Heartbreak- it’s what shrouded the Round of 16. What we do know? We will not have a repeat champion this season. Even more sobering? Kevin Harvick is officially a one-time Cup Series champion. What we don’t know? Anything about the next seven weeks. But, the least we can do is try- so let’s start with the Round of 12 at the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Driver to Fade:
Corey LaJoie. I mean, the guy does have a top 15 finish here. And, 1.5-mile speedways are his thing. But, the speed really hasn’t been there this season, despite leading 48 laps last week at the Last Great Coliseum. He’s not been particularly strong at Texas, but it still feels like the potential is there. This week, we’ll err on the side of caution. His last three races, he’s finished 20th or worse. Don’t look for that to change this week.
Yes, he’s coming off arguably the most disappointing week of his year, having been eliminated from the Round of 16. But Michael McDowell is hungry. He found tremendous speed during the last half of the season and, for a split second last week, had the looks of a driver who could sneak his way into the Round of 12. Playoffs or not, McDowell looks to capitalize on the speed, and with two fast tracks coming within the next two weeks, he no doubt feels ready to capitalize.
His 300th race comes at a track where he recently found Victory Lane and seven consecutive top 10s. This is the kind of intermediate Ryan Blaney looks to dominate and, starting the Round of 12 below the cutoff, there’s no doubt Team Penske’s only remaining playoff competitor looks to dig himself out of an early hole at a track he knows all too well. Mark it down.
RCR had a remarkably fast start to begin the season and really didn’t make much noise during the second half. Some pundits even have the driver of the #8 as finding an early exit here in two weeks. But, beginning in seventh today at a track where he’s struggled the past couple of seasons, we look for Kyle Busch to lock himself into the Round of 8 early on.