Jake Ernst makes his predictions for this weekend’s race at Texas and explains why this will be the most consequential race of the season.
Location: Texas Motor Speedway
Date & Time: Sunday, November 3rd at 3pm (ET)
TV Channel: NBC Sports Network
Race Sponsor: AAA
Lap Total: 334 Laps
With his win at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, Martin Truex Jr. locked himself into the Championship Four for the third-straight year. The veteran was absolutely dominant last weekend, leading 464 of the possible 500 laps. Being secured into the final round of playoffs, Truex has little to worry about for the next two races but the remaining seven competitors can’t say the same – they will be under major pressure on Sunday.
In the previous six races at Texas Motor Speedway, there has been just one repeat winner, making it one of NASCAR’s most unpredictable races in recent memory.
There are however, a select few drivers in the field who consistently finish strong and throughout their careers, have multiple wins at the track. It also just so happens that most of these drivers with numerous wins are still competing in the penultimate round of the playoffs and looking to advance to the next round. With that being said, let’s now take a look at three drivers who I believe have the best chance of winning the AAA 500 on Sunday.
Can Hamlin Keep Up The Momentum?
In his 16 races at the 1.44-mile track since 2011, Denny Hamlin has just five top-10’s and two top-five finishes. What is so odd about that statistic though, is that prior to the beginning of that poor-racing streak, Hamlin had back-to-back wins and finished in the top-10 in eight out of his first 11 races at Texas. I’m not sure if it’s merely just a bad-luck streak or what, but I do know one thing – it’s uncharacteristic of Hamlin to perform so poorly at Texas.
Despite a lack of success in recent years, the 38-year-old was able to win the Texas race earlier this season in March, finally putting an end to his winless streak. Being the defending winner at this track, he’s of course one of the favorites for Sunday and for good reason. Apart from Martin Truex Jr., there hasn’t been a stronger driver in 2019 and Hamlin is having arguably the second-best year of his career. A win would guarantee the veteran a spot in the final round of the playoffs and would present him the opportunity to compete for his first championship.
10 Straight Top-10’s For Harvick
When you think of consistency, you think of Kevin Harvick. In his 33 races at Texas, Harvick has finished inside the top-10 on a remarkable 21 occasions. The 43-year-old hasn’t had the same success this year as he’s had in some of his previous seasons but he’s hung around all-year long and has been able to not only finish races, but finish them strong. Due to this consistency, he’s still in decent shape in the playoffs, but with just three wins on the season, he’s currently tied for his second-lowest win total since 2012. As he stated prior to the Texas race last year, the objective is to get to victory lane and secure himself into the Championship Four.
“It’s not easy this time of year because everybody is throwing everything they have at it. To get victory lane, that’s our goal,” said Harvick.
You would think that with his 21 top-10’s at Texas, Harvick would have more than just two wins, right? Well don’t let this discourage you from wagering on him, as both of those wins have come within the last two years (Nov. 2017, Nov. 2018). He seems to be getting better (at Texas) with age and with ten consecutive top-10’s dating back to 2014, he seems like a must-bet.
The Seven-Time Champ Has Seven Wins at Texas
With his last win coming at Dover on June 4, 2017, it’s been well over two years since Jimmie Johnson has been in victory lane. Throughout his career, Johnson has raced at Texas Motor Speedway 32 times and has finished inside the top-10 all but 10 of those races. He’s got seven wins at this track and went on an astounding run from April 2012 through April 2017, when he won six times in a matter of 11 races.
Despite his success during that time period, the 44 year-old has struggled in three out of his last four races at Texas. With finishes of 27th, 35th and 15th, it was the worst three-race streak at the track in his 19-year career. He bounced back in his most recent race at Texas though, where he won the pole (started in first), led 60 laps (his most laps led in a race this year) and ended up finishing fifth, which was just his first of three top-five finishes on the season.
“It’s great to be back in the mix,” said Johnson following the Texas race earlier this season in March. “It’s where this team deserves to be.”
It’s certainly a track that he’s had positive results at and with disrespectful odds of +3300, he is absolutely worth a shot at a big payday.