Drivers will hit speeds of more than 200 mph in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, but the quality — and safety — of the racing might depend on a vehicle that spent the overnight and morning hours circling the track at about 10 to 15 mph.
Drivers say they are wary headed into the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 (the green flag drops around 1:45 p.m.). The 1.5-mile track was repaved earlier this year, and such tracks need rubber worn into the new asphalt to create grip. Hence, TMS officials ran two vehicles, “Tire Dragon” and “Tire Monster,” around the track overnight and again Sunday morning to help wear rubber into the racing surface.
The new pavement isn’t the only change to TMS, as turns 1 and 2 were reconfigured, with the banking reduced from 24 to 20 degrees. Also, the racing surface has been widened from 60 to 80 feet.
But while NASCAR has in the past given teams an extra day of practice before race weekend at a newly repaved and/or reconfigured track, that didn’t happen this weekend. Given the uncertain conditions at a high-speed track that has always been tough, drivers have said all week they have no idea what to expect in the race.
Kyle Busch, a two-time winner at Texas, including this race last year, said conditions could be treacherous.
“Right out of the gate, going there, trying to put rubber down, it’s slick, man,” Busch said. “It’s so treacherous, hard to get ahold of, hard to understand what you’re feeling with your car, because you can think you’re tight, you’ve got all the grip in the world, you’re going around the corner, and then, ‘Boom,’ it just busts loose right out from under you with no warning. That’s the worst thing.”
“It is interesting that we only get an extra hour of practice at a repave,” Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jamie McMurray said, via ESPN. “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.”
Drivers are particularly anxious to see how the racing grooves wear in, as rubber accumulates on the track.
“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,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “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.”
“To head into Texas with no formal tire test, no official track mapping, let ’er rip,” 2017 Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch said last week. “This is new territory for our sport. I think it shows how much we’re having to adapt on the fly. Is it a good thing? A bad thing? It doesn’t matter. It’s what it is, and it’s unique the way we’re headed in there to go 215 mph with no track time.”