By Jared Turner
They say everything’s bigger in Texas.
That includes that speeds at Texas Motor Speedway.
Already one of NASCAR’s fastest tracks, the 1.5-mile Fort Worth venue reached into rarefied air last fall when Tony Stewart shattered the old track record with a lap of 200.111 mph in the second round of knockout qualifying.
Stewart’s lap made Texas just the fourth track in NASCAR history to have a qualifying record set with a speed in excess of 200 mph.
As the Sprint Cup Series prepares for its Texas return, Stewart believes the key to going fast this weekend will be being unafraid to let it all hang out.
“You have to be comfortable or you’re not going to go fast,” the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion said. “The more comfortable I am, the faster we go. This track, the grooves have moved around, especially in the last couple of years. We’ve seen the track get wider and it’s made it to where you can move around on the racetrack and where you can run the top side or the bottom side.
“It’s nice from a driver’s perspective to be able to have that flexibility behind the steering wheel, knowing that if your car’s not driving exactly the way you want it to, you can move around the racetrack and find a spot the car likes better.”
Texas’ multiple grooves make the track a favorite for other drivers, too.
“Texas Motor Speedway is a good track race-wise,” Ryan Newman said. “It provides drivers with a lot of options. You can move around and find a line that your car responds to and it’s really versatile so you can get around somebody. It’s also fast – really fast – so aero is also an important part of it and it’s nice to have that ability to move around. With it being one of the older tracks on the circuit asphalt-wise, the racing will be good for both the drivers and the fans watching in the stands and on television.”
Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500 under the lights at TMS certainly has all the makings of a can’t-miss-affair. In addition to it being the first night race of the 2015 season, Texas is notorious for major fireworks both on and off the track.
It was here, most folks remember, that Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon literally came to blows in November 2010. Then, in the same race one year ago, Gordon and Brad Keselowski brawled and bled on pit road after late-race contact cost Gordon a shot at victory and opened up the door for teammate Jimmie Johnson to take the win.
“Texas is one of the more interesting racetracks we race on,” said Johnson, a winner of three of the past five Texas races. “The characteristics of the track – the bumps and the surface will make for an exciting race.”
And probably a fast one, too.
“It’s a very different track where anything can happen as far as speed,” said driver Kurt Busch. “The key to winning there though in my mind is carving through the center of the corner through the bumps. If you can do that and hold it wide open through there you are going to be the car to beat.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who captured his first career Sprint Cup win at Texas in 2000, appreciates the track for more than just the racing.
“One of the things I like about TMS, and this is genuine, is the fan support,” he said. “When we first built that racetrack, to be frank, we (NASCAR) were struggling west of the Mississippi to really draw crowds. For whatever reason, when they built this racetrack, people really latched on to it. It’s been a great market for us.”