You can never satisfy me, NASCAR. I’m going to complain about the smallest things that grind my gears in the sport and sometimes I’ll even flip flop on a topic. It’s a love-hate-love relationship, the same way I might criticize my brothers.
This brings us to Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway’s high-banked 1.5-mile layout. Long race title sponsorship is a tolerable nuisance, but how about this week’s race is only the second race on a 1.5-mile track after July 11. I’ve complained regularly about all the cookie cutters since 2000, but now I miss them in this new era of the road course.
Sunday’s race will be only the eighth race on a 1.5-mile track and next week’s race at Kansas will be the ninth and last of the season. Las Vegas started the Round of 12 and Texas will start the Round of 8 and Kansas next week will make it only three races on 1.5-mile tracks, the same as last season, but a reduction on the season from 11 races on 1.5s to only nine.
It feels like it’s been a while since watching Denny Hamlin win his first career race at Las Vegas last month. And it’s been ages since Kurt Busch dominated at Atlanta on July 11. Since Atlanta, three road courses, and just two 1.5-mile tracks.
It used to be that organizations focused on mastering the 1.5-mile tracks because that was the Gateway to a championship with the title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway’s 1.5-mile paperclip. Now the title race is at Phoenix Raceway using the low downforce package with engines producing 750 horsepower that has already raced 18 times this season. That is the new gateway.
The 1.5-mile track isn’t going away even though Texas lost a points-paying spring race and instead was given the non-points All-Star Race. This is the 41st Cup race at Texas and the first year since 2004 that Texas hasn’t had two points-paying races on the schedule.
But I can’t help to remember NASCAR at its pinnacle of popularity in the mid-1990s with the young California kid Jeff Gordon and the wiley veteran Dale Earnhardt clashing and then cashing together all the way to the bank with merchandise sales. The new cookie-cutter tracks had massive seating which made the old standards like Rockingham and North Wilkesboro Speedway expendable. The new tracks also took away a Darlington date and caused the stoppage of the Southern 500 on Labor Day.
NASCAR is trying to rebrand itself again with all the road courses (favors Chase Elliott), so I’m flipping on my stance on the cookie cutters after experiencing a full season of road racing so I am back now missing the 1.5s. I may again feel different in two decades.
I hope that all made some kind of sense as I went full circle.
AUTOTRADER ECHOPARK AUTOMOTIVE 500 ANALYSIS
Now let’s make some money. The winner of the race gets a free pass into the Championship 4 race at Phoenix in four weeks. Only a handful of drivers have a chance to win this week with the high downforce race package with engines producing 550 horsepower.
Caesars sportsbooks list season point-leader, Kyle Larson, as the +275 favorite and he’s certainly deserving of being such a short favorite. But more on Larson in a bit. Let’s talk about Kyle Busch who Caesars has posted at 7-to-1 odds to win at Texas.
His only two wins of the season came using this week’s race package at Kansas and the second Pocono race. He also won this race last season. I’ll bet he wants to start off the Round of 8 with a win to ease the pressure the next two weeks.
“For sure,” Busch said. “Both the first two tracks to start the Round of 8 are places we’ve won at within the last calendar year, so I look forward to getting to Texas and starting the next round. All the tracks are good places for us, so hoping we can get some solid finishes and maybe even a win, hopefully the sooner the better, and can get us to the Championship 4 at Phoenix with a win.”
Busch is a two-time Cup Champion and is a nice look to win the Championship which Circa Sports is offering at 6-to-1 odds to win it. The only negative is Phoenix using the 750 HP which hasn’t been far from his best package this season. But let’s stick with Texas here where Busch has been dominant in all three NASCAR national series. Why is he so good there?
“It’s always been a really good place for me, whether that was before the repave or after the repave,” Busch said.” A lot of credit goes to Joe Gibbs Racing and the cars they bring there for me. We’ve had a lot of success at Texas over the years, whether that is in the Xfinity Series, winning five in a row as we did there, winning in the Trucks, and now we have four Cup wins there, too, after the win last fall. It’s just been a really good place for me, and our team has been better with the 550 (horsepower) package this year, and hoping we can get into victory lane there this weekend with our Interstate Batteries Camry and punch our ticket to Phoenix early.”
Kyle Larson was able to extend his lead in the Championship Series with a win in Charlotte last week. (AP)
Interstate Batteries is a Texas-based company that is celebrating a 30-year relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing who won the 1993 Daytona 500 with Dale Jarrett at the start of their second season.
Kyle Busch has four Cup wins at Texas, as well as 10 Xfinity wins, and five Truck Series wins. In only 30 Cup starts there, Busch has 14 top-fives and led 1,049 laps which are both the most among active drivers, as are his four wins.
In his last three races using this week’s race package, he was runner-up to his brother Kurt at Atlanta leading 91 laps. Next, he was at Michigan with a seventh-place and leading 13 laps, and then it was a home race at Las Vegas where he finished third.
I’ve got five car numbers swirling around in my head and Busch’s No. 18 keeps coming up aces for me even though Kyle Larson is a beast and will be again Sunday.
AUTOTRADER ECHOPARK AUTOMOTIVE 500 BETTING RESOURCES
- Date: Sunday, October 17, 2021
- TV-Time: NBC, 2:00 p.m. ET
- Venue: Texas Motor Speedway
- Location: Fort Worth, Texas
- Distance: 501 miles, 334 laps
- Defending Champion: Kyle Busch
The Texas layout was modeled after SMI sister tracks at Charlotte and Atlanta. All three have their own wrinkles that make them unique to themselves but looking at all three side-by-side they look like twins or triplets. Larson was the best collectively between the three races and also won the All-Star Race at Texas.
In March, Larson led a race-high 259 laps at Atlanta but couldn’t close out the win and finished second. Ryan Blaney scooped the win like he has done late in all three of his wins. This happened two weeks after Larson won his first Las Vegas race and led a race-high 103 laps.
In May, Larson led a race-high 327 of 400 laps in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Chase Elliott was second, and Kyle Busch was third. But Larson hasn’t won a race with this week’s package since the Texas All-Star Race on June 13. It’s in this small gap of semi-failure for the great Larson that I see a window of hope and opportunity for Busch winning.