Column By: HOLLY CAIN / FORT WORTH, TX – When one driver dominates a venue as Jimmie Johnson has done at this week’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race stop, Texas Motor Speedway, it’s easy to forget how many of the sport’s very best have not donned that Texas winner’s cowboy hat. Yet.
Reigning Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. and former title-winner Brad Keselowski top the A-list of names still working for that first celebration in Texas’ one-of-a-kind Victory Lane.
Of the drivers taking the green flag in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 (2 p.m. ET on FS1), only three – Johnson (seven wins), Denny Hamlin (two wins) and Kyle Busch (two wins) – have multiple victories on the 1.5-mile Fort Worth high banks.
Truex is 0-for-25 at Texas. Last week’s Martinsville, Virginia, winner Clint Bowyer is 0-for-24 and Keselowski is 0-for-19.
Johnson is the defending winner of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. Kevin Harvick’s win at Texas last November was his first in 30 tries.
The three drivers directly behind Harvick that day drove Toyotas and that included race runner-up, Truex, who was leading with 10 laps remaining.
The Monster Energy Series champion is six-for-six in top-10 finishes since joining Furniture Row Racing and working with crew chief Cole Pearn. And he arrives in Fort Worth on a streak of five straight top-five finishes in 2018.
In two of the last four Texas races, Truex has led the most laps – 141 laps in spring of 2016 and 107 in last year’s fall race. Nine of his career 16 victories have come at 1.5-mile tracks, like Texas.
“The mile-and-a-half tracks have been good to us and that’s why we go into a race like Texas with plenty of confidence,” Truex said. “But at the same time, you can’t depend on what you had or did in the past at these tracks. Rules and track conditions continue to change and you have to be ready to make the right adjustments to offset the changes.”
“It seems that something has always come up to bite us late in the race at Texas. There’s not much you can do but just keep plugging away and hope that the chips will fall in our favor this weekend.”
Johnson also arrives with plenty of motivation to add his historic win totals. He’s on a career long 29-race winless streak and uncharacteristically hasn’t led a lap of competition yet in the famed No. 48 Chevrolet. He sits 17th in the points standings, his lowest ever position for this point in the season.
“We had a great vacation and Easter break so we are recharged and ready to get back to it,’’ Johnson said. “We left Texas scratching our heads last fall but again have been making small gains this season with the new Chevy Camaro ZL1 and are ready to get back to work.’’
BACK TO WORK
The Xfinity Series returns to action after a two-week respite and JR Motorsports drivers continue to lead the way atop the standings. Veteran Elliott Sadler – who has a Monster Energy Series win at Texas in 2004 – leads two JRM teammates, rookie Tyler Reddick (by 4 points) and Justin Allgaier (by 5 points).
Sadler is the only Xfinity or Cup driver with five “single-digit” finishes in the season’s first five races. And he’s never finished lower than 10th place in his four starts with the JR Motorsports team at Texas.
Allgaier is coming off three top-three finishes in the three-race West Coast Swing and his 90 laps out front in that span is the most among Xfinity regulars. Reddick has a win and three top-five finishes in his six career 1.5-mile starts in the Xfinity Series and JRM driver Michel Annett has led more laps at Texas than any other 1.5-miler he’s competed on in the series.