Courage vs. confidence.
Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway will be dominated by that narrative. To go fast, you need one or the other. Veteran drivers gave up on courage years ago, at least the successful veteran drivers.
Young drivers eager to build their resumes, to impress, won’t wait on confidence; they’ll reach quickly for courage, and this track will support courage. Briefly!
I’ve seen this act before. In fact, I’ve participated!
Anytime a track is redesigned, reconfigured or repaved, there is a cleansing effect, and with it comes opportunity.
It’s a cleansing because the drivers with experience at the track, drivers who have had success, have lost that advantage. Gone are their reference points. Marks in the track, a feel of when to decelerate, when to turn in to the corner, when to accelerate and release the steering wheel as you drift toward the wall — it has all changed, it is all gone.
Every driver started Friday’s practice with a clean sheet of paper, the objective being to find the limit. The limit of the racetrack, then the limits of your race car and eventually the driver’s limit.
Denny Hamlin was first to acknowledge the track was nowhere near the point of being challenged, as the veteran spun on the second up-to-speed lap. Denny wasn’t a victim of demonstrating too much courage, but rather a victim of a filthy racetrack.
More on that later …
By the time qualifying had arrived, a low groove had been established, and several young less-experienced drivers delivered fast laps while several veterans appeared more guarded, deliberate in their approach. We had a few surprise names among the top speeds, at least the first two rounds and by the third and final round the cream began rising to the top.
There is nothing fun about breaking in a new surface, particularly at a mile and a half racetrack.
The track is smooth and feels secure, it tempts you into a false sense of security, which often leads to a crash and your team scrambling to roll out the backup car.
Ask yourself this question, would you rather compete on a track with very little grip and speeds that diminish quickly, or a track that is lightning fast, that slows very little?
You only have to go back a few weeks and listen to the drivers’ praise of Atlanta, and their plea to not repave the Georgia track, to know where the competitors stand.
Most despise the circumstances they are faced with at Texas, because drivers love being in control, and Sunday at Texas many will be short of it. It’s often described as competing on a knife’s edge.
This means that when drivers push themselves and their car to create more speed, they run the risk of suddenly, unexpectedly, losing their balance and falling over the edge. And at these speeds, upwards of 200 mph, there are few mulligans.
Some drivers will assume the limits of the track were established Friday during practice, the limits of the cars were established during qualifying and during Saturday’s practice, and the limits of each driver get sorted during Sunday’s race.
That, my friends, is why you should expect a volatile race Sunday.
The bottom line
1) The limits of the racetrack will change throughout the day primarily because there are miles of asphalt as filthy as the low groove was to begin Friday’s practice. As that changes, the drivers’ approach will change with it.
2) Drivers can’t find the limits of the race car until they’ve reached, or exceeded, the limit of the track. So with this track changing during the course of the event, driver information to the team will be compromised. There is also the issue of cars transitioning from a practice environment to a race environment. The game will become increasingly difficult in dirty air. If the drivers thought this track was a challenge when the circumstances match them against the track, imagine how much more difficult it becomes with 39 other obstacles.
3) Many of the drivers enter Sunday’s race with optimism because a new surface creates new opportunity. But several of those drivers are young and their optimism is predicated on courage and courage alone. Courage will absolutely reward you in qualifying, it may even reward you during restarts. But under the circumstances, courage will ultimately be your demise over the course of 500 miles. Simply put, courage is not a strategy! It’s a short-term gain, and a long-term loss.
4) Confidence will win out, and confidence at this track under the circumstances, is derived from those most capable of evaluating, processing, applying, and, most importantly, capitalizing! The winner of Sunday’s race may not be the fastest, probably isn’t the most fearless, but rather the most capable of understanding and exercising the “three limits.”
Here’s the good news. It has become very apparent to me since I’ve hung up my helmet that what drivers love in terms of racing conditions, fans oppose.
I do not expect Sunday to be a pleasant experience for very many drivers, hence it’s a race fans probably shouldn’t miss.