Podium Preview: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas

Indeed, the greatest in racing walk through these pearly gates of Texas. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Indeed, the greatest in racing walk through these pearly gates of Texas. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

The Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas challenges the best of NASCAR Cup drivers and teams. For the past 16 years, it’s tested the emotional, mental and physical strength of the mightiest of stock car warriors.

If competitors thought they’d find relief from a challenging, action packed race weekend at the Charlotte ROVAL, think again. For at least 334 laps, the opening race of the Round of 8 provides plentiful moments for excellence and dramatics prevalent in the premier division of NASCAR.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists preview each NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race. This weekend, Ashley HobbsJasmine SharpeKobe Lambeth, Luis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorNathan SolomonTaylor KitchenTerra Jones and yours truly ponder about the best of the Round of 8 Playoffs racers and the new driver and team combinations for 2022!

Podium Preview: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas
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Question 1
As seen last Sunday, Kyle Larson and his No. 5 team overcame a tremendous test at the Charlotte ROVAL. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

As seen last Sunday, Kyle Larson and his No. 5 team overcame a tremendous test at the Charlotte ROVAL. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Of the Round of 8 Playoff drivers and teams still standing, which one has the best chance to win it all?

Hobbs : Obviously, Kyle Larson. But, of the 8 remaining drivers, he had the worst average finish in the Round of 12. From here on out, it’s going to get that much more difficult, and he won’t be able to rely on that nice, 1 race lead with his Playoff points. I also look at Denny Hamlin, getting hot at the right time. He had the second best average finish (behind Larson) in the Round of 16 and had the best in the Round of 12. If Hamlin can keep this up over the next 3 weeks, Larson better be watching out.

Raynor : Kyle Larson is the front runner. The only thing that can stop him is team mistakes. But do not rule out Kyle Busch. I feel like it’s not always the best team or most dominant team that wins. I do feel like Larson is the one that can overcome anything. 

Sisoler:  It cannot be anyone other than Kyle Larson given his incredible averages this year in that Hendrick Camaro, but at this point of the season last year, we thought Kevin Harvick was a lock to make it to the Championship 4, and that ended in a cloud of smoke. You cannot count out Denny Hamlin or Chase Elliott for the same reason as Larson, and Brad Keselowski has been known to get hot out of nowhere. Well, I’d say barely making this round counts as “nowhere” for the current driver of the No. 2 Mustang, so it could be a time for that car and driver to make their move.

Shoppe :  I mean, it’s not much of a question! Obviously, Kyle Larson has been on top all year long. Denny Hamlin has been excellent in the Playoffs and could have just as good of a chance as Larson. Remember, Hamlin has plenty of experience losing championships in the finale while Larson has never made it to the final four as of yet.

While these two seem like virtual locks to advance, remember Kevin Harvick had a huge cushion last year and still missed the cut for Phoenix! 

Lambeth :  Is this a serious question? Definitely Kyle Larson! The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports squad is having such an amazingly strong season. In my opinion, a season that many teams and drivers would dream of in the NASCAR Cup Series. However, with the current playoff format, there are plenty of opportunities for us to see an upset. A chaotic Round of 8 could end Larson’s championship hopes. But I am willing to bet that he advances to Phoenix with a great shot at winning it all!

Tiongson : I will answer with an obvious choice which is Kyle Larson and his No. 5 team. Forget the fact he and his team won six prior times before the Charlotte ROVAL weekend. It’s the fact we saw championship winning attitude and calmness during a chaotic ROVAL race last Sunday afternoon. I was impressed with how poised, composed and prepared Larson and his crew were even with the alternator belt and battery issues just a quarter of the way into the race. When you can overcome two otherwise debilitating issues and still win, those are the hallmarks of a champion.

Of course, the Round of 8 isn’t a breeze with treacherous Texas, an exciting but challenging Kansas and Martinsville. If Larson and his team were besieged by the issues at the ROVAL and did not overcome those, they’d either make it in on the basis of a decent amount of Playoff points or possibly out of the picture. As I asked Larson, would he choose to be conservative or aggressive? It’s safe to say Larson only has one speed and that’s go fast and win.

