Repaves. Repaves. Repaves.
Hate them or love them, it is simply part of motorsports. Let’s be real: You probably don’t love them. But hey, it could be worse. Imagine if tracks did not have the money to repave and suddenly, fans were left with weepers at every facility. Yuck.
But as the NASCAR realm adjusts to the latest repave, the racing action at a cookie-cutter track might improve. Yes, improve.
While cookie-cutters take up the majority of the NASCAR schedule in each of the top three divisions, it is important to recognize that repaving them is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Tracks usually do not want to repave due to old surfaces creating better racing conditions.
However, at the end of the day, racing is a business and this corporation in particular cannot afford to fall behind.
As Texas Motor Speedway’s first race weekend of 2017 approaches, the NASCAR XFINITY Series is preparing to return to action after an off-weekend. And as the sport’s second-tier division will turn the ignition switch on their racetracks for the first time in nearly two weeks, there are two teams that have dominated the XFINITY Series thus far. However, that might not last for long.
Q: Now that Texas Motor Speedway had its repave, how will the racing be different? – Casey F., Milwaukee.
A: Let’s hope things get better. The races at the 1.5-mile speedway were just getting better after a few seasons of snooze-fests.
A few years ago, I brought friends over to my house to watch the spring race at Texas. To say the least, they were not entertained.
But with NASCAR’s low-downforce package in full effect last year, the racing at Texas became one of the best out of the cookie-cutter tracks in the sport’s premier division. Both races last year featured 17 or fewer lead changes. However, those battles were intense and proved to have a domino-effect throughout the field.
When Charlotte Motor Speedway had its repave in 2005, the racing was spectacular. Speeds were up and the action increased as well. Obviously, that took place at a time when NASCAR’s intermediate package was incredible to watch. But if Texas follows suit, it could make its return as one of NASCAR’s most interesting tracks to watch.
In the mid-2000s, Texas became known for its high speeds and great battles. But the track has not received a fresh surface since 2002.
With a new surface, expect to see an increase in speeds for sure this coming weekend. However, since NASCAR made minimal changes to its aero package entering this season, the action hasn’t been outstanding at intermediate tracks with the exception of stage conclusions.
But the biggest difference for Texas Motor Speedway will not be the new surface. Rather, it is the decrease in banking in Turns 1 and 2, which have gone from 24 degrees to 20.
The change will certainly give drivers a new challenge at a track that is rather popular. Now, they will have to tackle the track in halves, splitting the differences between the turns 50-50.
Q: JR Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing combine for the top five spots in the XFINITY Series standings. Will things stay that way? – Lindsey S., Portland, Oregon.
A: The XFINITY Series is going to have an amazing battle for the championship in 2017, possibly even better than last year’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
While no single driver or team is showing an outstanding amount of speed to start the year, Justin Allgaier certainly impressed with his first win for JR Motorsports at Phoenix Raceway. But another driver who is impressing is Ryan Reed, who sits fourth in the standings following his win during the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.
However, while these two drivers are the only XFINITY Series regulars to win thus far in 2017, their teammates are just as strong, if not stronger.
Elliott Sadler currently leads the championship standings by 17 markers ahead of rookie teammate William Byron. Sadler, Byron and Reed’s teammate Darrell Wallace Jr. are the lone XFINITY Series drivers to have top-10 results in four of the first five races. But besides them, no one else has yet to prove they have what it takes to run up front and win this year.
Though it is very early in the season, teams have an idea of how much speed they have by now. JR Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing are clearly showing the most speed this season in terms of drivers racing for the championship. They should be happy Team Penske isn’t running a full-time car for the drivers title because that No. 22 car is on fire to start the year.
Joey Logano‘s win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was indeed a major one for Penske, which struggled in 2016. But on top of Logano’s triumph, Brad Keselowski is performing quite well in the No. 22 machine, with a pair of top fives and three top 10s in three races. Yeah, they are fast.
But outside of the top five in the standings, no driver is standing out.
Brennan Poole is consistently running in the top 10 with back-to-back eighth-place finishes. But prior to the past two events, he had just one top-15 result.
Rookie Daniel Hemric is showing promise at the start of the season for Richard Childress Racing, much more than teammates Brandon Jones and Brendan Gaughan, who each sit outside the top 12 in points. Hemric also has a pair of top 10s this year, but at Fontana and Phoenix, he showed he has the speed his teammates are lacking in order to compete near the front of the field.
While the RCR cars will begin to show speed sooner rather than later, the two major teams that haven’t done that yet are Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Tifft. Both rookies entered 2017 with high expectations, but neither have been outstanding, with Tifft failing to finish in the top 10 and Custer only having one top 10 in five races.
But with the off-week, it will be interesting to see if the younger drivers can begin to get in the mix for wins.