Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Chris Buescher and Verizon IndyCar Series driver Ed Carpenter joined Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage for the ceremonial first lap Monday as the track's major renovations were officially unveiled.
Amid fireworks on the frontstretch, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell and INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations Jay Frye waved the green flag on Buescher, Carpenter and Gossage as they drove the speedway's official Chevrolet SS pace cars three wide for the inaugural lap on the newly repaved and re-profiled 1.5-mile oval.
The lap signaled the completion of a nearly 2½-month capital project at the world-renowned motorsports facility that annually plays host to NASCAR and INDYCAR events. The project consisted of a complete repave of the racing surface and pit lane, re-profiling of Turns 1 and 2 that altered the configuration, and the addition of an extensive French drainage system.
This was just the second full repave of Texas Motor Speedway since it opened in 1997. The first repave project occurred in the summer of 2001 as the speedway had the racing surface repaved with a granite-based asphalt compound from the original limestone-based asphalt.
One of the primary reasons for the project was the result of rain delays that plagued all three race weekends last year - including a 76-day postponement for the INDYCAR race - and the inability to dry the track in a timely fashion due to the age of the racing surface.
"We're excited about it and again applaud Eddie and the whole crew at Texas for taking the initiative and continuing to invest for the fans," O'Donnell said. "It's big for the sport - for both series here NASCAR and INDYCAR - and we're excited to get the year going here."
The re-profiling of the speedway reduced the banking in Turns 1 and 2 by four degrees, decreasing it to 20 degrees. That change added additional racing surface with the width expanding from 60 to 80 feet in that section of the track. The result is a more unique and challenging layout then the previous symmetrical layout of 24 degrees in each turn and racing surface width of 60 feet in those turns.
"Marcus Smith, president of Speedway Motorsports Incorporated which is our parent company, suggested why don't we re-profile Turns 1 and 2," Gossage said. "Let's make it a little flatter - that's something we've always wanted to do is reduce the banking here if we could to make the cars slow down a little bit. He said let's re-profile it and as it turned out we were able to lower the banking from 24 to 20 degrees in Turns 1 and 2 and widen the track in the process. The re-profiling is a great idea from Marcus Smith."
Buescher and Carpenter had the opportunity to take a number of laps in the pace cars, including media rides to provide them a driver's perspective of the changes.
"Turns 1 and 2, it's interesting how wide it is now," Buescher said. "We have a lot of options. The bottom groove actually is so far down the race track you feel like that corner is going to be quite a bit slower."
"I think that's what made for some really good racing at Kentucky last season was just having the difference in two corners. I think just changing them up and making it hard to get a car to be balanced in both corners when they are that different.
So far, it looks good, it's smooth and Turns 3 and 4 still have some of the characteristic bumps through it we always enjoy having."
"I'm excited to get out there in an Indy car," Carpenter added. "Obviously, the Chevy SS is nice and can get some speed, but it is a lot different car from an Indy car. But from what I could tell, it's greatly improved, a lot smoother and I think the reconfiguration as drivers and teams we like challenges and it's something different.
"Having diversity between 1, 2, 3 and 4 is something good for racing obviously and with it wider Indy cars may be able to go five wide through there."
The new racing surface will make its race debut at the upcoming O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 NASCAR doubleheader weekend set for April 7-9. The Verizon IndyCar Series doesn't arrive until June 9-10 for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600, but the sanctioning body along with Firestone has scheduled a full-field test day on April 12.
"Obviously, now it will be a big day for us because with the new configuration the track has changed," Frye said. "We had what we think was a pretty phenomenal event last year after that 76-day red flag, the longest red flag in motorsports history if you remember that.
"Again, we couldn't be more proud to be here. We couldn't be more excited about what you (TMS) have done and it's amazing how things happen here and it happens fast. That's a testament to what they do and this is a great facility and we're really glad to be coming back."
-- Texas Motor Speedway --