Just two races left for seven drivers to try and join Joey Logano in the Championship Four. If you don't win this week or next, you will be fighting with five other drivers for that final spot in the Championship race. If a driver outside the playoffs wins the next two weekends, the fight at the front gets even more crowded.
“Certainly there’s some opportunity there to mess up or over-think things," said Kyle Busch. but I believe any time you’re under pressure or under the amount of stress as what this round is to get yourself into the final four for Homestead, any time you can kind of take a step back and have a clear head is a good time, in my opinion. The pressure that sets in over these next two weeks if you’re behind the cutoff line and trying to get in or whatever, or if you’re right on the cusp of the cutoff line and trying to stay in, that can certainly wear on your team during the week. You try to have other things to do to kind of take your mind off of it a little bit but, overall, this is what we live, eat, breath, sleep, everything. It’s always on our mind.”
Right now Busch is in the best position to get in without a win, since he is leading the points. But anything can happen the next two weeks.
Texas presents its own challenges. Sure it's a mile and a half, but it has its quirks that make it tough to get around at times.
"Texas is a tough, tough track," said Clint Bowyer. "The racetrack, since the repave, is not so much fun but it is a challenge. Within those challenges, you have to be open-minded and excited about that challenge and ready to attack it. You definitely have to attack it. It is a track that the grip level is through the roof until it’s not. It is very tricky to get ahold of.”
Bowyer will have a good view of the track when they roll off, starting outside of row one. Along side of him on the pole will be Ryan Blaney, who has already been eliminated from the playoffs, and would like nothing more than to spoil the postseason party with a win.
“It felt really fast," said Blaney. "That’s what you get with this nighttime qualifying. High speeds. Speeds pick up, and it has been cool here today. We’ve had a really good Ford all day, and it is nice to back it up in qualifying. It doesn’t mean a lot if you are fastest in practice and blow it in qualifying I’m excited to see how it is in race trim.”
Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola and Brad Keselowski round out the top five starters.
Virginia native Denny Hamlin starts sixth. Tennessee native Trevor Bayne is back behind the wheel of the 6 car this weekend. He will roll off 15th.
“Texas has always been a favorite of mine to go to, especially given the personal memories for me there," said Bayne. "The Wood Brothers gave me my first start there back in 2010, and a year later we went to victory lane in the Xfinity Series, which was also a first. Despite a wild race in the spring, we came home 12th, one of our better performances of the year."
The green flag drops on the AAA Texas 500 at 3pm. You can watch the race on the NBC Sports Network.