By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup recently endured one of its most trying days last Sunday in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
The event, delayed by rain, was also ended prematurely due to the same.
However, that isn’t where the problem sits. Not entirely. You see, there is a massive amount of buildup for Chase races and perhaps no place more so than the 1.5-mile oval track – the site where many fans have witnessed raw emotion from drivers and teams as they pursue championship dreams, of which many have been crushed.
Since last November, TMS has been the victim. Tortured by weather that only comes when a racing series is in town, the 2016 season could be marked as one of its most trying yet.
In the final event of its 20th anniversary, Texas Motor Speedway was at the mercy of the weather and of NASCAR.
A race set for roughly a 1 p.m. CT start time, failed to see any action on track outside of the Air Titans mixed with the occasional pace car check. However, as the lights came on fans heard the confirmation they waited all day for – “Drivers to your cars!”
That was at 6 p.m. CT (7 p.m. ET).
Only 15 minutes later we were all greeted with the 40 engines firing up as the anticipation continued to build.
As expected, there would be precautionary laps to ensure the track was safe to run on. Team radios ignited with driver feedback, all with varying opinions on the conditions.
And we waited.
And waited some more.
The moment was 6:55 p.m. CT and the start finally came.
As polesitter Austin Dillon came off Turn 4, the flagman began to wave, his arms extended, with hands holding the green and yellow flags.
The field started the race under caution and for another 10 minutes, had witnessed the same thing they had endured the 40 minutes prior.
The race finally got underway at 7:05 p.m. CT, but the damage had been done.
All that buildup, all that angst, and nothing to show for it.
Perhaps there was a greater sense of urgency due to the threat of the weather that eventually seized control of the outcome on lap 293 of 334. However, if that was the case then maybe the drivers shouldn’t have been forced to spend 40 minutes rolling around the track doing laps under warmup that never counted. For the sake of fear of the weather, perhaps the green/yellow combo should have happened 10 minutes after the engines fired – which would have made the start at 6:25 p.m. CT.
That’s 40 minutes of counted laps.
I’m not encouraging that scenario, but if that was the thought then it certainly appears to make more sense.
In hindsight, you already had the fans waiting countless minutes, why not just wait 10 more minutes under the warmup laps and go full green at 7:05 p.m. CT? That argument certainly has merit considering that the race never succumbed to weather near the halfway point – that happened over 100 laps after.
This is on NASCAR – and there were others.
Sunday’s race marked the third time in their last six trips to TMS that NASCAR has started the races under the twin green/yellow banners. The 2014 and 2016 April events were both plagued by the same combination.
The unfortunate reality is that weather has hit “The Asphalt Circus” anytime a racing series comes to town.
Something has to change, but what?
Date equity is the single most important factor in helping tracks succeed. However, there is something to be said in shaking things up after time and events has worn it out.
June has had considerably milder temperatures than it used to, for several years now, and it plays host to not only NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, but the Verizon IndyCar Series as well.
Once upon a time, Texas was the race right after the Indianapolis 500, but those days have passed. This leaves many to think that IndyCar loses ‘momentum’ from what it gains by the historic event.
That said, maybe IndyCar and Texas would be interested in a new marriage as the first oval on the calendar – perhaps even a season opener.
In that scenario, NASCAR could have Texas and Sonoma Raceway, both of which are Speedway Media Inc. tracks, swap dates and thus giving the NASCAR top series and Xfinity Series a date for a pair of night races in June and directly before the July 4th weekend race at Daytona International Speedway.
Seems there would be a lot of ‘momentum’ to be had there by all parties involved.
Lastly, if there was another thing to change it is the dreaded ‘R’ word that no one wants to hear.
June 18, 2001.
That was the last time ground broke at TMS on a repave that moved them away from the limestone-based compound and to a granite-based one – which was put in to help speed up the track drying process.
A new repave will likely run in the $5 million range.
However, the last several years have been trying and even though several drivers don’t want to see it, it is likely to happen sooner rather than later.
Put on the broader scope though.
This allows TMS president Eddie Gossage and SMI executive chairman Bruton Smith to make innovative changes to the 20-year-old facility at a time when rival International Speedway Corp. have made upgrades to Daytona International Raceway, with plans for other facilities in the works.
From new degrees of banking, slight reconfigurations, state of the art drainage and irrigation systems that are less dependent on NASCAR’s track drying abilities, sustainability, and more, the options are virtually limitless.
The unfortunate truth is that NASCAR has left TMS hung out to dry on several occasions recently, a sad testament to a venue that does its part to bring one of the more loyal fan bases and biggest purses (second highest behind the Daytona 500 in 2015) in the entire series.
To ensure that Sunday isn’t a situation that continues to repeat, it will be up to Gossage and Co. to find its way back to the front and once again put TMS at the top of everyone’s list.
Although weather is something out of everyone’s control, the element of the buildup isn’t and NASCAR should never destroy that anticipation or rob it from the fans in any way.
Especially a race that exudes championship buzz.
Trust Texas to do its part moving forward, but NASCAR, if you please, no more green/yellow starts.