In auto racing, speed is everything, but this weekend's race at Texas Motor Speedway has some wondering if this is too much of a good thing.
Concerns about the speeds being reached on the newly re-paved 1.5 mile oval have circulated through the garage area since several Winston Cup and Busch Grand National Series teams tested at the track last week. Some drivers experienced corner speeds close to 200 mph, making Texas one of the fastest non-restrictor plate tracks the series will visit this season.
"I think it is going to be the fastest track that we visit all year," said Jerry Nadeau, one of the drivers who recently tested at the track. "I don't think there will be much passing. They did a great job with the asphalt, the track is very smooth and it has a lot of grip."
"We were running 202 (mph) into turn one during our test there last week," Rusty Wallace said, "so it'll be lightning fast, that's for sure."
"This is by far the fastest race track we will race at this year." Elliott Sadler said, "The Texas Motor Speedway staff did a great job on the repaving of it. There is not one bump on the whole race track. Man, it is fast."
Many drivers believe the new track surface will make it a slick, one-groove racetrack, making passing difficult, which mean's little, if any, side-by-side racing.
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"They re-paved the track, and anytime you do that, it makes it a one-groove race track for awhile." John Andretti said, "You can look all day for some different tire tracks, but all you are going to find is a two-tire track groove. It's 'Follow the Leader' multiplied by 42."
"This year, I expect a lot of nose-to-tail racing because of the new track surface," said defending series champ Jeff Gordon, seeking his first win at Texas. "I've heard it's smooth as glass and unbelievably fast but it will take a few more races before we work in a second groove."
"The new surface at Texas is unbelievable smooth. It really made the track slick." Ward Burton said, "It could get better the more the cars run on it, but I am afraid it will still be a one-groove race track. I wish we could figure out how to put some banking in some of these places."
"It's going to be a great racetrack once it gets a second groove, but we aren't going to have that second groove worked in which is where we could pass." Johnny Benson said, "That will take a year or two. I was told that some guys could drive a lap without lifting. I couldn't quite do that. It was close but we couldn't do that."
The fear of too much speed causing problems at Texas is a valid one. Last year, the inaugural CART Fed-Ex Championship race at TMS was cancelled after several CART drivers complained of dizziness and vertigo caused by the high G-forces they were subjected to while running in excess of 220 mph on the track.
"Everybody's nervous. The place is so fast." Stacy Compton said, "You run about 10 laps and you have a hard time breathing. It's so fast and so intense."
"It's so fast that you run 10-12 laps, and I couldn't stand it," said Jeff Burton, last year's winner of this event. "You have to come in. I don't know about the speeds we're turning, but there is nothing that feels as fast as this place. It's real fast."
Although the high speeds might make for some dangerous racing, not everyone is as concerned, but some wonder why the track was changed in the first place, favoring the old surface over the new one.
"I'm not exactly sure why they paved it." Matt Kenseth said, "I guess that's a question I'd like to ask because I'm not sure why it got paved. It was just getting to the point last year where we could run almost side-by-side. You could almost pass somebody on the outside."
"It's so smooth and it just lets you run wide open. Even through the corners you barely have to lift," said Busch Series driver Bobby Hamilton, Jr. "The re-surfacing work that they have done to the track since the last time we were here has given it a lot more grip, which makes you feel a lot more secure."
"I'm happy with it. I love it! If anyone complains about this place, they don't need to be in a race car, that much is for sure."
"Well, I don't think Texas is going to be as big, horrible and scary as everyone is afraid it will be but it is fast - very fast." Benson said, "It's fast because it' s so smooth. It was fast to start with and now that it's repaved it will be even faster."
"After running a couple of years down there we had just got it to where we can run side-by-side and then they changed the track. I know they changed it for more reasons than us, but I think our racing would be better on the old surface."
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