With the Round of 16 complete, the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs are still seeking its first title-eligible winner of the postseason.
The search for Victory Lane continues as the Round of 12 kicks off at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Teams had 140 circuits around the 1.5-miler f0r the exhibition All-Star Race back in May. This week, a win could send a playoff driver into the Round of 8 to keep his championship hopes alive.
WHEELS IN MOTION
Teams will have 20 minutes to practice on Saturday (12:35 p.m. ET, USA, NBC Sports App) with teams broken into Groups A and B. Once both groups have completed their practice sessions, single-car, single-lap qualifying will begin to set the starting lineup (1:20 p.m. ET).
With the postseason underway, playoff drivers and teams will be ordered by their previous race metrics and assigned to Group A or B by the usual odd/even metric procedures. Playoff teams will be the final cars to qualify in their respective groups.
The five fastest overall drivers from each group will advance to the final round of qualifying, where those 10 drivers will each set one more timed lap to fight for the Busch Light Pole Award.
LONE STAR STORY LINES
— Chris Buescher’s Bristol victory marked a record 19 different winner through 29 races this year, tying 1956, 1958, 1961 and 2001 for the most winners in a single season.
— Only three of the eight active Cup Champions are still playoff eligible: Joey Logano (2018), Chase Elliott (2020) and Kyle Larson (2021).
— Eight of the last 14 races in 2022 were won by drivers getting their first win of the season, including each of the last four.
— Christopher Bell is having the best season of his career with more poles (three), top fives (10), top 10s (17), laps led (417) and stage wins (4) than any of his prior seasons.
— The driver leading the most laps won only two of the last 10 races of 2022 (Buescher at Bristol; Reddick at Indy Road Course).
— William Byron is the only playoff driver yet to have a notable problem in the postseason.
— Four of the last nine playoff races were won by drivers who did not make the playoffs, including each of the last three.
Source: Racing Insights
After tire challenges reared their heads during the NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas in May, Goodyear updated the construction of its tires midway through the 2022 season.
Much of the dilemmas have stemmed from an increased load on the rear of the Next Gen vehicle while Goodyear and teams continue to learn how the tire deflects with a thinner sidewall than in years past.
“It has been widely documented that the balance of the Next Gen car has shifted towards the rear,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear‘s director of racing. “On a weekly basis, optimizing tire performance is a key element in having a successful weekend. Air pressure, suspension geometry and shock settings work in unison to get the most out of the tire package. Being aggressive in any one of those areas is certainly a recipe for short-term speed, but the risk vs. reward of those choices can often come back and bite you.
“We work very closely with teams throughout the week and at the track, providing as much data as we can to help them make the right tire choices. We understand that teams are in a constant search for speed, but finding the edge of that envelope is key to finishing races.”
The tire setup used this weekend at Texas is the same that was used two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway. It will also be used again in three weeks at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
— Construction of Texas Motor Speedway on the 1,500-acre property began in August 1995. The first Cup race was held on April 6, 1997 and was won by Jeff Burton. The property contains 660 acres of parking with a capacity of 80,000 vehicles.
— Initially, the turns had variable banking — 24 degrees at the top and 8 degrees at the bottom. This proved difficult for cars to transition from the banked turns to the flatter straightaways. After two NASCAR weekends, the turns were reconfigured to a constant 24-degree banking and the exit off of the turns was eased.
— The first Texas date was made available after Bruton Smith (Speedway Motorsports) and Bob Bahre (New Hampshire Motor Speedway) each acquired 50% of North Wilkesboro Speedway. NASCAR awarded Texas its second date after Bruton Smith bought the North Carolina Speedway (Rockingham) as part of the Ferko lawsuit settlement in 2004.
— Texas has hosted a race every year since it opened in 1997 and two races a year from 2005-2020.
— This is the 18th playoff race held at Texas, There has been a playoff race every year since 2005.
— The last five Texas races were won by different drivers.
— Kyle Larson led 256 laps in his Texas win in 2021, the most laps led by a Texas winner in the last 29 races.
Source: Racing Insights
CHANCES ARE HIGH
Toyotas have been notably quick on the mile-and-a-half tracks through 2022, and that hasn’t been ignored by the sportsbooks.
Denny Hamlin, a three-time Texas winner, enters as the odd-on favorite at 6-1 chances, according to BetMGM. His luck in the Lone Star State hasn’t been stellar lately with four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven points races, but the No. 11 Toyota finished runner-up to Ryan Blaney in the spring All-Star event and finished third or better at each of the last three intermediate tracks (Michigan, Darlington, Kansas).
His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell (8-1) might be another sharp contender come Sunday. The driver of the No. 20 Toyota was the first driver to lock himself into the Round of 12 on points following the Kansas race and has always run well at the 1.5-miler, with finishes of 21st, third and third in his three points races at Texas.
Sticking with the Toyota theme, perhaps a worthy money play is the most recent winner at a mile-and-a-half track — Bubba Wallace. At 18-1 odds, the current pilot of the No. 45 Toyota enters the Round of 12 still eligible for the owners championship. His Texas stats are frankly not good — one top 10 in seven starts, and that eighth-place finish came in his track debut — but Wallace has improved at seemingly every track this season.
Want to manage a team and race your way to the top of the leaderboards? Check out NASCAR Fantasy Live, which reset for the playoffs. The free-to-play game lets you choose your drivers each week and show off your crew-chief instincts by garaging a driver by the end of Stage 2, and there is a $10,000 prize for the playoff winner.
The 2022 Fantasy Live points leaders are Chase Elliott (1,013), Joey Logano (877), and Christopher Bell (877).
In addition to Fantasy Live, NASCAR.com is offering the Playoffs Grid Challenge presented by Ruoff Mortgage during the playoffs.
ALSO ON NASCAR.COM
Get additional camera views by logging on to NASCAR Drive, where each week a select number of in-car cameras will be available — as well as a battle cam and an overhead look.
NASCAR has partnered with LiveLike to add fan engagement in the NASCAR Mobile App. Log in to the mobile app during the race for polls, quizzes, the cheer meter and more — and see instant results from NASCAR fans like you.