from Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR author
FORT WORTH, Texas – Joe Gibbs Racing has two drivers above the current eligible intersection and one below. Team Penske has one up and two down.
But if racing Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway showed anything, the Penske drivers could turn a postseason that was expected to be dominated by Hendrick Motorsports and JGR on its head.
Penske drivers outperformed JGR throughout the race in Texas, with Brad Keselowski fourth and Ryan Blaney sixth. JGR’s only non-playoff driver, Christopher Bell, finished third, while Kyle Busch struggled to finish eighth, and Denny Hamlin struggled before a couple of incidents banned him to eleventh place. A fall put Martin Truex Jr. in 25th place.
Before the race, Keselowski said that if he can score 110-120 points in the three races, he would be promoted to the four finalists of the championship on November 7th in Phoenix. He earned 40 points on Sunday, but went from 16 points behind the current cutoff in the round to 15 points in Texas.
Two races – in Kansas and Martinsville – remain in the lap and three title-eligible spots are available. Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson, the most dominant driver of the season, secured one of the places with his win in Texas on Sunday.
“Of course we’d rather just win and not worry,” said Keselowski before the race. âOne of the things about these playoffs – they’re very dynamic.
“Cars that were once not fast become fast and vice versa.”
The Penske cars were way better than JGR on Sunday, and that’s something they should be comfortable with even if they weren’t able to touch Larson and William Byron’s first two Hendrick cars.
“We have our things a little better,” said Blaney. âThe Hendrick stuff still looks pretty good, of course. But we’ve closed the gap with Gibbs and Hendrick a little bit.
“But this stuff goes from week to week. Different tracks, different setups … hopefully we’re more competitive in Kansas.”
The thought prior to this lap was that Team Penske riders, especially Keselowski and Joey Logano, would have to go above and beyond to move forward, that they just couldn’t keep up with the Hendrick and JGR teams that had won most of the intermediate races , except for Blaney’s triumphs in Atlanta and Michigan earlier this year.
Logano said before the weekend that he thought they were “scratching the top 5 to get there and that’s not fast enough so we’ll see what happens … where we are in terms of speed.” . “
He didn’t have the speed of his teammates in Texas, but still believes the overall performance will give the team a boost.
“It helps us get a little more confident,” he said. âI think that was probably one of the best 1.5 mile courses we have ever had.
“It looks like the 5th [of Larson] and 24 [of Byron] are the best in the field, but there are 12 times [of Blaney] and 2 [of Keselowski] can get up there. We only fought for position on the track all day. If we could have got a position on the track, I wonder what it would have been like. “
The question is how much can you read into Texas? It’s a very different 1.5 mile route than Kansas in that Texas has different turns on turns 1-2 than turns 3-4 and NASCAR used a resin to create traction in a second groove. Kansas is a more traditional 1.5 mile oval and has no resin. Busch won there in April.
“We were definitely not ourselves today, but I don’t think it has anything to do with next week,” said Hamlin. “This circuit is a little different. We probably learned a few lessons today. Hopefully next week we’ll bring the speed we had in Vegas.”
When they saw them chasing after the Penske drivers and fighting overall on Sunday, the JGR drivers scratched their heads.
“We were gone,” said Busch. âI don’t know how we missed it, where we missed it. â¦ I don’t know what’s going on, but that’s not how it was to perform on the opening day [of this round]. “
Busch said they had to “go back to work”. After three hours of fighting in a racing car, he wasn’t exactly the most optimistic, but he wasn’t confident that things would be much different in Kansas.
“It will be similar,” he said. “It won’t be that single lane tackling the first trace of the spray. You will be able to broaden and race the entire length of the track. Hopefully that should get a little better.”
This is not the time of the season to wonder what went wrong. Penske has all the momentum to grab the last spots to challenge Larson for the championship.
“That was a huge weekend for us,” said Keselowski after Texas. “We showed more speed than we did on the 550 all year round [horsepower] Traces. We showed the potential to go out there and win these races. “
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Think out loud
Did NASCAR really have to step in and make sure the Kevin Harvick-Chase Elliott feud didn’t affect the championship?
Yes and no.
Harvick’s story shows he’s willing to put the driver code on whatever is fair if he has something to win, including at Charlotte earlier this month when he could have knocked Elliott out of the way if Harvick could have helped into that Advance playoffs. However, with Harvick out of the playoffs, it seemed unlikely that he would make another shot at Elliott.
For his part, Elliott has too much ahead of him to worry about Harvick. With that in mind, and to amaze people, NASCAR should perhaps not have intervened. NASCAR created the drama of the playoffs, so why put out this fire?
On the other hand, if something had happened, NASCAR would have been blamed for not trying to put an end to it and for this feud affecting the championship and possibly mocking the sport. What NASCAR was doing was probably the right move.
The last two Hendrick drivers to make Championship 4 – Elliott in 2020 and Jimmie Johnson in 2016 – won the title.
You said it
“We can be racing for a championship in a couple of weeks. That’s crazy.” – Kyle Larson
Bob Pockrass has spent decades reporting on motorsport, including the last 30 Daytona 500. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 after serving at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene Magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpokrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR newsletter with Bob Pockrass!
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