I’ve found myself repeating “cars will be on track Saturday” when I wanted to smack my head against my desk this week. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has found this as a mantra. We should have had eight races by now, instead we’ve had nearly twelve-weeks of waiting. There are a lot of great tracks on the INDYCAR schedule. Having the Texas Motor Speedway as the new starting race starts the season off spectacularly. This track has been the scene of amazing races and finishes. I anticipate this race won’t disappoint from green flag to checkered flag.
Deep in the heart of Texas (do Texans consider Dallas/Ft. Worth the heart of texas) is Texas Motor Speedway. A 1.5 mile oval with twenty-degree banking on Turns 1 and 2 and twenty-four-degree banking on Turns 3 and 4. In 2018 the race (DXC Technology 600 at that time) showed that with the new aero kit, passing could happen. The track did also decided to be challenging to rookies as Matheus Leist’s (formerly of A.J. Foyt Racing) car caught fire. Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing #9) reigned supreme that year at the track, with Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport #27) and Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske #22) putting on a show for second place. I will only raise the spectre of the 2017 race, because it was a perfect storm of madness (you can listen to that recap HERE)
Last year’s race was also incredible. It started off with an extra practice truncated with rain, but only 0.8411 seconds separating the fastest to the slowest of cars. Qualifying gave a show with Tony Kanaan (AJ Foyt Racing #14) hitting the wall and starting the race at the back and the final five qualifiers having a mixed bag with attempts with Takuma Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing #30) clenching the pole. We had an insane amount of battles up and down the racetrack. The very start of the race saw James Hinchcliffe (now Andretti Autosport #29), Will Power (Team Penske #12), Charlie Kimball (now A.J. Foyt Racing #4), and Josef Newgarden (Team Penske #1) quickly gaining spots. A bit later in the race Colton Herta (Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport #88), Hinchcliffe, and Rossi put on a show for the first part of the race trading passes back and forth with each other. We also had great battles up front for the lead between Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport #28), Dixon, and Rossi. Those three were great to watch as drivers would peak out, tuck back in, and then a lap or so later go for it. The race ended with Newgarden holding off Rossi, but not after a spectacular crash between Herta and Dixon and Rossi basically one-handed driving through a crash without any damage!
This Year’s Race
On Saturday evening, twenty-four drivers will race around an empty stadium for two-hundred laps (completing three-hundred miles). They’ve truncated the length of the race, and they have also crammed a practice, qualifications, and a race into one day. On Saturday, drivers will practice from 1:00-3:00pm, go out and qualify at 5:00pm, and then race at 8:10pm. It is going to be a physically demanding day of drivers and crew. Which, by the way they have limited the amount of crew to twenty personnel. They’ve also added restrictions on tire use. Drivers much change their tires every thirty-five laps. To put that in perspective, a good pit stop is eight seconds which doesn’t include the time driving to and from your pit stall, a lap around Texas is approximately twenty-four seconds. Strategy is going to be afoot!
Among the drivers, are three rookies: Oliver Askew (Arrow McLaren SP #7); Alex Palou (Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh #55); and Rinus VeeKay (Ed Carpenter Racing #21). In seasons past rookies would have already competed in multiple races, faced the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and completed a rookie orientation on that challenging oval. This year, it’s Texas that will be their first test, and they will have a very short time to learn ovals, the car, and driving with some of the most elite drivers in the world.
What are some things to pay attention to? First and foremost, the start of this race. It has always been one of the most amazing images seeing the cars suddenly spread out on that track. We’ve had passing shows the past couple of years, are we going to have it again this year? This is the first race on a very exhausting day. Will drivers play it safe or will you have a few out there who make a stance. In our interview with Conor Daly (Carlin Racing #59) he discussed that the setup used for qualifying is the same set up used for the race. It may be that we have a very slow qualifying, or a very fast qualifying and a very loose race. Don’t forget, it is also the very first race of the new aeroscreen.
If you don’t know who to pick, bet on some strong veterans of the sport. The drivers who are always in the gym, always working out. This is not a day for the meek. It will be a long day in the Texas heat at a physical track. You want names: Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, and Josef Newgarden. However, with the history of this track and this race, even the best of drivers can get caught in a racing incident.
Admittedly, it feels weird to talk about INDYCAR racing. There is just a lot going on in the county with the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency and the unrest over the racial disparities. I do not have the answers for any of this, and we try to keep politics out of our discussions of INDYCAR. It’s a good momentarily distraction from everything.
Also, I guarantee you we’ll be talking this during episodes of our podcast. You can subscribe by visiting our subscribe page: www.fastcarsfastgirls.com/subscribe