Texas Preview

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Hidden among the busted brackets and upsets of March Madness, is Race Two for the NTT IndyCar Series 2022 season – the XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway. What had been a mainstay as a June night race for more than a couple of decades, has suddenly moved up the calendar. Last year, this event was run as a double-header to open up the Month of May. This year it moves up as a single daytime race in mid-March.

For people like me who live by the mantra “Change is Bad”, this has been a tough pill to swallow. It’s not simply because I don’t like change, but history has shown that when date equity is messed with at a track – that’s not a good sign for the future of that event.

For years, Nazareth Speedway held an IndyCar race in the fall, generally before the season finale at Laguna Seca. Somewhere along the way, they decided to run the race in April, leading to one of the few IndyCar events in history (if not the only one) to be snowed out in 2000. Four years later, new track owner ISC shut the place down, ending one of my favorite tracks to watch IndyCar races from on TV.

Surfer’s Paradise began as the season kickoff for the CART schedule in March of 1991. In 1995, it was moved to the second race of the season. In 1996 it became Race Three before becoming the second race again in 1997. In 1998, the decision was made to move Surfer’s Paradise from March to October. That’s where it stayed until its demise a decade later.

For decades, Milwaukee was the race run immediately after the Indianapolis 500. Once the race started jumping around to a different month each season, it didn’t take long for fans to lose interest. In a three-season stretch from 2013 through 2015, Milwaukee’s date jumped from June to August to July. IndyCar has not been back to Milwaukee since July 12, 2015.

Fontana served as the season finale for CART and then later for IndyCar, for years. The ill-fated race at Fontana when Greg Moore was fatally injured, was the season finale. Susan and I attended the 2013 IndyCar night race at Fontana, that also served as that year’s season finale. In 2015, that race was moved to June as a daytime race. That ended up being one of the most exciting races I’ve ever seen on television, with Graham Rahal taking the checkered flag just before Ryan Briscoe flipped his car at the start-finish line – a spectacular crash that he walked away from. Supposedly, only about 3,000 were in attendance that day. That ended up being the last time IndyCar ran at Fontana.

We’ve seen this so many times. Moving a race out of its traditional slot on the calendar is never a good thing. Local fans and TV viewers get used to planning around a certain date. When the date starts jumping around – fans make plans to do other things. Then the promoter decides fans just aren’t that interested in IndyCar.

I fear for the future of IndyCar at Texas. When longtime track president Eddie Gossage retired, I did not take that as a good sign. Some fans thought Gossage and track owner SMI were no friends to IndyCar. I’ll concede that SMI may not be, but I always felt Gossage was a true friend to IndyCar. He had to do what was best for his track and his company, but I always felt like he did everything in his power to make IndyCar work at Texas (the PJ1 not withstanding).

I am not optimistic about the turnout for this year’s mid-March race. I am also fearful that the NCAA Tournament will cut into the TV ratings. Let’s just hope both are good enough for this race to continue beyond this weekend.

As far as this year’s race goes, there are twenty-seven entries for this race. One of the most intriguing storylines will be the oval debut of Jimmie Johnson. We all know that Johnson’s performance on road courses last year was less than stellar. I am curious to see how he does on the type of track he is much more familiar with – an oval. Johnson has won seven times in a stock car on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway, so he obviously knows his way around the track. Let’s see how well he can do in the much more nimble Indy car. I’m not predicting a win, but I do think Johnson could conceivably get a Top-Ten finish.

As I mentioned earlier this week, I will be keeping a close watch on the three cars from AJ Foyt Enterprises. Adding JR Hildebrand to the No.11 car will not only give the team an experienced oval driver, but he can also serve as a mentor to his two young teammates – rookie Kyle Kirkwood and Dalton Kellett, who had his highest career starting spot at St. Petersburg three weeks ago. I think Texas will tell us if this team will show improvement this year, or if they are going to continue to struggle.

I’m afraid the aforementioned PJ1 laid down in Turn Two is going to have an impact on this race. Most drivers will avoid it and stay in a single groove. Some will get brave or accidentally get caught out in it – hopefully they won’t pay too big a price and will get through it unscathed.

