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Any gentleman cowboy worth his salt, when tasked with dancing, should inherently understand what it means to perform the Texas Two-Step. It's a dance that has morphed into an adjective that can succinctly and easily describe doubling down in the Lone Star State, and it's also one that can very aptly describe what NASCAR has done with the early portion of their springtime.

After racing in Texas just two weeks ago at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, NASCAR has quickly returned to the state for yet another go-round in the eyes of Texas, this time in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and at the Texas Motor Speedway. This 1.5-mile oval has long served as a showcase for racing in Texas since it opened in 1997, and it will do so again this weekend with the running of the Autotrader Echopark Automotive 400 for the NASCAR Cup Series.

William Byron enters this weekend on the strength of not only his third win already this season at Martinsville, but also on being the defending Texas winner from a year ago. He'll look to double up on Texas trophies and further affirm himself as the driver to beat for the 2024 season, while many other title contenders -- including last year's champion Ryan Blaney -- are still looking for their first wins of the year.

How to watch the NASCAR Cup Series at Texas

Date: Sunday, April 14
Location: Texas Motor Speedway -- Fort Worth, Texas
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Stream: fubo (try for free)

What to watch

It's remarkable what difference a month can make. NASCAR's 2024 season had been off to a rip-roaring start through the first five weeks, including races like the epic in Atlanta that ended with the third-closest finish in the sport's history to an incredible show with extreme tire wear in Bristol. It was as if the sport could do no wrong -- and suddenly, it can't do anything right.

Right now, NASCAR could just use something good to happen and for an exciting race to take place after three uneventful -- and, quite honestly, dull -- races in a row at Circuit of the Americas, Richmond and Martinsville. The continued issues with the Next Gen car on short tracks have not been rectified, with last week's ho-hum Martinsville race eliciting an especially high level of angst. NASCAR has tried to do the right thing publicly, with senior vice president of competition Elton Sawyer saying this week that the sanctioning body wants its short track racing to be better.

It has been an unfortunate development that the narrative around NASCAR has devolved from buzz over what has happened on the racetrack to grumbling about the quality of the racing in such a short amount of time. And it's arguably even more unfortunate that a trip to Texas Motor Speedway comes now, because this is a track that doesn't exactly promise to be a panacea.

Since its reconfiguration and the subsequent staining of the track with PJ1 traction compound, Texas has become maligned among fans and competitors alike for being a single-groove racetrack where passing is anything from very difficult to nearly impossible the further a run goes. A practical illustration of that was seen in the most recent Cup race at Texas, where it felt that the race was settled once William Byron made a pass for the lead on the final restart despite Bubba Wallace having led the most laps and having what was arguably the fastest car in the field. Once Wallace's car lost its track position, there was seemingly no hope of him driving back past Byron and he had to end up settling for third.

That's not to say that Texas races haven't been eventful, but much of that eventfulness has been more a product of the track's issues -- namely tire blowouts and little to no traction outside of the preferred groove -- than the racing itself. The best that NASCAR might be able to hope for this week is an eventful race and for the buck of putting on a better race to be passed from them to Speedway Motorsports Inc., who owns and operates Texas and will be tasked with the facility's future.

News of the week

  • Kyle Larson impressed in this week's open test for the Indianapolis 500, posting the second-fastest lap of the early Wednesday session at 226.384 mph after picking up a draft. Larson's lap was second only to defending Indy 500 champion Josef Newgarden as he prepares to attempt the Indy-Charlotte Double for the first time in his career. Larson's track time in Indy ended up being limited by inclement weather, as rain forced all on-track activity scheduled for later Wednesday and Thursday to be cancelled.
  • Bob Labonte, the patriarch of the Labonte family and the father of NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers Terry and Bobby Labonte, died this week at the age of 90. The elder Labonte was mostly known for being a car owner and crew chief at the Xfinity Series level, winning the 1991 series championship with Bobby Labonte behind the wheel of the family's No. 44.

Pick to win

Kyle Larson (+400): Kyle Larson was one of two drivers who were the class of the field in last year's Texas race, leading 99 laps before crashing with 19 laps to go while racing for the win with Bubba Wallace. Larson also has a Texas win from 2021 (as well as one in the Texas All-Star Race that same year), and his first win of 2024 at Las Vegas came at a track that shares some characteristics with Texas. Betting on the continued success of Hendrick Motorsports is a sound strategy, and I really like Larson for this week in particular.