From the time that half the field crashed in the first turn of the first lap of the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race here way back in 1997, Texas Motor Speedway has always been a place where the bizarre and unexpected happens.
And the unexpected is likely to play a huge part in today’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at the 1.5-mile Texas track. Pre-race coverage begins on FS1 today at 11:30 a.m.
This is the first race at TMS since it was repaved, with Turns 1 and 2 flattened from 24 degrees of banking to 20 degrees and the racing surface widened from 60 to 80 feet.
The new surface has played havoc with teams during practice and qualifying, as there were a number of incidents, the most notable being when six-time Texas winner Jimmie Johnson spun in qualifying.
In that spin, Johnson flat-spotted three of the four tires on the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Johnson’s crew had to put fresh rubber on the car, which means that per NASCAR’s rules, Johnson will start at the back of the field today.
He’ll start there in the car that had the fastest single lap in Saturday’s final Happy Hour round of practice.
The good news for Johnson is he’ll have plenty of fast cars out back with him, as points leader Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, XFINITY race winner Erik Jones and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are among the drivers who will start 32nd or worse because they never made it through inspection in time to qualify.
As for the racing surface, expect it to be treacherous today.
“Everything is tricky with a new surface, you know what I mean?” said Matt Kenseth, the 2003 series champion and a two-time winner at Texas. “It’s not just qualifying – obviously, practice has been tricky and the race in traffic is going to be extremely tricky.”
Kenseth was not alone in that assessment.
“It is a little treacherous,” said Trevor Bayne of Roush Fenway Racing, who will start the day 12th. “You come in and your crew chief wants feedback and you are like, ‘Man, I am just trying to survive right now.’ When you are on the race track it requires every ounce of your focus and attention. It will bite you.”
Indeed it will. And will likely bite more than one driver over 500 long miles at Texas Motor Speedway today.