Preview: The O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

Stewart-Haas Racing appears to be the NASCAR Cup Series team to beat at Texas Motor Speedway. 

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

After a short hiatus for the Easter holidays, NASCAR has returned. This stop—Texas. With six races in the history books to date, the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is in full swing.

As NASCAR Cup engines fire up in the great state of Texas for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500, the storylines are blossoming like the start of Spring. The climate is unpredictably rising and falling like a driver’s temper battling at every turn on a NASCAR track. No one knows for sure what to expect at a NASCAR Cup race, especially in Spring when a race can be unexpectedly cut short due to weather, but here is somewhat of a forecast of everything you need to know about the first of two races of the season at Texas Motor Speedway.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Schedule for Texas Motor Speedway:

O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 (Follow live)
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, April 8, 2018
The Time: Approximately 2 p.m. EST
TV: FS1
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 501 miles (334 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 85), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 170), Final Stage (Ends on lap 334)

Press Pass (Watch live)
Post-Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race: 6 p.m. EST

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

FORT WORTH, TX—APRIL 06: Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford, poses with the Busch Pole Award after qualifying on the pole for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

NASCAR is picking up where it left off before the break when it comes to qualifying. Similar to Martinsville, where practice and qualifying were canceled, pre-race weekend activities were interrupted once again due to weather. Drivers did attempt to qualify, but they only successfully finished one round: The knockout round.

Qualifying was canceled due to weather, but not because of the rain. The threat of lightning near the track terminated all hopes of completing every round of qualifying for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Last week, it was Martin Truex Jr. who benefited from weather postponements at Martinsville when he took the pole. This race, it was Kurt Busch who was able to grab the pole for Sunday’s contest by being lightning fast during the only round of qualifying before mother nature took over. Busch also won the pole position in November at Texas Motor Speedway with a qualifying record lap of 200.915 miles per hour.

Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

FORT WORTH, TX—APRIL 06: Sunoco Fuel staff stand at their station during practice for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 on April 6, 2018 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Starting Lineup

(Position, Driver, Manufacturer, Speed)

1. Kurt Busch, Ford, 197.368
2.Kevin Harvick, Ford, 197.116
3. Clint Bowyer, Ford, 196.829
4. Ryan Blaney, Ford, 196.600
5. Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 196.257
6. Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 195.979
7. Joey Logano, Ford, 195.922
8. Kyle Busch, Toyota, 195.773
9. Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 195.603
10. Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 195.030
11. Brad Keselowski, Ford, 195.023
12. Aric Almirola, Ford, 194.995
13. Trevor Bayne, Ford, 194.840
14. Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 194.812
15. Darrell Wallace Jr., Chevrolet, 194.763
16. Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 194.742
17. Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 194.546
18. Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 194.539
19. Paul Menard, Ford, 194.426
20. Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 194.321
21. Erik Jones, Toyota, 194.175
22. AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 193.952
23. Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 193.819
24. Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 193.736
25. Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 193.514
26. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 193.458
27. Michael McDowell, Ford, 193.417
28. Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 192.651
29. David Ragan, Ford, 192.294
30. Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 191.598
31. Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 190.644
32. Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 189.016
33. William Byron, Chevrolet, 188.193
34. Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 186.445
35. Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 178.359
36. Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, 164.991
37. Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 0.000

Past 10 Winners at Texas Motor Speedway

(Year, Driver, Manufacturer)

2008, Carl Edwards, Ford
2009, Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet
2010, Denny Hamlin, Toyota
2011, Matt Kenseth, Ford
2012, Greg Biffle, Ford
2013, Kyle Busch, Toyota
2014, Joey Logano, Ford        
2015, Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet
2016, Kyle Busch, Toyota
2017, Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet

NASCAR’s premier series first rolled into action at Texas Motor Speedway in 1997 when Jeff Burton captured the checkered flag. In 2005, the sport started hosting two Cup races a year in Texas. The past 10 winners above represent the first race of the year at Texas Motor Speedway.

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

FORT WORTH, TX—APRIL 06: Clint Bowyer, driver of the #14 Mobil 1/Rush Truck Centers Ford, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Stewart-Haas Racing is fast at Texas

Kurt Busch may have turned in the fastest lap at 196.200 mph during knockout qualifying, but his teammate Kevin Harvick was not too far behind with the second-fastest lap at 195.943 mph. Clint Bowyer, who won the race at Martinsville and is also part of the Stewart-Haas Racing team, had a best lap of 195.426 mph, which was the third fastest in knockout qualifying. “We kept it in the family, and that’s a good thing for Stewart-Haas Racing,” said Harvick. Stewart-Haas Racing did indeed do just that. And if you were wondering about their teammate Aric Almirola, he finished ninth, turning in a lap of 194.503 mph.

Way back in 2009, Kurt Busch won a Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, but that was then. The big question is, “Can he win now?” If he leads 49 laps, he will become the 20th driver in NASCAR history to lead at least 9,000 laps in their career. Starting from the pole puts him in position to ride into the history books, but is it realistic to believe he can win from that spot? There have only been three winners who have started and won from the pole position at Texas Motor Speedway. In Spring of 2006, Kasey Kahne did just that, followed by Jimmie Johnson in the Fall of 2012, and Kyle Busch in the Spring of 2013. It’s worth noting between the Cup, Xfinity, and Camping World Series, Kurt Busch’s younger brother Kyle Busch has won 13 times at Texas. Not bad.

Who Will Win?

Through six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup races, we have seen four winners. Austin Dillon driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Chevrolet won the season opener at Daytona, followed by Harvick winning three races in a row, and then Truex Jr. returning to his winning form by dominating at Fontana. Bowyer finally put an end to his losing streak and won the only short track race of the season at Martinsville before the Easter break. But who will win at NASCAR’s fastest 1.5-mile track, Texas Motor Speedway? A stroke of (lightning) speed will sure come in handy for the lucky driver to cross that finish line first.

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

FORT WORTH, TX—APRIL 06: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's for Pros Chevrolet, drives through the garage area during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Seven Times

Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson is a seven-time winner at Texas, but does it matter? He is an eleven-time winner at Dover, a nine-time winner at Martinsville, and he has won eight times at Charlotte. Last season, he won three races which included some of his best tracks; Texas Motor Speedway was one of them.  As we head into the seventh race of the season, will luck be on the side of Mr. 7x as in the 7-time NASCAR Cup Championship winner?

Can Johnson win already? If for nothing else, I’ve grown tired, like most fans, of asking this question each week. Sure, it’s only the seventh race of the 2018 season, but yeesh, it’s been 29 races since Johnson has made it to Victory Lane. Johnson won the Spring race at Texas Motor Speedway last year. Given his current statistics which include only one top 10 this year, it’s not unreasonable to pose the question, “Will he be able to continue his reign at Texas Motor Speedway?”

Ironically, Texas Motor Speedway has teamed up with Blue Bunny Ice cream to give away free Jimmie Johnson Bobbleheads to the first 30,000 fans to come through the gates for the race on Sunday, but it would be an even better treat if Johnson returns to Victory Lane. Go figure.