Texas Preview

Assuming you are reading this on Friday morning or afternoon, I am on my way to Texas Motor Speedway. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a while, because this is a track I’ve never been to. I hope that Texas doesn’t suffer the same fate as new tracks we visit. Fontana, NOLA, Sonoma and Pocono are all tracks that I’ve visited in the past decade that dropped off of the scheduled shortly after we visited.

Susan is not with me on this trip, but that is not due to health reasons. She has been on an upswing since Thanksgiving and could probably go, but this weekend was planned a couple of months ago as a guys trip. She plans on going to Barber at the end of April and the full Month of May schedule. Paul Dalbey, from Fieldof33.com, and I will be driving there together and splitting a hotel room. We will meet in my hometown of Jackson, Tennessee and leaving his car at the home of a friend of mine. Then we start the long boring trek through Memphis, across Arkansas and into Texas – through Dallas and eventually to the track and hotel in Fort Worth.

I’ve wanted to go to this 1.5-mile oval since it opened in 1997. Most IndyCar fans chuckle when they think of that race, because that’s when AJ Foyt slapped Arie Luyendyk outside of Victory Lane. Foyt’s driver, Billy Boat, had been awarded the race win and Luyendyk felt he had won (he had). As Luyendyk shouted his displeasure with race officials toward Victory Lane, Foyt backhanded him a couple of times and knocked him into some shrubbery. It was a comical scene, no one was hurt and it was a heck of a way to kick off IndyCar racing at a new track. Luyendyk was awarded the race win the next day, but to this day – Foyt still has the trophy.

For more than a decade, IndyCar races at Texas were fast and furious. Davey Hamilton severely injured his feet and ankles in a violent crash exiting Turn Two in 2001. Kenny Bräck was seriously injured in a frightening crash on the backstretch in the 2003 season-finale. It is fortunate that the track chose not to sell tickets on the backstretch, because the car got up into the catch-fencing and littered the empty seats with debris.

In an effort to minimize pack-racing at Texas, rule changes to the cars made passing at Texas almost impossible in the late 2000s. The 2009 Texas race was one of the most boring races to watch I can remember. It was a single-file parade with the four “red cars” from Penske and Ganassi up front. Ryan Briscoe led 160 of the 228 laps, but Helio Castroneves won the race after leading only 57 laps. Scott Dixon finished third and never led a lap. But as fast as the Penske cars were, Briscoe and Castroneves found it almost impossible to get around backmarkers due to the aero configuration.

Many of the Texas races for the past decades have been duds, although some have been excellent. The 2016 race saw a violent crash between Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden, who ended up with a broken clavicle. That race ended up being postponed for a couple of months due to rain. By the time it resumed in August, Newgarden’s injuries had healed, but he was not allowed to resume the race. He and Daly spent the night visiting with fans in the stands.

Due to all of the schedule tweaks during the pandemic, the 2020 Texas race ended up being the season-opener. Scott Dixon absolutely dominated a boring race on his way to his sixth IndyCar title. When the race was over, the conversation wasn’t about Dixon’s dominating performance – it was about the PJ1 that had been put on the pavement in the turns for the NASCAR Cup cars the previous fall. While the treatment helped the much heavier Cup cars, it made Indy cars handle like they were on ice. Felix Rosenqvist had been at or near the front all day, but on Lap 190, he got high in Turn Two. His steering went away and he went straight into the SAFER Barrier.

It was no better in 2021, as several drivers had treacherous moments in the turns. It turned the race into another parade that resembled the sleep-inducing 2009 race.

Last year, someone came up with an idea that sounded primitive, but it apparently worked. A few cars, one from each team (except the Foyt team), participated in a thirty-minute practice session that was run at slow enough speeds that cars felt safe, but still fast enough to rubber in the high side. The result was a much more competitive race that saw Josef Newgarden pass teammate Scott McLaughlin at the line on the last lap to take the win.

There is no real pattern for teams or drivers at this race. Over the last twelve IndyCar races at Texas, there have been six different winning teams; Penske Ganassi, ECR, Rahal, Coyne and McLaren. Penske and Ganassi have won four each, while the other teams have won one each.

Curiously omitted from that list is Andretti Autosport. Believe it or not – in the thirty-four IndyCar races run at Texas Motor Speedway, Andretti Autosport has only won once – the 2004 June race won by Tony Kanaan, when they were still known as Andretti-Green. Tomas Schekter and Panther Racing have won at Texas since an Andretti car was seen in Victory Lane at Texas. Although the Andretti cars were fast at the season-opener in St. Petersburg, I’m not sure that any of their drivers will pull off a win on Sunday.