This will be two-day show at Texas. Practice One will be a one-hour session, which gets underway Saturday morning at 11:00 am EDT (10:00 local time) and will be shown on Peacock. Qualifying will begin at 2:00 pm EDT, and will be shown exclusively on Peacock. Saturday afternoon will feature a one-hour practice session from 5:00 pm until 6:00 pm EDT, also available on Peacock. There is talk that teams may be given an old set of tires from last year and run higher-than-legal downforce, in order to scrub in more rubber where the JP1 is If so, more time may be allotted to the final practice.

The race will be shown on NBC beginning at 12:30 pm EDT. Good news! NBC listened to the fans, and they will have a post-race show over on Peacock. I plan on watching the entire race on Peacock, and the Peacock feed will continue seamlessly to the post-race. If you are watching on NBC, you’ll have to flip over to stream the post-race coverage on Peacock. Please make an effort to watch the post-race on Peacock. If there is a huge drop-off in viewers, NBC may decided a post-race show on Peacock isn’t worth the effort.

In the past, Texas was sort of a wild card – where some teams had the capability to come out of nowhere and win. Before Pato O’Ward and McLaren won the second race of last year’s double-header; the previous five races had been won by either a Penske or Ganassi car. From 2012 through 2016, success at Texas was more spread around. The winning teams were Dale Coyne Racing, Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Oddly enough, you have to go all the way back to 2004 to find the last time an Andretti car won at Texas.

What team and driver do I think will win at Texas? I’m not going out on a limb. I’ll choose between Ganassi and Penske. I say that Josef Newgarden will rebound from a disappointing day at St. Petersburg, and he will give Team Penske their second win in as many outings to start the year off right for The Captain. We’ll see.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “Texas Preview”

  1. James T Suel Says:

    I think you’re spot-on with the race dates changing. I believe Texas is gone after this weekend. Milwaukee may make a comeback! I hope so and put right after Indy and maybe it will live again.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Texas’ future will probably depend on title sponsorship above all. If the track believes that they can sell it for next year, tthen I expect it to be back. I think the chances of that are fair, but certainly not guaranteed (the current title sponsor being Penske-affiliated could be interpreted as a + or a -). They would be better had Eddie Gossage not retired. I am rooting for it to return.

    Texas’ loss of date equity did not occur in a vacuum, by the way… it’s a pretty direct consequence of NASCAR’s move of their All-Star race to Texas in mid-June. With the traditional date off the table, Indycar has moved the race around in a hunt for a good TV slot, which leaves with a less than ideal for attendees and participants March date that conflicts with IMSA at Sebring and occurs one week before SMI also promotes NASCAR at COTA.

    Even without the PJ1 laid down, the second lane through the turns at Texas probably would not be terribly competitive at this point, only a few years removed from the track’s last repave. Passing was already an end-of-the-straight action at Texas and the repave and PJ1 zones made it more so. What the extra rubber laid down on that second lane may do, though, is make it less slippery… allowing cars to run there without getting really loose even if they cannot match the speed of the inside lane. That should make drivers more willing to try passes at the end of the straight, with failure to pass only risking a slow set of turns rather than a fight to keep the car out of the wall. For all its warts, Texas’ 2nd race last year provided improved action on the prior two races at the track, it seemed… and the track provided EVERY SINGLE on track pass for the lead seen prior to the Indy 500 in 2021.

    I plan to be at the track for the whole weekend, and if you can get there then you should too. The weather is going to be gorgeous and apparently practice and qualifying are free to get in to. I have had to miss the last two years of racing at Texas (COVID made the race fanless in 2020 and I had a late-breaking family emergency happen last year), so I am really really really looking forward to it.

  3. To be honest, in this PJ1 era of Texas Motor Speedway, it won’t break my heart if this race goes away. I love oval racing. I wish IndyCar had more ovals on the schedule. That said, this has been the worst race on the schedule the past couple years. The only overtaking occurs in the pits. I’m sorry, but that’s not racing.

  4. Mark Wick Says:

    There are reports that the Milwaukee Mile is being considered for next year’s schedule. There will be extra running time with extra downforce and NEW tires, by six or seven drivers added to the second practice session tomorrow. I will be watching it all, hoping for a good race.

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