Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET on FOX) promises to be one of the most interesting Monster Energy NASCAR Cup races of the season—and not just because the repaved, reconfigured speedway will pose an enormous challenge to the top drivers.
When the green flag waves on Sunday a large percentage of the speed in the field will be coming from the rear. The Chevrolets of series leader Kyle Larson and of Hendrick Motorsports drivers Chase Elliott, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne will start toward the back on owner points because their cars failed to pass pre-qualifying inspection in time to make a run during time trails.
Further expanding the contingent at the rear of the field are Kyle Busch, who hit the wall during opening practice and did not make a qualifying attempt; Erik Jones, who destroyed his primary car during practice and went to a backup; and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who spun during the first round of knockout qualifying, flat-spotted his tires and will start from the back on fresh rubber.
Those drivers will be trying to work their way forward as quickly as possible, and they’ll have the muscle to do so. Larson was second fastest to Brad Keselowski in Saturday’s first practice session. Earnhardt and Elliott were and fifth on the speed chart, all but guaranteeing a free-for-all when the race starts.
“I ain’t too worried about it,” said Earnhardt, who will start 37th on Sunday. “The race is pretty long. I don’t know what was wrong with our car going through tech, but if you don’t make it, you don’t get out there and I like that. I like the rules being the same for everybody.”
Though he clearly has a fast car, Larson acknowledged the difficulty in starting from the rear on the new Texas asphalt.
“I don’t know exactly what happened–we just didn’t make it through tech,” Larson said. “Yeah, this is not the place you want to not make it through tech. It will be really hard to pass, I think, on Sunday. Wherever we end up starting is going to hurt us.”