Texas Motor Speedway remains vital venue for IndyCar Series

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
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FORT WORTH, Texas – Since 1997, Texas Motor Speedway has been an important stop on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule. It provided the upstart Indy Racing League with a solid anchor for a second home outside of the Indianapolis 500.

That first race drew an announced crowd of 129,000 fans, who were thrilled at the sight of IndyCar’s first modern-day night race, under the lights in spectacular conditions.

When the 1.5-mile track opened, it was a racing palace and fans in Texas had a huge appetite for racing. Big crowds continued to watch, up through the rise of Danica Patrick and “DanicaMania” in 2005.

IndyCar racing at Texas has changed over the years. Initially, pack racing dominated as high-downforce setups allowed large groups of cars to race in tight formation. It thrilled the spectators but led to an outcry from drivers and team owners believing it was too hazardous and too costly when their cars were destroyed in crashes.

In 2012, IndyCar drastically changed the aerodynamic package for high-speed ovals. The result at Texas was a race that saw the field get spread out like an accordion.

But these races would still create dramatic outcomes. In 2012, the late Justin Wilson won the race after leader Graham Rahal brushed the Turn 4 wall heading to the white flag. In 2014, Ed Carpenter – a proponent of the previous Texas pack racing – nipped Will Power by .525 seconds.

Scott Dixon won a snoozer in 2015, defeating Tony Kanaan by almost eight seconds in a race that had just one caution for 13 laps and a strung-out field.

But the thrill returned in 2016 when Graham Rahal edged James Hinchcliffe at the start finish line by just .008 seconds in one of the closest finishes in IndyCar history.

The track was then repaved in 2017, and the new surface created much more grip. It created a return of the packs and ultimately led to Will Power winning under caution. That night, the yellow flew nine times for a whopping 66 laps.

Another change to the aero package and tires followed for 2018, which saw Dixon win in another runaway – this time, defeating Simon Pagenaud by over four seconds.

It remains to be seen what style of racing will take place in tonight’s DXC Technology 600, but a win at Texas remains a very important victory to any driver in the NTT IndyCar Series.

It comes at a track that is steeped in IndyCar history and heritage, and it rewards a driver that is able to master the art of high-speed racing on a high-banked oval.

The drivers remain split in what style of racing they prefer: Some would like to see closer racing, while others want to avoid the pack at all costs.

As noted earlier, Carpenter is one of the few drivers that wants to see a return to pack racing.

“I thought that was very exciting,” Carpenter told NBCSports.com Friday.

Others don’t believe it’s worth the risk.

“I prefer non-pack racing,” Will Power’s engineer, David Faustino, said. “We have won here with both forms of racing, but I prefer non-pack races.

“I think last year’s race was pretty good. You had a few cars that were battling. Maybe it could be a teeny bit tighter. Will believes, with this tire, it might be getting closer to the field being able to go flat out, and that would tighten the field.

“If the racing becomes tighter, the drivers have less ability to manage the wear on the tire. I don’t think they will be able to manage that very well.”

And then, there are others who would like a mix in-between the two.

“I’m somewhere between the pack racing and spread out,” Ryan Hunter-Reay said. “I would like to have this race come down to some handling (on the car).

“Oval racing has its challenges right now to attract fans. I love oval racing. It’s one of my favorite forms of racing.”

Firestone has tried to bring a tire to Texas that will wear over the course of a run, allowing more passing opportunities for drivers with fresher tires. In past Texas races, tires have blistered – losing chunks of rubber and leading to ill-handling race cars – because of the extreme conditions on this track with heat and grip.

“New tires still have an advantage, but we will have degradation, too,” pole winner Takuma Sato said. “I think it’s going to be a very good race. If everybody is on the new tire, the first 15-20 laps, everybody will be in a pack. After that, you will see the degradation and it will spread out.

“It shouldn’t be pack racing. Drawing the line is very difficult. At least, allow us to go two-wide through Turns 3 and 4 and that should allow us to have a good race.”

Team owner Dale Coyne believes the tires are much better than what they had last year.

“Each car was able to run 40 laps Thursday night and we could never run 40 laps with the old tire we had here before,” he said. “Winning here is still big. Justin Wilson said if he couldn’t win Indy, he wanted to win here because it proves how good a driver can be on an oval.

“It’s tricky to find the right balance. Pack racing can be too dangerous. Spread out can be too boring. You have to find the right balance. Getting the package right and getting the rules right, it can be tricky.”

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)