FORT WORTH, Texas — Joey Logano has this to say about the backup cars in the haulers teams have brought to Texas Motor Speedway:
“Some will be used,” Logano said. “Hopefully not us.”
Logano won’t have to go to a backup … yet. But Erik Jones and Chase Elliott will after crashes in Friday’s practice.
Such is life when a driver heads to a track that has a new surface, such as the one TMS workers installed from January to March. The track remains 1.5 miles long, but Turns 1-2 have a totally different look in addition to the new pavement on top and the new drainage system underneath.
Texas reduced the banking from 24 to 20 degrees in Turn 1 and increased the racing surface by 20 feet (by decreasing the apron width by 20 feet) for an 80-foot wide turn.
Turns 3-4 remain at 24 degree banking with a 60-foot-wide racing area and a 50-foot-wide apron.
NASCAR won’t give the teams much extra time to test, opting for an extra hour instead of an additional day. An additional day would have meant an engine change required since the race is 500 miles and the team’s motors aren’t designed to go much further than that.
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“It’s going to take time,” says ISC president John Saunders of NASCAR’s change in race format which in turn aims to increase audience and excitement for the sport.
How the repave impacts the racing is anybody’s guess. Maybe an educated guess for some, but still a guess. Chris Buescher took the pace car around the track last month and posted a YouTube video, but that’s it. Teams have not been allowed to come and gather any data on the track surface.
“It is interesting that we only get an extra hour of practice at a repave,” said Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jamie McMurray. “I was shocked that we didn’t get a whole day of testing to get the cars set up — I don’t know that setting the cars up is as important as getting some rubber on the track and just having a lot of cars out there.
“I don’t know what to expect.”
This is what NASCAR expects: With less practice time, the racing tends to be better.
“We like to let the drivers get out there and do what they can do,” NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said.
For some drivers, they should thrive. They can let their talents take over. But much of the talent they display on any given weekend is the result of meticulous preparation.
“There’s really no homework to do,” said two-time Texas winner Kyle Busch. “You can’t even watch last year’s races, you can’t look at anything besides the Buescher YouTube video and just see what the place looks like so you don’t go in there blind. That’s about it.”
Goodyear has given its best educated guess for the weekend, deciding that even though the track could have been tested on four weeks ago, that there would not be enough time for a wholesale new tire compound. So, with the asphalt mix similar to that of Kentucky, Goodyear will bring the same left-side tires as it did at Kentucky last year and a right-side tire with the same tread as Kentucky but a slightly different construction.
Texas has used a machine that chews up tire rubber and grinds it into the track. It hopes that has helped with the grip, as it did in Kentucky a year ago.
“The repaves are a bit of a challenge for everyone because there’s obviously not a groove, and we’ll run the bottom so the first groove that we create will be right on the bottom of the track,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who earned his first Cup victory at Texas in 2000, a win that came before the previously most recent Texas resurfacing in 2001.
“That typically becomes the preferred groove for that particular race weekend at least and a lot of the next several races. I know they have really worked hard to try to speed up the aging process of the racetrack surface to give us the ability to widen the groove out a little bit and we’ll see how it goes.”
The changes at Texas include an actual change in what is underneath the asphalt surface for Turns 1-2. In Turns 1-2, there is a 2-inch asphalt surface, a 1.5-inch drainage mat, a 2-inch base layer and 6 to 8 inches of flex-based stone. Because Turns 3-4 weren’t reconfigured, the old track surface is underneath the new 2 inches of asphalt and 1.5-inch drainage mat.
“It’s going to be a racetrack that will be different than any mile‑and‑a‑half that we run at,” Denny Hamlin said. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I just hope the groove widens out to where we can race there side by side.
“That will be the challenge, and that’s always the challenge with new paved racetracks is side‑by‑side racing.”
An additional element comes when trying to figure out the limit of the grip level, which will change throughout the weekend.
“When it comes to repaves, the track goes through a huge, huge, huge transition. … It will be more of a transition than we see typically at every racetrack and even more than what we saw at Kentucky because at least there was a test there and stuff like that to clean it up,” Logano said.
The other challenge will be what Logano mentioned about needing a backup car. Repaves force Goodyear to bring hard tires, which mean the cars snap out from under the drivers. At a place such as Atlanta, the drivers don’t have grip and do a lot of sliding — allowing them to often catch the car before hitting the wall.
The repave likely will create spins that have no chance of recovery.
“You got all the grip in the world, you’re going around the corner — then boom, it just busts loose right out from under you with no warning,” Busch said. “That’s the worst thing.”