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 and it just has to be raised every time I think of Texas Motor Speedway.
Last year, TMS served as the season opener. The most compressed schedule ever with the teams flying in, practicing, qualifying, and racing … and then immediately flying out that same night. The weekend … well day was peak 2020 with electrical gremlins messing with EVERY Honda car and since we were in a one-day event the cars were impounded between each event and no changes were technically allowed. Of course there was also Takuma Sato who during quals and they couldn’t get the car fixed in time. In another 2020 moment of strangeness, with COVID-19 shutting everything down, Firestone wasn’t completely confident in their tires and therefore the race had mandatory cautions to monitor the tires. Ultimately it was Scott Dixon was the official winner. However some other winners were Zach Veach who finished fourth, and perhaps is putting that weird sophomore year behind him. Conor Daly who moved up from 19th to 6th position. Rookie Oliver Askew moving up from 20th to 9th position in his first INDYCAR race.
Similar to last year, this is going to be a race weekend where the most fit drivers will shine. It’s always hot in Texas, and this year there’s an extra challenge. This is a double-header race in Texas. Drivers will practice, qualify, and race on Saturday. Then on Sunday they will get some rest but race again that night. 212 laps (Saturday) and 248 laps (Sunday) in the heat of Texas on a physically demanding track – my god. So if you’re looking for drivers to bet on: Tony Kanaan. The man does Iron Man challenges for fun (well, he does a lot so at this point I’m assuming he does them for fun). Sure he’s continued a part-time role, but he’s been doing ovals and he’s always really great on ovals. However this race has shown that even the best of drivers can get caught up in an incident. They say it’s “no limits racing” because there are no limits to who can get screwed.
What will be interesting is that the compound that was placed on the track last year is still there. It’s placed to help NASCAR with their races, but has the opposite effect with INDYCAR. Last year, according to Firestone, the compound reduced the grip by about twenty-five percent. This means that it takes away the option of drivers to use that higher line (or lane) to pass. In 2020 it led to a very quiet race with a very low number of passes. Earlier this year, when the series had a test, drivers indicated that the compound was still on the track and it was still very dicey to try and use that higher line. So it’s going to come down to – are drivers going to be ballsy enough to try that line…and what will happen.