For the third time since the NASCAR Cup Series returned to action in May, fans will be in attendance for a points-paying Cup race with this Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. Fans at the track will get to witness something special: A seven-time Cup Series champion making one of his final starts at one of his best tracks.
The O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas (3 p.m. ET; TV: NBCSN) will be seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson’s second-to-last time visiting the 1.5-mile track. Johnson leads all drivers in wins (7), top 5s (16) and laps led (1,152) all-time at the track and led laps in both Texas races last season.
Johnson finished fifth and led 60 laps in the March race after starting from the pole but finished 34th and led 40 laps in the November race after a crash took him out. Despite no wins, the 60 laps led in the March race were the most that Johnson had led in a single race, at the time, since leading 81 laps during his win in the April 2017 Bristol race.
Johnson has gone on to lead more than 60 laps in a single race, with 70 led in the June Martinsville race, which is a positive sign for Johnson who has shown some performance already on similar tracks as Texas.
Although Johnson was disqualified from the Coca-Cola 600 after failing post-race tech inspection, he was set to finish second in the 600. Johnson then went on to finish 11th in the second Charlotte race and seventh in the Atlanta race.
While not remarkable, it shows that the potential is there for Johnson to do well, even more than last year when Johnson finished eighth in the 600 and 24th, two laps down in the Atlanta race.
Johnson starts 20th in Sunday’s race, four spots ahead of where he started in November’s race when he led 40 laps. If Johnson is able to lace up his dancing shoes to do the Texas two-step through the field, then a 111-race winless streak may come to an end with win no. 8 at Texas and no. 84 in his career.
While Johnson may be a contender to win Sunday’s race, he will likely have to face one of Stewart-Haas Racing’s four entries to seal the victory.
In the November race, SHR finished 1-2-3 with Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez, who was then in the no. 41 car, with Clint Bowyer finishing 11th. Together, they led 242 of the 334 laps, with Harvick leading 119 laps.
Although Denny Hamlin won the March race, all four SHR cars placed inside the top 8 with Bowyer in second, Suarez in third, Almirola in seventh and Harvick in eighth.
The organization has been strong at Texas and is coming into Sunday’s race with plenty of momentum from almost all facets of the organization: Cole Custer from a remarkable last-lap pass to win at Kentucky, Kevin Harvick from being on-pace for his best season at SHR yet and Aric Almirola being on a streak of six straight top 10s.
Lost in the discussion of recent momentum is that Harvick is the most recent Texas winner. Harvick starts fourth Sunday and leads the regular-season points standings by 88 points over Brad Keselowski, who starts sixth.
Bowyer starts 17th after finishing 14th in last week’s race at Kentucky that was won by teammate Cole Custer who starts 19th. Custer led five laps at Kentucky, which were the first laps he had ever led in the Cup Series.
Their teammate, Almirola starts on pole for Sunday’s race, which gives him the chance to extend his top 10 streak to seven straight top 10s. If he were to do so, it would be the most consecutive top 10s he has scored in his Cup career. A win would not only be the third of his Cup career and first outside of Daytona and Talladega, but it would also lock him into his fourth Playoff appearance and third consecutive appearance with SHR.
Starting alongside Almirola on the front row is Ryan Blaney, who starts second. Blaney is third in the regular-season points standings, which is the highest in points that he has been at this point in the season during any season of his career so far. Blaney has three top 5s at the three races run this season on similar tracks to Texas, with a pair of third-place finishes at Charlotte and a fourth-place finish at Atlanta.
Coverage of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 starts at 3 p.m. ET (TV: NBCSN; Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Stages will be 105 laps/105 laps/124 laps with the race ending at lap 334. The race is official after lap 167, should there be inclement weather or any adverse circumstances preventing the race from completing the entirety of its advertised distance.
Playoff Outlook Heading into Texas:
1. Kevin Harvick (4 wins, starts 5th; first in regular-season points)
2. Denny Hamlin (4 wins, starts 7th; sixth in regular-season points)
3. Brad Keselowski (2 wins, starts 6th; second in regular-season points)
4. Joey Logano (2 wins, starts 9th; fifth in regular-season points)
5. Ryan Blaney (1 win, starts 2nd; third in regular-season points)
6. Chase Elliott (1 win, starts 8th; fourth in regular-season points)
7. Martin Truex Jr. (1 win, starts 10th; seventh in regular-season points)
8. Alex Bowman (1 win, starts 12th; ninth in regular-season points)
9. Cole Custer (1 win, starts 19th)
10. Aric Almirola (504 points, +116 ahead of 17th place Austin Dillon; starts 1st; eighth in regular-season points)
11. Kurt Busch (+104; starts 3rd; tenth in regular-season points)
12. Kyle Busch (+89; starts 4th)
13. Matt DiBenedetto (+68; starts 11th)
14. Clint Bowyer (+47; starts 17th)
15. William Byron (+30; starts 18th)
16. Jimmie Johnson (412 points, +24 ahead of 17th place Austin Dillon; starts 20th)
17. Austin Dillon (388 points; -24 behind 16th place Jimmie Johnson; starts 21st)
18. Tyler Reddick (-41; starts 24th)
19. Erik Jones (-42; starts 23rd)
20. Bubba Wallace (-84; starts 14th)
26. Ryan Newman (-136; starts 15th)
30. Matt Kenseth (-178; starts 22nd)