By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Following last weekend’s first short track race of the season at Martinsville, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to a 1.5-mile track with Sunday’s visit to Texas Motor Speedway for the running of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
First joining the circuit in 1997, the 1.5-mile Texas track has provided some great racing over the years as the surface wore down as each season passed before being repaved and reconfigured prior to its 2017 race dates.
As a refresher, the reconfiguration affected Turns 1 and 2, dropping the banking in that section of the track from 24 degrees to 20 degrees, as well as widening the racing surface from 60 feet to 80 feet. Meanwhile, Turns 3 and 4 remain banked at 24 degrees and 60 feet wide, giving the track two distinct corners that the drivers will have to navigate.
Just as they did in previous years, TMS officials have been working to lay down rubber on the track in an effort to provide as much of a racing groove as possible for the competitors, as well as using the PJ1 traction compound in the upper grooves to try and aid those efforts further.
By the Numbers
What: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 7 of 36
Where: Texas Motor Speedway – Fort Worth, Texas (Opened: 1997)
When: March 31, 2019
TV/Radio: FOX, 3:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 1.5-mile quad oval
Banking: Turns 1-2 banked 20 degrees, Turns 3-4 banked 24 degrees
Race Length: 334 laps, 501 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages: 85 laps each; Final stage: 164 laps
Pit Road Speed: 45 mph
Pace Car Speed: 55 mph
Aero Package: 550 horsepower with aero ducts
April 2018 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started eighth, 116 laps led)
November 2018 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started third, 177 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford (26.877 seconds, 200.915 mph – 11/3/2017)
Top-10 Driver Ratings at Texas:
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 102.9
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 101.3
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 96.3
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 95.6
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 94.6
- Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 93.1
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet –89.9
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 89.2
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 88.0
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 88.0
From the Driver’s Seat
“It’s not the Texas Motor Speedway anymore that I started racing on,” said Darrell Wallace, Jr. “It is super-fast. I like the feeling of speed, obviously, I am in this sport for a reason – and in Turn 3 and Turn 4 you are hanging on for dear life. We are going to be wide-open there with this package. There are no other grooves. It’s just one groove, and is really hard to pass.
“It comes with age, I guess, for the track to wear out. It needed a repave because the rain delays were horrendous. So, Atlanta (Motor Speedway) is the last one hanging on. They continue patching up to try to save the asphalt, but in-time it calls for a new repave. It’s just unfortunate the way that place used to race. There was five, or six grooves, all the way from the yellow line to the fence you could race anywhere. That was always fun.”
Last Time at Texas
Kevin Harvick was a dominant force in last November’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, leading a race-high 177 laps en route to his second straight Fall race win at the track and his 45th career win in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
The only obstacle in his way was a late race restart following a crash with two laps to go in regulation, which pushed the race into overtime.
On the previous restart, Ryan Blaney had gotten the best of Harvick by restarting in the outside lane, but this time around the wily veteran was not going to let it happen twice, taking the outside lane for himself on the overtime restart.
Powering past Blaney in Turn 1, that was all it took for Harvick to keep his Ford out front the rest of the way and capture the win. After taking the checkered flag, Harvick stopped on the frontstretch for his post-race interview and pulled a young fan out of the stands to take a picture with him in celebration.
“That last restart I knew I needed to pick the top,” said Harvick. “I wanted to be on the bottom to be safe because the top got such a good sidedraft getting into one and the outside groove got rubbered up. I thought if I could keep him from finishing the corner I could drive back by him. It all worked out. Everything went well today on our Mobil 1 Ford and we were able to get to victory lane.”
However, the celebration was short-lived as NASCAR dropped the penalty hammer on Harvick and his team a few days later after his No. 4 Ford was found to have an illegal spoiler in post-race inspection at the NASCAR R&D Center.
Because of the infraction, which violated Section 20.4.12 of the NASCAR Rule Book (Vehicle spoiler must conform to the CAD file and drawing. Spoilers must be used exactly as supplied from the manufacturer.), Harvick’s win no longer counted toward automatic advancement to Homestead and dropped him to fourth in points at the time, just three points above the cut line.
Though Harvick would eventually make his way into the Championship 4, the penalty from Texas nearly sunk his chances to compete for the title.
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, March 29
- MENCS Practice (3:05 pm to 3:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)
- MENCS Qualifying (7:40 pm – FOX Sports 1)
Saturday, March 30
- MENCS Practice (9:05 am to 9:55 am – FOX Sports 1)
- MENCS Final Practice (11:30 pm to 12:20 pm – FOX Sports 1)
Sunday, March 31
- MENCS O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 (3:00 pm – 334 laps, 501 miles – FOX)