Friday, April 7, 2017

Repaved and Reconfigured: Five Questions Before Texas


credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs

by Lisa Janine Cloud

This week Kristen Schneider graciously consented to me writing the Five Questions piece since I will be at Texas Motor Speedway representing Skirts and Scuffs. Having been fortunate enough to attend every Cup race at TMS since November 2011, I’m quite familiar with the no-holds-barred style of racing in what’s come to be known as No Limits, Texas.

How will the repaved and reconfigured track race? Will those who have done well at Texas continue to do so?  Since the traveling circus that is the top-tier NASCAR touring series last visited the plains of North Texas, the track has not only been repaved, but reconfigured, with the racing surface widened 60 to 80 feet in Turns 1 and 2, and the banking reduced from 24 to 20 degrees in Turns 1 and 2. Both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams and the Xfinity Series teams get only a single extra hour of practice on the new surface.  How will the changes affect the racing? Who will be first to find the fastest line? What about the famous bumps in Turn 2 over the South Tunnel? How will the tires hold up? So many questions! The MENCS drivers get the first look at 11:00 a.m. CT, Friday.

Can Seven-Time start to get his mojo back with a win at Texas? Jimmie Johnson, who holds the record for most wins at the Great American Speedway with six, is winless so far in 2017. He’s led only 28 laps and his best finish was ninth at Phoenix. He’s only won the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 once. The rest of his Charlie 1 Horse hats are black since he scored them in the fall race. Will the 48 be great this weekend? We’ll see.

Will the Ford contingency’s performance continue to improve?  When Texas Motor Speedway opened, the Blue Oval Brigade dominated at the mile-and-a-half track, winning seven of the first 10 races. With the seventh race of the 2017 season pending, the Ford faction appears to be stronger than it has been in years, maybe even a decade. The upswing in speed coincides with the addition of the championship roster at Stewart-Haas Racing, which may be a coincidence but I’m thinking that’s not the case. Kurt Busch is the only SHR driver with Cup wins at Texas, but those both came in Penske Dodges. Joey Logano took the checkered flag for the Captain, too, but in a Ford. Will Penske score another win in No Limits Texas? Can Ricky Stenhouse Jr. follow up his gutsy performance at Martinsville with his first Cup win? I expect all the Fords to be strong this weekend, so who knows what will happen?

Can one of the young guns pick up a pair of pistols in No Limits, Texas? The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series roster is filled with young talent and Texas Motor Speedway has seen many of those youngsters covered in Texas-shaped confetti in Victory Lane in the Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series. Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Ty Dillon, even Trevor Bayne, who is only 26 years old despite his tenure at the Cup level, have wins at the track. Chris Buescher started his auto racing career on the Legends track at TMS. Elliott sits second in the points standings with three top 10s, four top fives, and an average finish of 7.8. The question is not if he’ll win, it’s when. Of course, Kyle Larson, who leads the points, could bring home the Charlie 1 Horse hat and the six-shooters.

Will an Xfinity series regular pick up the win in the Bariatric Solutions 300 against the strong MENCS drivers in the field on Saturday? With no trucks on the schedule this weekend (boooo!) the undercard consists of the Xfinity Series with a side of Tony Stewart Presents Texas Sprint Car Nationals on Friday and Saturday nights. Several MENCS drivers will be in Saturday’s Xfinity race, which could stand them in good stead on Sunday with the extra time on track. In car number order they are: Austin Dillon (No. 2), Ty Dillon (No. 3), Joey Logano (No. 12), Daniel Suarez (No. 18), Erik Jones (No. 20), Ryan Blaney (No. 22), Kevin Harvick (No. 41). Can the powerhouse JRM drivers Elliott Sadler, William Byron and Justin Allgaier, who are first, second and third in points, respectively, hold off the Cup drivers and take the checkers? One of Sadler’s three career Cup victories came at Texas and Byron scored an NCWTS win at the Great American Speedway last summer. On the other hand, Ty Dillon, Logano, Jones and Harvick have all had their name in lights in Victory Lane at TMS.

BONUS QUESTION: Will the Monster Energy Cup Girls work with or compete against the Great American Sweethearts? TMS has its own squad of attractive young women who help with the festivities. How will that work with new sponsor Monster's controversial umbrella girls? Will Victory Lane get a bit crowded? Or is it a case of the more, the merrier? I'm going with the latter.

The Great American Sweethearts
credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs

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