Question 2
Indeed, Trackhouse Racing has provided plentiful excitement already with Daniel Suarez and the No. 99 team. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Indeed, Trackhouse Racing has provided plentiful excitement already with Daniel Suarez and the No. 99 team. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Of the new driver and team combinations announced for 2022, which one seemingly has the most potential for success?

Torres :  When I look at the 2022 lineup, I really don’t see many that’ll thrive big time. I can see Kurt Busch and 23XI Racing working out quite well, but I personally think the pairing that’ll be tough to beat isn’t in the Cup Series.

Looking at the Camping World Truck Series, Grant Enfinger joining GMS Racing is an excellent combination. If the team is going to thrive at that level, having an established veteran like Enfinger will do many wonders for Jack Wood and Zane Smith.

Sheldon Creed will leave a void as he’ll go to Richard Childress Racing’s Xfinity team, which I see some promise. But not at the same level as Enfinger which should elevate GMS. It’ll be the opportunity for the Alabaman to prove why he’s a top Truck Series driver and contend for wins. 

He has the consistency, but wins will be vital and joining GMS should allow him to put himself in an ideal spot to score more triumphs than he did at ThorSport Racing.

Jones :  It won’t be a championship run, but I look at how Daniel Suarez has done in 2021 with Trackhouse Racing and I have to think that Ross Chastain will not only be a great teammate for Suarez but have a solid, consistent run in 2022. 

Kitchen :  Looking at the new driver and team combinations for the 2022 season in the cup series, I see Ross Chastain having the most potential for success.

Though Chastain is moving to a team with a new name, much will remain the same since Chip Ganassi Racing sold out to Trackhouse Racing.

I believe the other drivers joining new teams such as Cindric and Burton, who are moving up from the Xfinity Series, and Kurt Busch, who is switching manufacturers and teams, will have their hands full. 

Out of all these drivers, Chastain has to endure the least amount of transition outside of the new car, which is why I believe he can have the most success. 

Sharpe :   After watching the testing at the ROVAL this past week, the Cup side of the 2022 season is going to be a blast to see what unfolds. Seeing RWR partnering up with SHR I think has the most potential overall. It’s an upgrade in equipment, giving ALL its drivers a chance to actually shine. We’ve seen Bilicki and Smithley do great in iRacing thanks to last year’s virtual series. While they may not still be ‘top-tier’ gear wise, I think it’ll be fun to see this team finish up in the top 20s each week, giving them better chances for sponsorship, and overall better stats in the long run.

Solomon :   With the experience that he has, I feel that Kurt Busch and 23XI Racing will come out of the gate hot in 2022. Busch is hungry to keep winning the Cup Series and show that he is still deserving of a ride. He’ll now join brother Kyle in the Toyota camp and it’ll just be a perfect situation for Kurt at the back end of his career.

I also feel that someone like Ross Chastain, Kurt Busch’s current teammate, could also come out and win a few races with Trackhouse Racing next season.

Two laps around this tricky but respectable Texas track proves exciting! Next, we consider last Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at the Charlotte ROVAL race and points reports!
Matt Sisoler believed in Kyle Larson.

Matt Sisoler believed in Kyle Larson.

Meanwhile, Ashley Hobbs believes she can win another championship.

Meanwhile, Ashley Hobbs believes she can win another championship.

Now, Ashley Hobbs considers the numbers worth knowing for Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas!
First, consider how your favorite team fares in the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas.

First, consider how your favorite team fares in the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas.

Since 2005, the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas race winner has an average starting spot of 8.8, led an average of 122.1 laps, started within the top-10 half of the time and started within the top 10 81.25% of the time.

Since 2005, the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas race winner has an average starting spot of 8.8, led an average of 122.1 laps, started within the top-10 half of the time and started within the top 10 81.25% of the time.

Even across.

Even across.

Now, look at the trends in the past 10 years for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas.

Now, look at the trends in the past 10 years for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas.

Next, considers the trends in the past five years for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas.

Next, considers the trends in the past five years for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas.

What what.

