FORT WORTH, Texas — NASCAR Cup Series racers tend to bring the heat, but Texas Motor Speedway has brought the heat to the drivers.
Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 was staged in late September for just the second time, and the high temperature recorded at nearby Fort Worth Alliance Airport was 99 degrees, matching the TMS Cup record set last year at this race.
“It was hot. It was one of the hotter ones, for sure,” said Oklahoma native Christopher Bell, who finished fourth. “Hopefully we don’t come back here in September.”
There have been 43 Cup races at TMS since the track opened in 1997, and 2022 was the first year the fall race was held outside of October or November. In 2020, the spring race was rescheduled for July because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Not as bad as I thought it would be,” Brad Keselowski said after finishing seventh. “I think it was probably hotter for the fans and the crew members. The guys have done a good job on the cars making them pretty reasonable.”
The National Weather Service in Fort Worth registered 99 degrees at Alliance just after the race start and again an hour later.
“My guys did a great job to keep me cool in the car, and I felt well insulated and not bad,” runner-up Ross Chastain said. “I think I drank two bottles of water, so very average. Feel good.”
The heat index reached 105 degrees.
“Not as hot as I am right now, so it was good,” a frustrated Bubba Wallace said after finishing third.
Wallace led a race-high 111 laps and was unhappy with his execution as the leader on the final restart, when William Byron passed him en route to victory.
Erik Jones and Bell said the track was slick in the hot conditions. Some clouds rolled in during the second half of the race. The official temperature only dropped to 98, but it felt significantly cooler in the infield than it had under full sun.
“It’s a huge deal whenever you’re outside, but inside the car it’s hard to tell,” Bell said of the cloud cover.
Chastain said the change hurt the handling characteristics of his No. 1 Chevrolet.
“It is cooler now with the clouds,” Chastain said. “We got tight that last third of the race. I would’ve liked to sweat a little more and have my car handle better.”
Playoff movers and losers
With the win, Byron secured a berth in the eight-driver third round of the Cup playoff. The 11 other playoff drivers next must navigate Talladega and the Charlotte road course.
Wallace improved from 12th to ninth and is two points below the elimination line, but he scored just three stage points despite leading 69 laps in Stage 1 and 27 laps in Stage 2. Pit strategy dropped him to 10th in Stage 1, and his No. 23 Toyota faded to ninth late in Stage 2.
Chastain (now sixth) and Keselowski (seventh) moved out of the elimination zone. Denny Hamlin finished fifth Sunday and sits a healthy 37 points above the cut line.
Prosper, Texas, native Chris Buescher finished 14th and moved to third in the standings. He is 22 points above the cut line, but the field is tightly packed from Buescher down to Kyle Busch in 12th.
Busch crashed on Lap 73 and finished 34th; he’s 17 points below the cut line. Kyle Larson crashed while battling for the lead and finished 31st, now two points above the line.
Ryan Blaney crashed with 10 laps to go and remains 11th in the standings. Tyler Reddick finished 25th and fell to 10th in points.
Sunday marked the first 400-mile Cup race at TMS, where they had always been scheduled for 500 miles. … With TMS down to one Cup race, Bell said it would be good if the event moved to the spring.