Three motorsports stars earned Texas-sized victories at The Great American Speedway this weekend. After battling the reconfigured 1.5-mile Speedway in Fort Worth, TX, one driver would race closer to a second title, another would complete an XFINITY Series season sweep and a third would qualify for the championship playoff round in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
JAG Metals 350
It was a case of déjà vu for defending Camping World Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter on Friday night. Although 18-year-old driver Justin Haley would drive to the pole for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series JAG Metals 350 Driving Hurricane Harvey Relief at Texas Motor Speedway, the No. 4 of series point leader Christopher Bell quickly took the lead during the opening laps of this 147-lap race.
After grabbing the Stage 1 win, Bell handed over the Stage 2 win to outside pole starter Noah Gragson. The top-six starters in this race continued to battle for the lead as the laps wound down in this race. While it seemed that Sauter’s No. 21 GMS Racing truck was holding his position for a safer finish, the veteran driver passed sixth place starter Austin Cindric for the lead on Lap 109. The two drivers ran one and two until both made a trip to pit road on Lap 117.
While Sauter lost the lead following this pit stop, he would make his way back on top on Lap 135 after John Hunter Nemecheck ran out of gas while leading at the end of a cycle of green-flag pit stops. Sauter kept fellow Round of 6 Playoff driver Austin Cindric behind him and crossed the finish line .170 seconds ahead of his closest pursuer to win the Playoff race at Texas for the second year in a row and the fourth time overall.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Sauter, who celebrated the birth of a daughter, his third child, earlier in the week. “I was actually pretty worried about our truck after qualifying — it was pretty loose. All we did was lower the track bar a half-round and this got us to Victory Lane.”
Sauter said after the race he would like to think the season is following the same course as last year, but he’d prefer not to focus on the future.
“Yes, this is looking a lot like it did last year,” said Sauter. “Regardless, this team has got to stay humble and keep our noses to the grindstone.”
Despite Sauter’s third win of the season, the former champion continues to be four points behind Bell going into next weekend’s race in Phoenix.
O’Reilly Auto Parts 300
After earning the pole for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, there was no stopping Joe Gibbs Racing XFINITY Series driver Erik Jones from driving to a season sweep of NASCAR XFINITY Series races at the 1.5-mile track — the first time since Kyle Busch won both races in 2009.
The sweeping of the first and second stages of this 200-lap race was just the start of Jones’s success in this race. Though Penske Racing driver Ryan Blaney tried his best to take the race lead during the closing laps of Saturday night’s race, Jones’ No. 20 was able to cross the finish line 1.018 seconds ahead of Blaney’s No. 22 Ford for his third win at Texas Motor Speedway.
“This track sure has been good to me,” said Jones. “I will never forget the first time I came here in a truck. Then, I never really thought that I would like the place. Ever since then it’s just kind of clicked for me and I am so happy to get my whole No. 20 team back in Victory Lane here at Texas Motor Speedway.
Despite this race giving Jones a mark of success on his NASCAR driving record, the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 did little to settle the XFINITY Series Playoffs, since no one clinched a spot in the Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Regardless, a fourth-place finish put veteran driver Elliott Sadler back in the point series lead five points over his JR Motorsports teammate William Byron going into next weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.
AAA Texas 500
While both Sauter and Jones picked up follow-up victories at Texas Motor Speedway, Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race winner would earn his first victory at The Great American Speedway. After 30 starts, Kevin Harvick is just two tracks away from having victories at all 23 tracks on the Cup Series schedule.
Although Kurt Busch qualified on the pole for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series AAA Texas 500, fourth place starter Kevin Harvick worked his way to the lead early in the race, for the Stage 1 win. As Harvick fought to stay near the top of the field, 11th place starter Kyle Larson raced his way to the lead after a cycle of green flag pit stops to win Stage 2 of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.
While Larson’s No. 42 Chip Ganassi ride seemed to be the one to watch on Sunday, the young Cup Series driver clobbered the outside wall in Turn 2 on Lap 282, thus ending his day in a fireball against the fence to cause the eighth and final caution of the event.
Following this crash, the No. 78 of Martin Truex, Jr. raced to the lead, while challenger Kevin Harvick grabbed fourth from Kasey Kahne. On Lap 314, Harvick closed in when Truex slowed behind a knot of lapped cars entering Turn 1. Hounding Truex for the next 10 circuits, Harvick finally made the winning pass on Lap 325 of 334.
The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford won for the first time at Texas, denying Truex the same accomplishment and ending Truex’s streak of wins on intermediate tracks at four.
“It is good to be in Victory Lane here in Texas,” said Harvick. “I knew I had a really good car and that I had to do something different to pull off the win, which is why I started driving a whole lot deeper in Turn 1 — a whole lot deeper. I started doing that earlier in the race, but I was afraid I didn’t have the brakes to continue that all day. So, I waited until the end and was able to get on the outside of Martin off of Turn 2 and was able to get by him on the outside.”
Along with the win, Harvick also clenched a spot in the Nov. 19 Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Harvick won the first title contested under an elimination format in 2014. While he was denied the race win, Truex also clinched a berth at Homestead on points, leaving Texas 57 points ahead of fifth-place finisher Brad Keselowski, who is fourth in the standings with a 19-point edge over fifth-place Denny Hamlin.
Although his Tony Stewart Racing team had reason to celebrate following Sunday’s win, this team and NASCAR were also aware of the sad incident that occurred outside of San Antonio on Sunday. As a result, both agreed to forgo the usual Victory Lane pistol salute.
Stay tuned to RacingJunk.com as the Countdown to the NASCAR Championship continues next weekend at Phoenix Raceway.