Texas Preview

In less than a week, the Verizon IndyCar Series goes from my least favorite track to one of my favorites. Just thinking about the Indy cars streaking around the extremely fast oval of Texas Motor Speedway gets my blood pumping. Putting it under the lights just makes it even more special.

This will be the first time for the series to race at the track since it was completely repaved over the offseason and slightly reconfigured. It was the first repaving of the track since 2001 and they reduced the banking in Turns One & Two from twenty-four degrees to twenty. That allowed the racing surface to be widened from sixty to eighty feet in that area. Turns Three & Four remain at twenty-four degrees banking; giving the track a more challenging asymmetrical layout.

Teams did test there earlier this season and the feedback from the drivers has been favorable. I think we are going to see some very fast times posted at TMS over the weekend.

Of course, this is the race that was spread out over two months last season due to the heavy rains in Texas last summer. After a complete washout on Saturday night, the race began on Sunday June 12th. This was when Josef Newgarden got caught up with the lapped car of Conor Daly and Newgarden slammed into the outside wall of the front straightaway, cockpit first. Newgarden broke his collarbone and his wrist required surgery. The rains came before they could get the crash cleaned up.

IndyCar and track officials made the decision to postpone the race until August 27th and resume the race from where it left off. Many fans wanted to just wipe the slate clean and run the race from the beginning, thus allowing Daly and the healed Newgarden to restart the race. I agreed with IndyCar’s decision to stick with the rule book, resume the race from Lap 71 and leave Newgarden and Daly on the sidelines. If you are going to constantly alter the rulebook for convenience, why even have one? The resumption took place as scheduled in August and it was an exciting dual at the end between James Hinchcliffe and eventual winner Graham Rahal.

There appears to be no threat of a repeat of that scenario this year. After some slow-moving thunderstorms push through the area this morning, the forecast looks great and it might even be a little cooler than it usually is in Texas in mid-June. Saturday night’s forecast calls for clear skies and a race time temperature between eighty-four and eighty-eight degrees, with a southerly wind of ten to fifteen knots. I do have to mention that after what happened last year, due to the weepers underneath the track – I find irony in the title sponsor. For the record, tomorrow night’s race will officially be known as the Rainguard Water Sealers 600. No further comment necessary.

There will be some new, but familiar faces on the grid this weekend. Although Esteban Gutiérrez did a solid job for Dale Coyne, subbing for Sébastien Bourdais at Belle Isle; the former Formula One driver was not approved by IndyCar to race at Texas this weekend. Given the fact that Gutiérrez has never raced on any oval, it would have been a tall order to expect him to make his oval debut at the tight confines of TMS. The safety of the other drivers had to be taken into account and I think IndyCar’s Jay Frye made the right call. That means Tristan Vautier will make his third Texas start and second for Dale Coyne tomorrow night.

Of course, Ed Carpenter returns to the cockpit for the first time since the Indianapolis 500, where he finished eleventh. Carpenter won this race three years ago, but he has the Chevy engine that hasn’t won at Texas since Scott Dixon won in 2015, before Ganassi left Chevy for Honda this season.

One welcome sight is seeing the car of Gabby Chaves on the confirmed entry list for Texas. His Harding Racing team had said they would enter at Texas if things went well for the “500”. Chaves drove well and finished ninth. Their Chevy powered car will run Texas and presumably at Pocono, before joining the series fulltime in 2018. They have put together an impressive group that includes an unlikely pairing of Larry Curry and Al Unser, Jr. and built this team from scratch. Hopefully, Juncos Racing will be joining them, since the paddock is still smarting from the loss of KVSH Racing after the end of last season.

With Graham Rahal coming off of a monster weekend that saw him sweep both races of the only double-header of the season, plus being the defending race winner at Texas – you have to count him as one of the favorites. I would also think that James Hinchcliffe will have a good weekend, since he was so strong at Texas in both segments that spanned the two months. Ryan Hunter-Reay was also in the mix for the June portion, but finished thirteenth and three laps down back in August.

But racing is all about karma, paybacks and redemption. This track owes Josef Newgarden after last year’s frightening crash. I think Newgarden, Team Penske and Chevrolet all have something to prove this weekend for various reasons. My pick for this weekend is for Nashville’s Josef Newgarden to win his first oval for The Captain, after scoring his first road course victory for him at Barber. It will also be some redemption for Chevrolet, after being embarrassed in their own backyard in Detroit last weekend. It will also give Newgarden personal satisfaction to win at the track that gave him his worst injuries to date in an Indy car.

So far, I am 0 for six in my picks this season (I didn’t make picks for either race at Belle Isle). Perhaps I’m due for a little redemption myself, this weekend. We’ll see.

Please Note:  If you’ll recall, I was given the opportunity to get a sneak preview to the documentary on the Holmatro Safety Team entitled Yellow, Yellow Yellow! and I wrote a review on it back in January. Well, good news! It is scheduled to air on NBCSN Saturday night, immediately after the Texas race. If it is too late, set your DVR’s and watch it on Sunday. It’s that good and well done. You don’t want to miss it. It will give you a whole new appreciation for what they do.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “Texas Preview”

  1. My picks haven’t gone well either this year. I’m anxious to see how the track reconfiguration affects the racing.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    I’ll be heading out to the track shortly for a full day of on-track action: two practices, qualifying, NASCAR Trucks, and Stadium Super Trucks (which I am VERY excited to see).

    The new surface should provide a wider racing line through turns 1 and 2, but I think it may take a few laps into the race to come in with grip above the bottom groove being limited until more rubber is laid down. That was certainly the case at the NASCAR race back in April. In testing, it appeared that the Indycars had grip above the bottom groove, but found the most speed down near the white line. Fireston’s new compound could change that.

    Rainguard is well aware of the irony of their sponsorship. When activating at the spring NASCAR race at TMS, they were giving out red ball caps that said “Make TMS Dry Again”. The new surface should dry much more quickly than it did last year, and be largely free of weepers, in the event of rain. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that we will need to test that theory this weekend.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Spoke too soon, it is raining at the track now. Supposed to be done after the morning. We’ll get to see if this new surface has weepers after all.

  3. “The first 20,000 fans in attendance at the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 will receive a limited edition Graham Rahal bobblehead presented by Fox Sports Southwest.”…did they need that many?

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