Of the eight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff drivers competing for a position inside the Championship 4 at the Nov. 17 Homestead-Miami season finale, four of them have never won at Texas Motor Speedway or Phoenix’s ISM Raceway.
Last week’s winner Martin Truex Jr. – a seven-time race winner this season – headlines this group of four Playoff competitors vying for a first-time win at either track. Truex has a pair of runner-up finishes at Texas, including the 2017 Playoff race in the season he went on to win the Cup title. He’s led 373 laps in just the last eight Texas races – 61 percent of his career total in 28 starts.
His work at Phoenix is similar. He was runner-up there this March and earned three of his four career top-five finishes in just the last four races at the one-miler. He was 14th in last year’s Phoenix Playoff race. And best of all for Truex, his win at Martinsville guarantees his position in the Championship 4 regardless of where he finishes this week or next week.
Although he suffered a frustrating 37th-place finish at Texas in March, Ryan Blaney has a positive history at the big track with three top-10 finishes in nine starts. He won the pole position and finished runner-up in last year’s November Playoff race there, leading 40 laps. He enters the race ranked sixth among the eight Playoff drivers, 15 points behind fourth-place Joey Logano in the final cutoff position.
The driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford has fared well at Phoenix too, winning the pole position and finishing third in March. The 94 laps Blaney led are the bulk of the 108 career laps led there. He also won the pole position for the 2017 Playoff race and has three top-10 finishes in seven Phoenix starts.
Kyle Larson comes to Texas Motor Speedway ranked seventh in the Playoff standings, 24 points behind fourth-place Joey Logano. The driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet shows up in Fort Worth fresh off a top-10 finish at Martinsville – a track that has historically delivered heartbreak. His history at Texas has been one of extremes. He has three top-five finishes, including a runner-up showing in April 2017. He was fifth in last year’s Playoff race; however, he’s crashed out in three of the last four races at Texas – including this April.
The famous ISM Raceway one-miler would appear to be right in Larson’s wheelhouse. The short track star has five top-10 finishes in 11 starts, including a runner-up finish in spring, 2017. He was sixth this March. He seems to have his best outings during the fall Playoff stretch with third-place finishes in both the 2016 and 2018 Playoff races.
Chase Elliott finds himself essentially in a must-win situation for the final two races of this penultimate round. He sits 44 points behind fourth-place Joey Logano heading to Texas. But Elliott has celebrated in the track’s Victory Lane before – earning his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win there in 2014 en route to his first series championship. He has five top-10 finishes in seven starts, including the first four Cup races he ran there. His best showing is fourth place in the 2016 Playoffs. He finished sixth in the Texas Playoff race last year and was 13th this March.
The newly-reconstructed ISM Raceway provides similarly encouraging history for the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He has four top-10 finishes in seven starts with a best showing of runner-up in the 2017 Playoff race there. He started on the outside pole this March and finished 14th.