The one thing consistent in a very inconsistent race is: Texas is going to be wild. Also you can bet on it being hot. In my prior life, I was a scheduler for a Statewide elected official, which means I was in charge of putting in all types of travel across our state, and I do not believe the IndyCar schedule is set up for peak optimization (this is a subject for another time). Texas is a very hard end to a very physical stint of racing. The stint starts with an entire month of racing in May. Then immediately after May, there’s a double-header on a very rough road course. It’s capped off by Texas with its fast speeds, pack racing, and hot temperatures.
In 2017, well there is a reason we called it the Clusterfuck 600. I rewatched the race the other day, and you can’t quite point to one exact reason why everything went to shit. It was one of those events where everything that could go wrong – did. First the tires, well it was the tires and the new track. Texas Motor Speedway decided to repave the track which lowered some bumps in Turn 1, and that in turn caused the cars to use more downforce and increase tire wear. Did you get that? Almost felt like a math problem writing that sentence. The tire wear was so bad that for the final part of the race IndyCar mandated competition yellows were all cars had to come in and change tires.
In addition to the new track changing the tire wear, the repaving all but erased the high line, and any driver who ventured up into that high line during the race was flirting with disaster, and many of them ended up in a wall. I think the most important thing to remember, and what led in part to the competition yellow was “the big one” (which I just found out is a term used when there are more than five cars involved in the accident) taking out eight drivers. Also, it gave birth to the best comment ever by James Hinchcliffe “well I think that’s adorable” in response to Chip Gansassi giving him shit about that accident. Interestingly enough it was Tony Kanaan who got a penalty for avoidable contact and blocking, a stop and hold for twenty seconds.
You understand dear reader why I’m paranoid about this race?
The phrase of the race is pack racing. In 2017 you had guys going three wide and it wasn’t working out. Early on it was Tony Kanaan – Alexander Rossi – Scott Dixon and Rossi got loose and bit the wall. Later as mentioned above, it was Tony Kanaan – James Hinchcliffe – Mikhail Aleshin, which caused the “big one”. As we all know Tony caused the incident by coming up when…well there was no room and James slid out. Going three wide is an amazing spectacle to see, but racing like that is dangerous. Pack racing is amazing to see, but it just takes one little thing to go wrong and you’ve got cars all over the track like a yard sale.
As a fan base, I feel we’re all looking at the Texas race with some trepidation. No one wants a repeat of last year (and honestly no one wants the weird rain delay that happened in 2016). With the new aero kit, we were promised a lot closer racing, and the track is going to be hot so that also throws some variables into the race.
What is interesting is that in advance of hot temperatures, IndyCar has changed the set up of the cars. They’ve had teams remove various pieces, and adjust wings to add additional downforce to the car this is being done to help prevent the tight pack racing that happened last year. I don’t know, I think mechanically it will help prevent tight pack racing, but I also know that in Texas weird things happen. This is a superspeedway I fully expect the drivers to try and go for daring moves under the lights. However, at the same time, I can imagine some drivers feeling trepidation because of last year where more then half of the field was taken out. It’s one of those things that we as fans can’t fully comprehend. I can only speculate that I would have some hesitancy to run as close in this race, given last year’s incidents. Additionally, we heard from drivers during the month of May that the new aero kit would have the cars lift slightly when they were trying to pass (of course we all heard this but we’ve had so many passes this year that it’s far surpassed last year). But I’m not a race car driver and I don’t have that background of hopping into cars and going 200+ miles per hour in similar situations.
It makes determining a winner somewhat of a gamble. First off Juncos is out as they’re not fielding a car this race . A safe option to pick is a veteran and a veteran winner of this track. Will Power was last year’s winner or more accurately the luckiest survivor. Scott Dixon has won twice and is coming off a solid win at Detroit. Also the Oval Specialist himself, Ed Carpenter, has found luck at this track. Ed’s also been somewhat of a bridesmaid at this track the past few years. In 2016 he was making great moves and shaving down his lead until a crash. The same really in 2017, he got caught up in the “big one” and later turn some laps but it was not meant to be. James Hinchcliffe also has the bridesmaid syndrome here. Especially from 2016 where he was in the lead and Graham Rahal at the very last second on the very last lap popped around him for the lead. Plus this is the first oval after the Indianapolis 500, I think Hinchcliffe is ready to prove something.
What you shouldn’t do is pick a rookie. Do. Not. Do. It. This is not a track for the faint of heart. This is a track that will require every ounce of talent that a driver has. In our picks for the podcast, I actually have Wickens as First Out. Now it’s well documented I think Robert Wickens is a fantastic driver, but I think (a) he hasn’t gotten that win and it can nag o a person and (b) he’s the non-rookie-rookie and may believe he can handle the track (also since they had a test session here), it’s not going to be his race. He handled Phoenix well, but I think Texas just demands too much out of a driver.
But again, we shall see. Inconsistencies plague this race, and they plague this year.
*You’ll notice I did not mention Rossi – let’s just all go ahead and know that he’s always in my Fantasy picks or picks for the show.