AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 Race Picks
Race: AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400
Date: Sunday September 24, 2023
Track: Texas Motor Speedway
Time: 3:30pm ET
What Did We Learn From Last Weekend?
And just like that, 4 drivers are eliminated as we leave Bristol and head into the round of 12. It was a hard fought race for Denny Hamlin, who managed to not take out Kyle Larson as they raced hard for many laps. Larson had the opportunity to dump Denny quite a few times, but he chose a clean race. Hamlin wouldn’t ever let Larson live it down if he so much as scraped the side of his car anyway. It seems like Hamlin is always looking for a reason to burn someone else, regardless of how dirty he does someone. He goes so far as to look at a driver’s telemetry after a race to make a call that he was intentionally wrecked. Quite frankly, that’s a punk move. Telemetry never tells the whole story. Luckily for everyone, Hamlin didn’t have to pull any ridiculous rabbits out of a hat this weekend. To be honest, he clearly had a great car. Larson did as well. They were cream of the crop throughout the night, and they also played pit strategy well, which definitely played a role in the outcome of this race. There were drivers taking 2 tires and others taking 4, with the threat of rain constantly looming, making the strategy even more so important. In the end, it was Hamlin and his crew that stepped up to the plate and truly gave him the win.
Some other drivers were definitely not so fortunate. The biggest losers of the night were clearly the four drivers that fell out of contention. That being said, the biggest surprise isn’t even Kevin Harvick. He didn’t give us much hope to begin with due to his nonchalant attitude throughout the entire year. It’s not quite as heartbreaking to see him not contending for the championship in his last year of Cup racing. That being said, the biggest surprise was probably Joey Logano. It seems like no matter what, Logano always finds a way. This time, it didn’t work. He was involved in a crash late in the race, leading him to a dismal 34th place finish. It wasn’t even his fault. It was definitely a wrong time, wrong place scenario, but the damage was too extensive to fix on pit road. There was no coming back from that situation. Harvick didn’t fare as badly, but the 29th place finish 5 laps down didn’t do much for the former Cup Series champion. We all kind of expected Harvick to perform better, as Bristol is typically a strong track for him, but the could never get the car dialed in. It’s truly a shame to see 2 former champions drop out so early, but it’s a testament to the importance of stage points and consistency when showing up every weekend.
Where Are We Headed This Weekend?
This weekend, the drivers and teams are heading into the first battle for the round of 12. Texas is where they’re racing, and it’s sure to bring some excitement. It’s amazing how quickly these rounds seem to tick off, so everyone will surely be bringing their “A” game this Sunday. Texas is a track that’s been around almost since the beginning of the playoff format. With the format being brought to the series in 2004, Texas earned its post-season spot in 2005 and has been a consistent player for the last 19 years. This track is a 1.5-mile oval with 20 degrees of banking through turns 1 and 2 and 24 degrees through 2 and 4. This is clearly a track position and tire track. Drivers absolutely have to get to the front of the and stay there. Tires are mission critical to this success. I think there will be some more consistency in strategy with tires than what we saw at Bristol. Four tires is typically the way to go, as we usually see long green flag runs here. There is a significant difference in this race this year, though. It has been shortened from 500 miles to 400 miles. It remains to be seen what type of impact this might have, but it’s definitely going to cause a shift in some of the teams’ strategies.
Odds and Value Picks
When it comes to picking a winner, this is often seen as the tamest track in the round of 12, but can we really say that? We might not see the wild wrecks and multiple cautions, but this track has produced six different winners in the last 6 races. Those winners include Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and Tyler Reddick. Five of those guys are current championship contenders. That ought to make things interesting. In the last 19 years, the track has boasted 22 different winners altogether. Out of those 22 drivers, 7 are racing this weekend. Kyle Busch, who most recently won in 2020, is the one holding the most wins out of active drivers with 4 total wins here. Both Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have 3 wins with Reddick, Larson, Dillon, and Logano holding one win each. Reddick is the defending winner of this race. He’s also doing a pretty great job recently, so he’s going to need to be on your radar. So who’s going to take the all-out win on Sunday? Let’s take a look at your potential winners and their odds to win at Bovada:
- Winner: Kyle Larson +600
- Mid-Range Pick: Kevin Harvick +2800
- Dark Horse: Corey LaJoie +75000
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LaJoie was running strong in 12th place at Bristol before some bad luck took him (and some others) out of contention at Bristol. For LaJoie, Texas is not a terrible track. In fact, the intermediates aren’t bad for him at all. He’s got some good average finishes at these tracks, along with a 14th place finish here last year. Something about this team is starting to click. I really think LaJoie is going to have one of his best finishes this weekend if he can keep it off the wall. Kevin Harvick is notoriously strong at Texas. I mean, he’s pretty good everywhere. Is it really fair to make him a mid-pick driver? Well, once you’re dropped out of championship contention, all is fair in my opinion. Harvick may be out of contention for the championship, but he’s not out of contention for a win. This is one of his best last remaining opportunities, and I see him trying to capitalize. He may have been nonchalant about the championship all year, but you better believe it’s still a weight lifted nonetheless. Pressure is pressure, and once it’s gone, we tend to see some pretty fantastic things out of these drivers. Kyle Larson is hungry, though. He seems to thrive under pressure. He’s going to have his work cut out for him with the likes of Hamlin and Busch lurking for a win. We also have to consider that there are still non-playoff drivers that are looking for a win and still running for an owner’s championship. Chase Elliott is one of those guys and one of those guys who wants to win before this season closes out. I would say he’s going to be a factor in the end. Will he or any other non-playoff driver cause a mess of the outcome? We will have to wait and see. For now, let’s see the guys who are heading into the round of 12 still in contention for a championship.
- William Byron
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Denny Hamlin
- Kyle Larson
- Chris Buescher
- Kyle Busch
- Christopher Bell
- Tyler Reddick
- Ross Chastain
- Brad Keselowski
- Ryan Blaney
- Bubba Wallace
Wallace is hanging on by a thread, and I hope the thread breaks if I’m being honest. He whines about the pressure of the playoffs. He cussed during his interview. He thinks he’s much more important than he is. Someone or something needs to humble him. Maybe Texas will do the trick. Chastain, Keselowski, and Blaney aren’t in too great of a spot either, but they’re still there. They’re going to have a lot of work to do to get every stage point possible and work for a win to get a guarantee into the next round. As it stands, there are currently no drivers locked into the round of 8 yet. This weekend will definitely give us some perspective as to where the points are headed. Stay tuned for what’s sure to be a wild weekend at Texas as these guys battle it out in the first race in the round of 12!