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Chaotic Texas Shakes Up Cup Playoffs

Contenders and race leaders alike fell to right rear failures on Sunday.

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Texas was meant to be the most straightforward race of a playoff round that also includes Talladega and the Charlotte ROVAL.

Not so fast.

Instead, the AutoTrader Echopark Automotive 500 featured 16 cautions, the most for any race at an intermediate track that wasn’t the Coca-Cola 600. A total of 27.2 percent of the race was run under caution and the average green flag run was 14.3 laps.

Some of it was a byproduct of a Texas Motor Speedway that is widely viewed as needing a significant redesign. The rest of it was a continued theme of the Next Gen and how its current configuration meshes with the wheel and tires attached to it.

Specifically, numerous leaders on Sunday, many of them playoff contenders, were bit by right rear failures. Some of it can be contributed to crew chiefs being aggressive with camber and air pressure, but it’s also just a fundamental challenge of the wider, lower profile tires and the increased corner speeds that come with it.

In total, the following contenders and leaders with afflicted by a right rear failure on Sunday:

Lap 79: Christopher Bell
Lap 97: Alex Bowman
Lap 137: Christopher Bell
Lap 184: Chase Elliott
Lap 198: Chris Buescher
Lap 243: Chris Buescher
Lap 254: Kevin Harvick
Lap 269: Martin Truex Jr.
Lap 301: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Those were all a result from right rear loads and resulting failures, with Bell, Bowman and Elliott being eliminated from a race in which they are actively chasing a championship within. But Elliott was quick to give Goodyear the benefit of the doubt.

"I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault," Elliott said. "Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car. I wouldn’t blame Goodyear."

Truex was not as forgiving.

"I don’t even know what to say between crappy parts, tires exploding and all the b------t we’re dealing with, it’s a joke. There are a lot of people who make a lot of money to do this and get this stuff right. That’s all I’m going to say about it."

One of those individuals would be Goodyear Racing director Greg Stucker.

"We’re gaining as much information from the teams as we can in regards to their settings, air pressure, camber, suspension, so on and so forth," Stucker said. "For sure, I can say without a doubt that air pressure is playing into it. We know where a lot of (teams) were and some were more aggressive than others. I’m not saying it’s the only thing, but it is a factor. We are trying to understand everything that could be going on."

Stucker pointed out that more teams that not lasted full fuel runs without an issue and he will work with the others to see what caused their problems.

One of the teams not bit by a right rear failure was Richard Childress Racing -- which won with Tyler Reddick, Randall Burnett and the No. 8 team.

"We came into this race a little conservative," Burnett said. "We got bit at Kansas the other week with one. I think we've had four tires go down this year while leading the race. (Childress) talked to me about it and said, Make sure you keep some air in the tires today. I tried to do that. A little bit more conservative approach this week. It's a fine line. Everybody knows the speed, pushing the limits of the tires.

"With the low sidewalls, they're not as forgiving as the 15-inch wheel stuff we had before."

Stucker also said that Texas specifically provides additional challenges due to the PJ1 stains, bumps and increased speeds following an hour long rain delay and faster race track.

"No excuses but we’re trying to find the facts of what is going on," he added.

Goodyear provides a list of recommended air pressures and camber set-ups to teams each week, but Stucker contends that they push those boundaries each week, and even more so over the final 10 races – something that is especially true with a spec car.

"The reason we do all the data gathering and provide that to teams so no one is in a box," Stucker said. "We want to give them as much tire data as possible to make those decisions. We understand, it’s the playoffs and teams are trying to get aggressive and win races … and that’s why we do what we do to make sure they have to make those decisions."

Austin Cindric was involved in a crash resulting from the right rear failure suffered by Stenhouse. As a result, he Bell and Bowman have each fallen into a playoff deficit entering Talladega and the ROVAL. And even though Briscoe finished inside the top-five, he was unable to score any playoff points due to starting at the rear and is also below the elimination cutoff.

1. Joey Logano +30
2. Ross Chastain +18
3. William Byron +17
4. Kyle Larson +16
5. Ryan Blaney +15
6. Denny Hamlin +8
7. Daniel Suarez +4
8. Chase Elliott +4

9. Chase Briscoe -4
10. Austin Cindric -11
11. Christopher Bell -29
12. Alex Bowman -30

Bell doesn’t entirely think he’s in must win mode yet, but …

"Talladega – I guess we are going to go roll the dice," Bell said. "ROVAL, I think we will be alright. Road courses haven’t been our strength, but we have been good at a couple of them. I don’t know if we are going to be able to get out of this points hole, but we will give it our best."

Cindric finished 15th but a lack of stage points also hurt the Daytona 500 winner.

"We are still on offense," Cindric said. "We will put our heart and soul into it just like everyone else does. I have a great team behind me and I believe in myself and believe we can make the Round of 8, whether that is with a race win or on points. But it was a missed opportunity tonight for sure."

Briscoe was just thrilled to have somehow made the most of what looked like was going to be an awful day.

"We were not a fifth-place car," Briscoe said. "We weren’t even a 15th-place car. To steal some points like that is huge. Going to Talladega, we are not in a massive hole and that is the most important thing. We will go there and hopefully have a little luck go our way and see what happens."

And then there's Elliott, the top seeded regular season champion, who entered this round with a 31 point lead over the cutline. For the second round in a row, he used up almost the entirety of it in the first race of the round.

"It’s not a great position to be in for sure, but it is what it is now," Elliott said. "I hate it for our No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet team. We were actually decent here for once, so that was nice while it lasted. We’ll go to Talladega, try to get a win, and go on down the road."