Texas Motor Speedway held its first NASCAR Cup Series race in 1997 in an event won by Jeff Burton. By 2005, the track had two dates on the schedule every year.
In 2017, the track was repaved and reconfigured. The profile of the 1.5-mile intermediate track was altered with the banking in Turns 1 and 2 reduced from 24 to 20 degrees, and the corner was widened from 60 to 80 feet.
As a result, the two ends of the race track became wildly different to drive and made for a unique challenge to drivers and teams. But few would say that the racing was made better by the changes.
The application of PJ1 traction compound in the upper grooves only made matters worse. In 2021, Texas lost one of its dates, but gained the All-Star Race at the same time. However, that too will be gone after this year, moved to the newly reopened North Wilkesboro in 2023.
There have been discussions about giving TMS yet another facelift in order to improve the on-track product. Atlanta Motor Speedway, which has been turned into a pseudo-superspeedway that now produces pack racing similar to what we expect to see at Daytona and Talladega, could be the blueprint for these rumored changes. However, would drivers be happy with another race of chance filled with wrecks and unpredictable outcomes?
“I would like to see them change it from a 1.5-mile track to something shorter,” argued Kyle Larson. “I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. If I could build a track, it would probably be a three-quarter mile Bristol, basically; pavement, progressive banking, all of that. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here.
“I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”
The championship battle
But for now, the track remains as-is and sits in a very a crucial part of the NASCAR Cup playoffs. It’s the opening race in the Round of 12, and the other two races in this round are not ones you want to have to rely on.
Talladega and the Charlotte Roval will be chaotic, filled with incidents and outcomes that could change drastically mere feet from the finish line. Winning at Texas, or at least performing well, is paramount if a driver wants to sleep well over the next two weeks.
Ross Chastain, TrackHouse Racing, Worldwide Express Chevrolet Camaro, Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, M&M’s Crunchy Cookie Toyota Camry
Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images
“I think we probably all look at Texas (Motor Speedway) as a good opportunity to hopefully get a win, get locked-in and not have to worry about the next two races,” said Larson.
“Texas, I feel like it’s a very strategy-driven type of race track. It’s really difficult to pass, so you’ll see some different varying pit strategies going on, whether it be staying out, fuel only, two tires, four tires. So just trying to have a good enough car to play that the right way and keep your track position. Having good pit stops and good restarts I think is important. It seems like all of that has been more important this year with just how difficult it’s been to pass.
“Hopefully our car is good. I felt good in the All-Star Race. Just blew a right-front tire pretty early on, so I didn’t really get a fair judge of how we were then to how we’ll be now. It’s much warmer conditions this week too, so I think that will change things a little bit. But yeah, hopefully it goes well.”
Larson starts ninth in Sunday’s race, with RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski on pole position.