Texas Rear-View Mirror
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on April 9, 2017 | 6:04 P.M. EST
Repaving race tracks is not something that usually elicits anything but groans from the NASCAR world. When Texas Motor Speedway announced it would undergo an off-season plan to both repave and reconfigure the 1.5-mile track, there wasn’t a lot of optimism for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
Turns out those fears were unwarranted.
The track surface, which did throw a few curveballs to teams early on in the weekend, didn’t turn Sunday’s race into a feared single-file parade and actually generated a rather competitive afternoon.
There were definitely stretches in the 500-mile grind when things got spaced out, as they usually do on intermediate tracks, but the combination of stage racing, track surface and layout, tires and the lower downforce rules package created enough opportunity for a compelling race.
It begs the question of whether going forward tracks that will be in need of a repave such as Atlanta, Auto Club and Chicagoland, will hesitate to make the change. Texas track officials did a tremendous amount of work to lay down rubber with driving school cars and tire dragging machines to create a racy surface. Technology and the production of asphalt plus the advanced curing process may not mean years of boring races at repaved tracks as has been the case more often than not in the past.
Texas turned out about as good as it could this weekend with the promise for better racing in the Lone Star State very much a possibility.
- Ryan Blaney had a career day Sunday with the Wood Brothers Racing sophomore driver out front for 148 laps and winning the first two stages. But the decision to go for the second stage win and the points that go with it is being questioned as it relates to the bigger picture of winning the race. On the ensuing final stage restart, Blaney got shuffled back in the field behind those with fresh tires who did pit at the end of the second stage and was never able to get back to the front. He wound up 12th, not a bad finish by any means but one that will be remembered for what might have been. As the new stage format evolves, it will be interesting to see how drivers handle the risk versus reward of winning the individual battles with the possibility of hurting the opportunity to win the race.
- Nine drivers failed to make it through inspection on Friday and did not qualify for Sunday’s O'Reilly Auto Parts 500. While many fans cried outrage at NASCAR for the scenario, the sanctioning body shouldn’t shoulder much if any of the blame. The finger should squarely be pointed at race teams for pushing the envelope so far they simply failed inspection. Dale Earnhardt Jr., one of the unfortunate nine, said the burden is on the teams to comply with the rules. “NASCAR gives you the rules," Earnhardt said. "You know what to expect coming through the tech line. We failed. That's life. I know that the fans are here to see us, but if we can't get the car through tech, that's on us.” But Friday brought much criticism from many fans who felt robbed by not seeing a full and complete qualifying session with so many stars of the sport not participating. It’s an issue the sanctioning body has to address to ensure the Friday schedule carries the value of a ticket price to those paying customers as well as those tuning in on radio and television.
- NASCAR imposed a cap for Monster Energy Cup Series drivers competing in both the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series this season. Drivers with five or more years experience at the sport’s top level are limited to a maximum of 10 starts in either of the other two top tiers. However, so far that hasn’t stopped the Cup regulars from dominating either division including Saturday’s Texas NXS race that saw the top four finishing positions swept by Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick and Austin Dillon. Last week’s Martinsville Truck race went to Chase Elliott. Even with the parameters, the interlopers continue to take the spotlight from the NXS and NCWTS regulars.
- Tire testing was also a big topic of discussion over the Texas weekend or more specifically the lack of it before NASCAR came to race on the new racing surface. Goodyear did not test and then create a Texas-specific tire because of the short window of time and rather brought a compound used previously at Kentucky last season in the aftermath of that track’s repaving. Speaking of tire tests, five drivers will be at Daytona International Speedway this week as part of a Goodyear session - Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Erik Jones, Danica Patrick and Alex Bowman.