With Ed Carpenter joining the field this weekend, there are twenty-eight cars entered for Sunday’s race. I think Team Penske will win their second in a row at Texas this weekend. I think that narrow loss haunted Scott McLaughlin for most of the season last year. I think he wants this one really bad and will not be stopped. So I’m putting my hex on McLaughlin this weekend. Hopefully, it won’t affect him.

Track activity does not start until early Saturday morning. That’s good, since we probably won’t get to our hotel until about 8:00 or 9:00 tonight. It’s a very condensed schedule. Practice One gets underway at 8:00 am local time (CDT) and will be shown live on Peacock. Qualifying will start at 11:15 am (CDT) Saturday on Peacock, then the Final Practice runs from 12:45 pm until 2:30 pm Saturday afternoon, also on Peacock. Coverage for Sunday’s race begins at 11:00 am (CDT) on Big NBC.

As usual, when I attend races in person – I will post a few times on Saturday and Sunday. You can also follow me on Twitter at @Oilpressureblog for up-to-date photos, videos and comments. Please check back tomorrow morning.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “Texas Preview”

  1. I’m excited for you and Paul (and admittedly jealous!). Hope you have a great experience. Looking forward to your posts this weekend. My hex, I mean…prediction, is Pato O’Ward for this one. Have fun!

  2. I’m definitely more jealous of that trip… I can see you and Paul bantering Indycar facts and figures back and forth for how ever many hours it takes to get there… Would be fun to be along for the ride… at least a small part of it anyway! If I was a fly on the wall, I would probably be looking for an escape route after the first hour or so from the car so I could go splat on that truck windshield behind us! (Just kidding!)
    I am torn as usual on who I think will win the race, along with who I would like to win the race. I think Scott Dixon will pull this off, but it will probably be a Penske at the front when it’s all said and done. But the fan part of me is really pulling for Conor Daly or Ed Carpenter. ECR really needs a good showing! All in all, I’m hoping for a good race … PJ1 be damned!

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Safe travels you two. Looking forward to seeing you out at the track and looking forward to a good race.

    That 2009 race wasn’t good, but it had some interesting moments. Before the lap 150 debris caution that interrupted a long green flag run, Briscoe had lapped the field up to 7th place and was looking like a threat to lap the whole field (something that still has not happened in Indycar since Texas in 1999, actually).

    Well, the whole field sans one car… That race was one of Marco Andretti’s finest performances, he had worked his way up to second before the late cautions jumbled the field, passing Franchitti, Dixon, and Castroneves on the outside (something no one else was doing that night) and was closing on Briscoe. The spate of late cautions combined with the challenges passing ruined the race for both Briscoe and Marco, who might have been dueling only each other at the end, with the rest of the field a lap or more out of the picture. I was glad Briscoe won the 2010 race at Texas, as he deserved the 2009 win.

  4. Really wish I was there.
    I think it was Will Power pushing for the extra laps last year to make two lanes a possibility.
    I reckon it’s Scotty M too and I’m hoping for a real good showing from Santino.

  5. They had difficulty getting drivers to commit to going out for that extra time last year. It looks as if they have added that time to the practice session this weekend again.
    I always enjoy watching IndyCar at TMS. It’s hard to beat having them go by at full song. Still up in the air if I will go or not(only a short 4 hour drive for me). Enjoy it!

  6. Glad to hear that you and Paul (and our friend billytheskink, among others) will be making the trip this weekend. I’ll be on my way down with two of my three kids (the other one could probably think of few things she’d like to do less than sit in the sun at a noisy race track) after they get out of school this afternoon. We’re all SUPER excited. We’ll be taking advantage of several of the IndyCar Nation activities, as we’re actually attending enough races this year (Texas, Indy, Nashville) that it felt worth it to finally join, and of course, enjoying all of the on track action. Hope to see all of you down there this weekend!

    • I forgot to mention that I wish everybody could have seen the looks on my kids’ faces and heard their reactions as we were passed by Helio’s MSR trailer on the way to school yesterday, followed by seeing Felix’s McLaren and Marcus Ericsson’s Ganassi trailers as we were driving home from school. That really got them warmed up for the weekend!

  7. Have a great time, everyone.

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