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OBSERVATIONS: O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway

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Since the repave, Texas Motor Speedway has been criticized for the type of racing fans have gotten to witness. Some work by the tire dragon and laying down some traction compound, and we may be getting somewhere.

The O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 featured more side-by-side racing than we have seen in recent years, including a lengthy battle for the lead between Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick. If you were able to roll the momentum on the top, you could get a run to make a challenge on the outside of someone, as witnessed by Reddick on several occasions.

As a result, there was the opportunity for drivers to make moves through the field all night long. Justin Allgaier drove from last after blowing a motor in practice to finish fifth, while Bell made a charge through in the final 100 laps following pit strategy to win. 

Peaking at the Right Time

Through the spring and summer months, the focus on the intermediate tracks had been either Cole Custer or Reddick. However, it seems there’s a new sheriff in town with Bell rising to occasion.

Virtue of showing dominance at Kansas Speedway before an incident with a lapped car, combined with a dominating victory on Saturday night at Texas, it’s safe to say Joe Gibbs Racing has their program coming together at the right time. After all, when Bell was taken out a couple weeks ago, it was his teammate Brandon Jones scoring his first career victory at Kansas. 

When Bell has his equipment and game on point, he can be tough to beat, as shown with four wins, four runner-ups, and a fourth across the last 14 races. If you just look at cookie-cutter intermediate tracks alone, he has scored just one finish worse than fourth in the last five events, and that was due to the incident at Kansas Speedway with lapped traffic.

He’s also proven to have the poise needed to be a champion, as well. He reported mid-way through the event on Saturday that he felt the brakes were going on his No. 20 Rheem Toyota Supra. Rather than panic, he took care of his equipment at the time, listened to the advice of his crew chief Jason Ratcliff to improve the situation, and was able to make his way to the front at the end when it mattered.

Bell was fast last year, and entered the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway as a favorite for the championship. However, he would up finishing 11th while his three playoff mates were inside the top-four, with Reddick scoring the race victory. If Bell wants to win the championship, he will need what he’s been missing.

Just Back It Up….

Reddick got himself caught in traffic through pit strategy, and ultimately crashed out of the event on Saturday night. Now rather than being very comfortable heading into ISM Raceway, the gap is smaller to the cut-off line – but still enough that he can breathe easier than most.

However, his interview at the post-race medical center showcased a young driver being overcritical of himself. He took full blame for the incident, saying that he did not do a good job throughout the night and that’s what happens when you get stuck in those situations.

If running inside the top-three until strategy mixed up the field is not doing the job, then something has to be wrong with this picture. Furthermore, it was a clear racing incident as Chase Briscoe checked up quick ahead of him after getting in the wall, and Reddick simply over-corrected in trying to avoid. 

Certainly you want to see young drivers look back on their mistakes through races, analyze them, and correct them moving forward. However, a line needs to be drawn in the sand. Reddick needs to take a deep breath, and realize he can only do so much behind the wheel. Furthermore, he has proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt this year with multiple victories and being a solid championship contender. Did we mention that he won the title last season, too?

Overaggressive Driving Bites, Again

It’s the same story, another week for Noah Gragson appears as trying to be overaggressive put him in a worse situation than he should have been.

Running just outside the top-10, he tried to make a move of desperation to get underneath Jeb Burton – but wasn’t clear of Harrison Burton yet. As a result, he went sideways, before sliding through the grass and causing enough damage to end his night early.

If you recall Kansas Speedway, it was being over aggressive that got him into the wall on a couple occasions, resulting in an unscheduled trip down pit road.

Certainly we know that drivers are desperate at this point in the season to keep their championship hopes alive. It is clear that Gragson needed to win either at Texas or ISM Raceway to keep himself in the hunt. However, getting yourself into deeper trouble than you should have been does not help the issue. On top of not setting yourself up to move forward, you have given your team more work to do. Sometimes you just need to take what the car will give you, and live to fight another week.

Despite having talent to get the job done, if he continues being over aggressive, he may be sitting on the sidelines sooner than later.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.