What what.

Who are the four Playoff drivers you think will fail to make it to the Championship 4?
Might Kyle Busch's championship dreams end in smoke after the Round of 8? (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Might Kyle Busch’s championship dreams end in smoke after the Round of 8? (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Hobbs : Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch

Raynor : Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Martin Truex and Ryan Blaney 

Sisoler:  Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.

Shoppe :  Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch 

Tiongson :  Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney

Torres : Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney

Jones :  Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano 

Kitchen : Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr

Sharpe : Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr

TPF Stats :  Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney

Without further ado, here’s the top 10 starters for Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas!
Row 1
Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Row 2
Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Row 3
Joey Logano and Chase Elliott [to the rear] (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Joey Logano and Chase Elliott [to the rear] (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Row 4
Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Row 5
Tyler Reddick and Chris Buescher (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Tyler Reddick and Chris Buescher (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Last but not least, here’s our picks for Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas!
Here's our "Magnificent Seven" for Texas.

Here’s our “Magnificent Seven” for Texas.

Torres : To my honest surprise, Brad Keselowski is still in these playoffs. Texas has been a track that’s been favorable for him from time-to-time. Aside from Kyle Larson, BK is one of very few guys that could stop him this Sunday. In fact, I’m willing to take this risk and choose him as the first man to make the Championship 4 over Larson.

Tiongson : It’s somewhat surprising how Martin Truex Jr. has yet to win at Texas Motor Speedway. He’s led 673 laps in his past 31 starts. Not to mention, he thrives on the intermediate tracks. It’s Truex Time at Texas.

TPF Stats : He may be out of the Championship hunt, but Kevin Harvick is hungry for victory!

Sharpe : I believe Harvick is thirsting for a win and Texas is the track for the SHR driver. Though the conflict between Chase Elliott and him may not be quite over, this veteran driver is ready to drive to the bone to snatch a victory.

Hobbs : I am not sure how this will shake out, but I do know if Ryan Blaney wants a shot at the Championship, he has to have a beyond stellar next 3 races; and Texas Motor Speedway is his best shot.

Jones : (Because I get one pick per driver in the Playoffs and I have no earthly idea!) But Ryan Blaney has decent stats at Texas (if you eliminate his three DNFs) and this is a breakout season for the driver of the No. 12. So, yeh, Blaney locks into the final four this weekend!

Lambeth : Considering his past success at Texas, I think the visit to the Lone Star State is Ryan Blaney’s best shot at advancing to the Championship 4 for the first time in his career. While Team Penske is still a bit behind Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, the Captain’s squad has a great opportunity to make a strong statement this weekend.

Sisoler : I’m not really sure why I picked Ryan Blaney to win, but that in and of itself might be a good reason. He’s unassuming on track, but always seems to put that Penske-powered Mustang in a position to win when it counts, and he won at a sister track to Texas in Atlanta earlier this year. I think he’s gonna lock himself into the Championship 4 with a victory in the Lone Star State.

Kitchen : Denny Hamlin is tied for the second most wins amongst active drivers with three wins, most recently in 2019. Also, Hamlin has a record of winning the first round of these playoff races, which is a stat I think will play in his favor this weekend at TMS.

Solomon : Kyle Busch was won four times in the last eight seasons at Texas Motor Speedway in the Cup Series. He also won the spring Xfinity Series race and is always one of the strongest drivers on intermediate tracks. Expect Busch to win and punch his ticket into the Championship 4.

Raynor : Kyle Busch. He’s really good at this track and has been in the Playoffs.

Shoppe : Joey Logano hasn’t had his best season but will come through at the right time to win his way to the Championship 4!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into the race? Who are your favorites to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Stay safe and wash your hands often. Help yourself, your family and friends by getting the COVID-19 vaccine! Take the shot to save your life and others! Also, thanks for reading our content throughout this season.

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization and its staff.

Also, if you are shopping for NASCAR or racing die-casts, be sure to check out our friends at Circle B Diecast! If your order is $20 or more, be sure to use coupon code TPF2021 for free shipping! Tell them we sent you and buy some new die-casts now!

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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