How much will heat, tires and the track itself pose problems for drivers this weekend

The opening race of the Round of 12 is upon us. Sunday’s AutoTrader EchoPark 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, USA, PRN) at the Texas Motor Speedway will be one of the more highly scrutinized races of the entire season. It’s no secret, the 1.5-mile track has worn out its welcome on most schedules.

In fact, it’s almost unanimous in the motorsports community and drivers aren’t shying away with their intense displeasure with this track.

INDYCAR fans have even had about enough with it. That’s because when the track applied the PJ1 traction compound for the 2019 NASCAR race weekend, it greatly affected the way that the open wheel cars stuck to the surface.

Instead of high speed, wheel-to-wheel action like Texas annually produced, Texas became a one-lane parade. While Texas officials claim that they didn’t add any traction compound between the Nov. 2019 NASCAR weekend and the June 2020 INDYCAR one, it didn’t matter to an INDYCAR. The dark spots that they applied it became a stain and one that caused significantly less grip and if you dared decided to test it out, you were likely going to be just a passenger on a high speed ride at that point forward.

“I don’t think you can go off of Texas because the PJ1 stuff completely ruined that place,” Colton Herta said last month at the World Wide Technology Raceway.

INDYCAR and Firestone saw the 2020 debacle and tried to fix it for 2021. It didn’t really work. This past March, they added a 2nd practice session to just work in the 2nd lane. That seemed to improve the show a bit.

Will NASCAR have an improved show this weekend? This fan base is also irate at how Texas has looked in recent years.

In 2021, NASCAR used resin instead of PJ1 in the 2nd lane. It didn’t work at all. They’ll try it again this week with an application already put down.

FORT WORTH, TEXAS – MAY 22: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Wrangler Ford, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway on May 22, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“We’re going to do kind of the same thing that has been the mile-and-a-half procedure for the mile-and-a-half’s that we treat,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week. “It’ll be resin and some tire dragon at the beginning of the weekend, and we’ll leave it.

“We’re also going to probably go a lane or so higher in [Turns] 3 and 4 just to try to give a little bit more racing room over there. It may not turn into racing room, but if they do slip out of the groove, at least there will be something there to grab a hold of.”

Will it work? That remains to be seen which is why fans are cautiously optimistic about the track situation.

Plus, with the temperatures soaring into the mid to upper 90s on both days of action this weekend, it almost makes you wonder how that will have an effect on the drivers, the teams, the cars and the fans sweltering in the stands too.

The attendance last year was a lot to be desired. Now with lackluster racing and temperatures nearing the century mark, I cringe at what the grandstands will look like for Sunday’s race.

Another wrinkle to this potential problem is the tire situation as well. Goodyear has had a fair share problems this season including during the All-Star Race at this very track this past May. While Goodyear has updated the tire for this weekend, it’s the same tire they just used at Kansas however and both of those races features plenty of tire problems too. So did Bristol last Saturday night.

“It has been widely documented that the balance of the Next Gen car has shifted towards the rear,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “On a weekly basis, optimizing tire performance is a key element in having a successful weekend. Air pressure, suspension geometry and shock settings work in unison to get the most out of the tire package. Being aggressive in any one of those areas is certainly a recipe for short-term speed, but the risk vs. reward of those choices can often come back and bite you.

“We work very closely with teams throughout the week and at the track, providing as much data as we can to help them make the right tire choices. We understand that teams are in a constant search for speed, but finding the edge of that envelope is key to finishing races.”

Much of the dilemmas have stemmed from an increased load on the rear of the Next Gen vehicle while Goodyear and teams continue to learn how the tire deflects with a thinner sidewall than in years past.

This is all why the magnifying glass is on Texas this weekend. That track has become a disaster ever since that repave/reconfiguration. There’s talks now of a complete do over.

“I think they should just put it back to the way it was from my standpoint,” Jimmie Johnson lobbied. “In all my years in Cup, it was the best mile-and-a-half, especially once it aged, from my perspective.

“Based on my previous experience in NASCAR, I think just put it back.”

Kyle Larson, last years winner, agreed.

“I would like them to demolish this place first and then start over from scratch,” Larson said Saturday. “For one, they did a very poor job with the reconfiguration, initial reconfiguration. 

“I would like to see them change it from a mile-and-a-half to something shorter. I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever.

“If I could build a track, it’d be probably a three-quarter mile Bristol basically, pavement and progressive banking. 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.”

But will they? Atlanta got a revamp and it’s 2 races were a slam dunk. Does Texas go in the direction that Atlanta did or does it go in a different route?

“Do we need more superspeedways?” Logano asked Saturday. “Is that the type of racing fans want to see? Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Denny Hamlin says anything, even another superspeedway is better than what is here now.

“I’d rather have another Atlanta than this, honestly,” Hamlin said. “Anything will be better than kind of what we have here.”

It’s hard to just resurface the turns because that costs money and you’re basically doing what you’re already done without any capital coming back in. While you absolutely can’t put any traction compounds back on those areas, is the configuration really going to be that much better?

That’s part of the issue to why traction compound even had to be put down to begin with. So then you open the door to repaving the entire track and reconfiguring again. While you’re at it, why not do something to stand out because if you haven’t noticed, 1.5-mile tracks are a dying form.

No matter what they do, they have to do something because they’ve already lost 1 points paying race for the All-Star race and that event flopped so badly there, it got taken away after just 2 years.

They’re in jeopardy of becoming the next Chicagoland and Kentucky…

“I want to be at tracks where I can make a difference, where my team can make a difference, and we’re not at the mercy of a wreck that happened in front of us that we couldn’t do anything about,” Logano said.

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