Texas Preview

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In less than a week, the Verizon IndyCar Series will go from my least favorite track on the schedule to one of my favorites. The DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway has a chance to be edge of your seat excitement tomorrow night, but there is also the potential that it could be a parade. No one really knows at this point, and if they say they do – they’re lying.

Two weeks after the fact, I’d say reviews are mixed regarding the racing during the Indianapolis 500. Alexander Rossi made passing look easy, but others had a tougher time passing. The new bodywork may need some tweaking. IndyCar allowed some minor changes in downforce this week to account for this weekend’s heat, but some more major modifications may be needed before next year. Many drivers have said that the changes have made it harder to complete a pass. All drivers admit that the new car is harder to drive, but many drivers see that as a good thing.

The original DW12 punched a huge hole in the air, making passing almost automatic. The various winglets in the aero kit era created a lot of turbulence, but drafting was still easy. The current unified body kit, doesn’t allow as much drafting, but is creating more turbulence than originally projected. Of course, I’m just parroting what I’ve heard others say. I’m not an engineer and really know nothing of what I’m talking about here.

That just proves that no one really knows what to expect tomorrow night, but we’ll get a better idea when the first practice begins at 11:30 local time today. Qualifying will be 3:00 this afternoon local time, with the always spirited final practice tonight at 6:15 local time. Race coverage on NBCSN begins tomorrow night at 7:00 local time.

The 1.445-mile oval in Fort Worth will be hosting it’s twenty-ninth Verizon IndyCar Series race on Saturday night. Keep in mind, that after the inaugural race in 1997 – TMS hosted two IndyCar races each year from 1998 through 2004. Once the track received a second NASCAR date, they quickly dropped the fall IndyCar race.

This track has been the scene of some memorable finishes and some crashes we’d like to forget. Davey Hamilton suffered career-threatening injuries to his feet, ankles and legs in a Turn Two accident in the fall race of 2001. Twenty-three surgeries later, he did return to racing in 2007 and drove again at Texas in the convoluted split-races of 2011, finishing twenty-seventh and twenty-fifth respectively.

The 2011 race was a precursor to the double-headers I referenced on Wednesday, but it was not a true double-header. Instead of going the normal (at that time) 228 laps, there were two segments of 114 laps each. Whoever won the first segment (Dario Franchitti) was declared the winner. Then the drivers got out of their cars, drew numbers that went with a spinning tire Wheel of Fortune style that determined starting positions for the second segment that was won by Will Power. Mercifully, this was a one-time experiment and the race returned to its standard format the following year.

Beginning in 2015, the race was extended to 248 laps or 372 miles (600K), making it the next longest race on the schedule behind Indianapolis and Pocono.

Last year’s race was also won by Will Power, who led 180 of the 248 laps. How many people remember that Charlie Kimball started on the pole in last year’s race at Texas? It was an ugly race that was marred by many crashes, including one on Lap 152 that involved as many as nine cars. At the end, there were only six cars on the lead lap and only eight cars still running. Hopefully, tomorrow night’s race will be a little cleaner than what we saw last year. I just hope that this new car doesn’t separate the cars too much to the point that we are watching a parade with no passing at all.

Chevrolet had the upper hand at Indianapolis this past May, but Honda had the decided advantage at Belle Isle last weekend. Last season, the Penske Chevrolets were strong at Texas. But a look at the final standings shows Honda and Chevy alternating the Top-Eight finishing positions. The amount of crashes probably skews any interpretation you could derive from those stats.

But in my non-expert opinion, I tend to think that the Chevy engines may have a slight advantage at Texas. If that’s the case, don’t just assume that this will be a race dominated by Team Penske. Ed Carpenter will be back in the No.20 car. He has won this race before, back in 2014, and we know how fast he was at Indianapolis. Also, don’t forget how strong Tony Kanaan was in his AJ Foyt car two weeks ago at IMS. Tony Kanaan won this race in 2004 with Eric Cowdin as his engineer. Who is his engineer at Foyt? Eric Cowdin. Both ECR and AJ Foyt Enterprises also use the same Chevy engine that Team Penske uses.

