Brad Keselowski is the first driver with multiple checkered flags this season as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
A repeat winner had to happen sooner or later. While it was fun to see new winner after new winner prevail after NASCAR made further rule changes and shifted to a stage-based format, it was only a matter of time before someone like Keselowski adapted and secured the top slot on the leaderboard.
It’s on the rest of the series to respond in Texas. And Keselowski taking a victory last week doesn’t change the competitive flavor of the new format much—seven different drivers led for at least a lap.
Returning to one of the sport’s top tracks, intrigue continues to surround each event, even if repeat winners keep popping up. Here’s a look at the race’s key information.
Where: Texas Motor Speedway
When: Sunday, 1:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
O’Reilly Auto Parts 500
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings
Drivers to Watch
Despite five drivers clutching a win so far this season, Kyle Busch surprisingly isn’t one of them.
Busch had a rough start to the campaign, finishing 38th in Daytona before 16th and 22nd. He’s sorted out the early-season issues and now has three consecutive top-10 finishes, including a runner-up slot in Martinsville last week.
Martinsville was especially crushing for Busch, though, as leading 274 laps and not grabbing a checkered flag stings. To make matters worse, Busch has won this event in Texas twice, but this year’s track is repaved and presents an unknown challenge even for him.
“There’s really no homework to do. You can’t even watch last year’s races,” Busch said, according to Fox Sports’ Tom Jensen. “You can’t look at anything besides the (Chris) Buescher YouTube video and just see what the place looks like so you don’t go in there blind. That’s about it.”
At the least, this puts every driver in the same boat. But whether Busch can ride momentum from a week ago or simply succumb to the exhaustion of a near miss at one of his favorite tracks with a different feel makes him one of the top drivers to watch.
The next generation keeps flirting with a stolen checkered flag.
Chase Elliott leads the way in this regard. He won the pole at the Daytona 500, slotting 14th. He has three top-five finishes already, including a third slot at Martinsville last week.
There, Elliott led for 20 laps and won Stage 2 after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event on Saturday. He’s hoping the strong showing means his team has figured out this new format well enough to remain this consistent, as captured by Fox Sports’ Chase Wilhelm:
I was really proud of our improvements this weekend. I hope that it wasn’t just a fluke deal and we didn’t just get lucky today and run good. I really hope that we’ve found something or I have found something at this track that will lend some more consistent finishes that are further towards the front.
Elliott has looked like a veteran so far this season, as his Daytona finish is currently his worst slotting. If he feels like the team has a handle on the format right now, it could be bad news for the rest of the series.
A budding fan favorite, it wouldn’t be anything short of great news for NASCAR and fans if Elliott could stick in the running for another checkered flag this weekend.
Keselowski is the man who dueled Busch down the stretch and stole the win a week ago.
One wouldn’t have had a hard time picking the winner as the two battled down the stretch—Keselowski is arguably the hottest driver in the sport right now, clutching a checkered flag in Atlanta and five total top-five finishes after an odd 27th finish at Dayton.
After winning last week, Keselowski talked about overcoming little things like penalties and how it makes all the difference, as captured by USA Today‘s Mike Hembree: “There are going to be those moments when something happens and you have to recover from it. But that’s what defines greatness in this sport. That’s why Jimmie Johnson and those guys have won seven championships. And we were able to overcome it today.”
The question now is simple—who can stop Keselowski?
Overcoming a terrible start to the season is one thing. Failing to register a finish outside of the top five and picking up two wins has Keselowski looking like an unstoppable forcing heading into an event featuring a track sure to ride differently than in the past.
Keselowski picking up a third win isn’t so outlandish. At the least, his goal is keeping the same level momentum and avoiding fizzling out as the season continues.
Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.
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