The Monster Energy Cup Series heads to the Lone Star state this weekend for the first of two races this season at Texas Motor Speedway with the running of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
While the track has been a fixture on the schedule since it held its first Monster Energy Cup race in April of 1999, this will be the first race held since the track was re-paved and reconfigured after the 2016 season.
The 36-race schedule is loaded with 11 races at eight different tracks that are a mile and a half in length. The tracks struggle to have their own identity as they have been put into the category of “cookie cutter” tracks because they are so similar not only in length but also banking.
Even though the tracks are similar and oftentimes come under criticism for producing the same racing, they do have a big say in not only which drivers make the Chase but also who eventually wins the title. Half of the Chase’s 10 races are on the mile-and-ahalf tracks including the seasonending race at Homestead-Miami that crowns the champion.
Texas Motor Speedway is part of the Speedway Motorsports Inc. family of tracks that also includes the mile-and-a-half tracks of Atlanta, Las Vegas, Charlotte and Kentucky. While the tracks are all alike in size, each track does have its own unique configuration that does distinguish it somewhat from the others, but not enough to really set it apart.
When the series rolls into Texas this weekend, crew chiefs will not have to bring their old notes as the track has not only been repaved but has undergone a reconfiguration. The repave also included the installation of a new drainage system. The track has had problems with drainage issues in the pass. The track was very difficult to dry as water would seep through the old asphalt. It became evident last season after the two Cup races and the INDYCAR race were affected by rain delays that the track, even though it was producing some good racing, needed some work done to it.
The repave consisted on a layer of asphalt laid down on the existing track using a mixture that had previously been used at Kentucky and Las Vegas. That mixture was selected because it produces the properties of an aged track that is preferred by the drivers. While the repaving was taking place, the new drainage system was installed that featured bigger trenches for a faster removal of water from the track.
Anytime a track is repaved it makes it tougher on both drivers and crew chiefs to figure out how to set up their cars to get around the track, but to make this weekend even tougher will be the re-profiling of Turns 1 and 2. The re-profiling will make this a very unique mile-and-a-half track as it will no longer be a symmetrical track with the same amount of banking in all four turns.
All four turns had banking of 24 degrees but now turns 1 and 2 have banking of 20 degrees with the racing surface in that section of the track increased from 60 to 80 feet. The decrease in banking will lower lap speeds and the wider surface can potentially provide additional opportunities for passing to take place.
PIT NOTES: Only 38 teams took part in the STP 500 at Martinsville, making it the smallest field for a Cup race in many years. The maximum number of teams that can start a race is 40, but since NASCAR began using its charter system last season that gave 36 teams a guaranteed starting spot at each stop on the schedule, the number of teams showing up on qualifying day has dwindled. A maximum of four spots are open to non-charter teams, but the high cost of putting a car on the track with little chance of being competitive has kept many teams from attempting to qualify.
Race Preview Event: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 Track: Texas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile Oval, turns 1 & 2 banked 20o, turns 3 & 4 banked 24o) Date: April 9, 2:30 p.m. TV: FOX Radio: PRN Defending Champion: Kyle Busch