So who is my pick to win? Alexander Rossi is mad at himself for allowing Sunday’s race at Belle Isle to get away from him; points leader Will Power needs to distance himself from his pursuers and Josef Newgarden needs to get his season back on track after a lackluster May and a bad weekend in Detroit. Graham Rahal has won at this track before and his championship efforts could get a boost if he won again. James Hinchcliffe let the 2016 race slip away when they returned in August after the June rain-delay.

Those are just some of the contenders going into the weekend. But I think that karma will come into play for a driver that paid the price for someone else’s mistake at Texas two years ago. I say that Josef Newgarden will conquer the track that almost conquered him in 2016 and he will be your winner tomorrow night. Although he is currently fifth in points, Newgarden is only thirty-nine points behind Power. I think the points battle will change significantly tomorrow night.

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “Texas Preview”

  1. Ron Ford Says:

    We can only hope that Charlie Pinball (pass ’em or wreck ’em or pass ’em and wreck ’em) does not create a demo derby, Above all else, let’s have a safe race. Hopefully the sound of the engines will not stir up some killer bees.

  2. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    George…it’s funny, Texas is one of your favorite tracks and it is my least favorite by far. In fact I won’t watch it at all because I truly fear that one or more of the drivers could be seriously hurt. I would love for them to get rid of Texas and go to Cota. Anyway I hope tomorrow is safe and then I will return to watching the races in two weeks.

  3. BrandonWright77 Says:

    Texas is an odd one, it’s either a snoozer or you’re on the edge of your seat the whole time, no idea what we’ll get this year. With the way Rossi has been on ovals this season, and after tossing away the win last week, I’m thinking he’s going to be an interesting one to watch tomorrow. Let’s hope for an exciting and safe race.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    One of my favorite weekends of the year. I haven’t missed attending in over a decade and I haven’t missed going to both Friday and Saturday’s action in 7-8 years.

    Texas is a great race to watch in person (even in the “boring” years) because you can see both breathtaking speed and the whole track, which I imagine was the reason it and so many other “cookie-cutter” tri-oval 1.5 mile tracks were built.

    Will be curious to see how the new cars take to last year’s repave. The bottom of the track had a clear advantage last year, but that advantage narrowed as the race went on. The evening practice today should tell us more than the (HOT) afternoon practice will. The heat will make things slippery but the new-ish surface and small rear downforce increase Indycar allowed should hopefully bring some grip back.

    • “Boring” race or no (really, I just hope for a safe race, anything else is gravy), I’m looking forward to taking in my first race at TMS tomorrow (bringing an offspring to a “big race” for the first time ever, which I have been looking forward to for a good, long while). Any chance you might be around and about to say a quick “hello” to, Mr. theskink? I hear there’s a tweetup at Gate 3 at 4:00 tomorrow with a possible “special guest” (no idea who, though), if you or anybody else in these here comments are into that sort of thing…

      • billytheskink Says:

        I am absolutely available for a meet up and hello. I’ll be in tomorrow before the tweet-up I’m sure and I am here all day too, of course.

        • Nice! If you spot a guy wearing a black James Hinchcliffe shirt who’s walking around with a girl who’s wearing a pink James Hinchcliffe shirt (this should narrow the crowd down to just about 5,000-6,000 candidates), that’ll be us. Hope to see you tomorrow!

          • I know you both. I met The Skink at Barber and NOLA and have shared many lunches (and a few adult beverages) with The Speedgeek. Don’t say bad things about me.

          • billytheskink Says:

            I’ll look for you all, then we can say bad things about George.

          • billytheskink Says:

            Also, I’ll be in a white 100th running hat, red Rahal shirt, and probably some stupid looking red sunglasses that I got for free at the NOLA race.

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