler Reddick – The rookie sensation shook off some recent bad luck and rebounded with a 10th-place finish at Kentucky Speedway this past Sunday.  That effort combined with his eighth-place finish at Indy the previous week erased a three-race Top-10 drought for the No. 8 team.  The intermediate ovals have been very kind to Reddick this season.  He has one Top-5, three Top-10 and four Top-15 finishes in the six events to-date.  The average finish of 11.7 for a rookie driver is pretty impressive. Reddick will be making his Cup Series debut at Texas this Sunday, so we don't have stacks of data to review.  However, his five Xfinity Series starts at Texas Motor Speedway yielded 105 laps led and a pair of runner-up finishes.

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.  Four of his last five starts at the track have resulted in finishes outside the Top 10.  Despite winning at TMS in 2017, it's become a wildly inconsistent oval for the No. 48 Chevrolet team.  Johnson's 18th-place finish this past week at Kentucky is emblematic of his performance on 1.5-mile ovals this season.  Johnson has just two Top 10's and a 16.2 average finish on these style ovals in 2020.  The Hendrick Motorsports star is likely looking at another mid-to-upper teens finish in Sunday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.  That's not worthy of fantasy racing consideration for this driver and team. 

Matt Kenseth – After a shocking runner-up finish at the Brickyard two weeks ago, Kenseth returned to the surreal this past week at Kentucky Speedway.  The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet labored to a disappointing 25th-place finish in the Quaker State 400 last Sunday.  After one year out of racing and a return to action that offers no qualifying or practice, Kenseth is finding it difficult to get into any kind of groove.  The cookie-cutter ovals have been particularly disappointing thus far.  In five starts he has just one Top-15 finish and a 22.8 average finish across the span.  Texas Motor Speedway has offered a treasure trove of results to Kenseth over the years with two victories and 19 Top-10 finishes, but this is a struggling driver coming to one of his better ovals this weekend.     

Alex Bowman – The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet has typically been a good performer on intermediate ovals, but 2020 has been a different story for Bowman entirely.  In six starts on 1.5-mile tracks this season, he's only managed two Top-15 finishes, despite leading over 200 laps.  The team just can't seem to make the right adjustments to succeed for a full 400 or 500 miles.  The average finish stands at a lofty 18.7.  Bowman's 19th-place finish this past Sunday at Kentucky fits right in with this theme.  Texas Motor Speedway has been pretty stingy to Bowman over the years.  With nine career starts he only has one Top 10 and three Top 15's to his credit.  The average finish is a complete disaster at a bloated 25.1.  Bowman is just simply too unreliable right now at intermediate oval racing to trust at Texas.

Bubba Wallace – The Richard Petty Motorsports youngster has had a pretty good 2020 campaign, but that success hasn't largely come on the intermediate tracks.  Wallace has one Top-10 and two Top-15 finishes vs. three finishes outside the Top 25 on the 1.5-mile circuit.  The average checks in at a lofty 23.7.  The short tracks and larger tracks have been far kinder to the No. 42 RPM team this season.  Wallace's career numbers at Texas Motor Speedway are not very inspiring.  He has one Top 10 vs. three finishes outside the Top 20 for a lofty 20.0 average finish.  Considering that he's coming off a poor 27th-place finish at Kentucky this past week, we believe Wallace is a bench candidate at Texas.   

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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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