While last year’s 600-kilometer affair at Texas Motor Speedway saw a return of pack racing, with the 22-car field unable to effectively separate from each other, Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 (8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN) could look completely different.
Based on a pair of practices from Friday, notably between 7:15 and 8:15 p.m. ET (6:15 and 7:15 local time), this year’s race at Texas may see car setup and tire wear at the forefront.
Pole sitter Josef Newgarden detailed that such a challenge is something he thrives on, and he embraces it if indeed that is what lies ahead.
“After you get 20, 30 laps on the tires, I think it will get tougher,” Newgarden explained. “Guys will have to work to maintain the balance they want in the car, maintain the tire life. As a racecar driver, you want that around a track like this, where you have to work to make the racecar better, to last for the full stint.”
However, Scott Dixon, who qualified seventh and was fastest in final practice, wasn’t quite as ready as to completely eliminate the possibility of a pace race, citing last year’s event as an example.
“It’s so tough to predict. You know, there was a bit of a group text going on earlier (on Friday) between a lot of the drivers. Last year nobody predicted it was going to be a pack race. I was watching the race last night, by the end of the first stint, it was pretty much a pack race,” Dixon explained.
He added, “I think it’s kind of a similar situation to what we found last year. Yeah, okay, the track has degraded a little bit, probably lost a little bit of grip. But Firestone in turn brought a little softer tire, which I think will help.”
Yet, while Newgarden and Dixon expressed optimism about the situation at hand, Tony Kanaan was much more pessimistic.
Kanaan, citing a lack of aerodynamic downforce this year along with problems with tire blistering – he was one of several drivers who experienced blistering in the near 100-degree heat during Friday practice – expressed a fear that the package may have gone too far the other way.
“I know a lot of people are debating on this or that. Yeah, it’s okay for us to drive the cars because that’s what we want. I just think it’s too extreme right now,” Kanaan lamented.
Conditions for Saturday night’s race could be somewhat different in comparison with Friday practice. Practice 1 was held in the middle of the day – 11:30 a.m. local time – and final practice finished up at 7:15 local time.
Saturday’s race begins at 7:45 p.m. local time (8:45 ET), and while the ambient temperature will be around 90 degrees, the nighttime conditions could see track temperatures cool, and even the slightest variance in track temps could have a drastic impact on the race, as the aforementioned Dixon indicated.
“Last year nobody thought it was going to be a pack race, and lo and behold first stint it was a pack race. We’ll see. The track temp is just so critical here.”