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NASCAR drivers sound off about what to do with Texas Motor Speedway

by Mike Haag | Posted on Sunday, September 25th, 2022

A general view of racing during the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway on May 22, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)


By Mike Haag, Raceday San Antonio

FORT WORTH, Texas – Repave, reconfigure or demolish it. Those were some of the suggestions that were made by NASCAR Cup Series drivers who are competing in the 18th annual AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Photo by Mike Haag, Raceday San Antonio

The topic of what to do to improve the racing action at Texas Motor Speedway was on everyone’s minds including Dale Earnhardt Jr., former NASCAR driver and current owner of JR Motorsports.

Since TMS underwent a major facelift in 2017, the racing action has not been very satisfactory among the drivers and fans.

Earnhardt Jr. said that any changes to the length of the track could be problematic and that the grandstands, condos and Big Hoss TV would have to stay.

“So, whatever you’re going to do is going to fit in this footprint,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “So, a half-a-mile short track is not happening, and a two-and-a-half-mile superspeedway is not happening.  So, whatever happens has to kind of fit basically where the track is now. So, with those parameters, what do you do with this track as it is in this footprint? Honestly, I think that in my opinion, I would either do one of two options that I’m scared to put these out here.”

(Photo by Michael C. Johnson)

In January 2017 the entire 1.5-mile track was repaved and a new drainage system was installed.  In addition, the track was reprofiled in Turns 1 and 2 to give the venue a more unique layout from its currently symmetrical 24-degree banking in all four turns. Turns 3 and 4 remained unchanged but the banking of Turns 1 and 2 was decreased to 20 degrees. The racing surface width was expanded from 60 to 80 feet in that section of the track.

One of the suggestions Earnhardt gave was to revert back to the old configuration.

“I would revert back to the original configuration in turn one and two,” Earnhardt said. “I’d leave turn three and four the way it’s been. I might not even touch the track. Wait till what I see tomorrow. This race is going to [be] run in 100-degree temperatures during the middle of the day. Most of the races that we don’t like here happen at night. Let’s see what this racetrack looks like during the afternoon. Everybody might love it. We could have a great race tomorrow and everybody [would] go, ‘Well now what do we do?’”

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Earnhardt added, “But I would either — after the race — if we don’t have a good race tomorrow and there’s still conversation or momentum behind making the change, I would first probably go back to the way the place was before they changed one and two.  Or, they could just repave the treated part of the racetrack. They could leave the bottom two grooves the way they are and literally just pave the upper grooves that had been treated and that new asphalt would have more grip, more speed, guys would be running up there to find that. You would basically have the race track you have now but without the treatment on it, because I think the treatment is a long-term problem.”

After TMS was reconfigured, NASCAR officials applied a PJ1 compound to the race surface. The idea behind the compound was that it would provide grip in the turns. The concept didn’t work with the type of asphalt TMS has and the substance makes the track slippery, which limits the size of the racing groove.

“We put this on the track, and it grips and that’s great, but I think long term, we’re not going to want this stuff on our surface,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “And it’s reapplying, reapplying, reapplying; It’s got to be kind of affecting the asphalt in a negative way.”

(Brandon Wade/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Earnhardt Jr. added, “And so, you see guys go up there and they’re like, ‘I can’t get it, I can’t mess with it until we activate it, until we run [on] it, until we make it hot and grippy.’ But I think over a long period of time, you don’t want to be putting these things on the surface of the racetrack.”

Five years later the compound continues to wreak havoc on the races at Texas Motor Speedway. Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Andy’s Custard 300 race had nine cautions and some 14 drivers were involved in accidents.

“I think tomorrow we’re going to have even more opinions about it, depending on how the race is. It could be a great race. Could be an awesome race. I don’t know how y’all felt about today’s race. I thought it was pretty interesting, but it’s a hot, slick racetrack. Cars are sliding around where the track is treated, is a dominant space. I don’t think I love that. I wonder where we might be today with this track untreated, entirely untreated ever. Nothing out there. I wonder what kind of race we would have saw today, but that’s hindsight. That’s basically what I think about it.”

Kyle Larson. Photo by Mike Haag, Raceday San Antonio

Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet, was the most vocal this weekend regarding a change to the track when several NASCAR Cup Series Playoff drivers met with the media on Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.

“I would like them to demolish this place first, and then start over from scratch,” Larson said. “Well, for one, they did a very poor job with the reconfiguration, initial reconfiguration. So I don’t know, I think I would like to see them go change it from your mile-and-a-half to something shorter and … I don’t know if that means [to] bring the back stretch in or whatever. But, if I could build a track, it’d probably be a three-quarter-mile Bristol. Basically pavement and progressive banking, all that. But, I don’t know if that’s even possible here so I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Alex Bowman, driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet, said he agrees with Larson.

“I think if you leave it up to the drivers, then you would have what Kyle (Larson) said.. a short track of some sort,” Bowman said.  “If you leave it up to the fans, I have heard that some people want another Atlanta. I don’t think any of the drivers really want another Atlanta, but we are not here for us. We are here for the fans.”

Atlanta Speedway was recently repaved and reconfigured in 2021.  The entire project took 163 days to complete and some 17,000 tons of material was used to create. The track’s banking was increased from 24 degrees to 28 degrees. Atlanta now has the steepest banking of any intermediate track on the NASCAR circuit.

(Photo by Michael C. Johnson)

“It will be interesting to see if anything does happen,” Bowman said. “There are a lot of rumors flying around. The racetrack that we have now has not produced what we want. So, there are a lot of smart people working on it and thinking about how to make it better. Got to do something.”

Speedway Motorsports Inc., along with TMS and NASCAR have not released any details or have said whether the track will undergo any construction during the offseason.

Earnhardt Jr. said he thinks if Texas is changed in any way that it should be different than any other track on the circuit.

“Something Parker Kligerman said this today — I was talking to him — he said, ‘This place should be different than anything else. Not like Atlanta, not like anything. Come to Texas because Texas only offers XYZ’ right? And that’s a great way to think about it going in. How can you offer something that you don’t get anywhere else? And so, I’d start there.”

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 35 years. In addition to covering motorsports for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 18 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike taught high school English and Journalism for 30 years before retiring in May, 2020.