Oh joy of joy’s, I have been patiently waiting for this race since the new format was announced. The doors are unlocked at the meanest track on the schedule and the boys and girls of INDYCAR started rolling into town on Thursday. This is the only race all year long that I watch live on TV and not time shifted to catch the checkers in real time. I actually hold a viewing party for this one and am pumped about the double format. Texas Motor Speedway is one bad track. Created in 1997 and holding its first indycar race the same year, TMS has become the best attended race outside of Indianapolis. Holding two races a year during the infancy of the IRL, and an attempted race by CART that was ultimately cancelled due to safety concerns, Texas is a very polarizing location. The two wide, white knuckle, edge of your seat pack racing is trademark at the house that Gossage built.
After a relatively smooth almost-month-of-May, crash damage wise, injuries were kept to a minimum. The only major issues I am aware of from May are the charred hands of Simona De Silvestro. She was, disappointingly, unable to complete her second 500, dropping out at lap 44 with handling issues. With two weeks to heal, Simona makes a return to the track that, literally, lit her on fire the last time she visited. Being a tough competitor, she should have no problems putting the memories and pain in the past and falling back into the grove quickly. Poor JR Hildebrand cannot catch a break. During a promotional event at an obstacle course, JR smashed into a hurdle and apparently tore his ACL. Panther says he will be able to compete at Texas, but are tight lipped about everything else. I have never personally had a ripped ACL, but I have seen people in recovery and it looks painful and takes a while to heal correctly. If he actually tore it, I cannot imagine that he will be able to get into the cockpit this weekend. Hopefully, it just ripped a little bit and he can have a quick recovery to 100 percent but I can’t stop thinking that a torn ACL is a season ending injury in stick and ball sports.
Helio has three wins here, and coming off of a disappointing 500, he is my pick for the win. The statement that Helio needs a win to ignite the season he should be having is becoming tired. But I will say it again this week. He is in top equipment, has the skill, the guy just needs a shot at some luck if he has the patience to wait for it. Hildebrand was my pick for the win when I woke up yesterday. Panther has equipment that can compete with the big two on the exercises in engineering and aerodynamics that is 1.5 mile track racing. With the injury, my driver from Indy gets called again this week, Oriol Servia. He had a wonderful May and Newman/Hass has the ability to steal a huge win on a mile and a half. I mentioned the big two earlier, and I feel that NHR will supersede Andretti Autosport as the number one contender to be dealt with by the death star. Oriol is 44 points out of first, sitting in third and a win here could really give his championship push some steam against the big boys. As with every oval race, the real question is what is Will Power going to do; can he finally pull one out? Unfortunately, 2005 winner Tomas Scheckter will not be making the trip to Texas. Too bad, he is always fun to watch at places like this. Wade Cunningham also gets to make his first of three starts to try and prove, once again, that Indy Lights is a great series to groom young drivers for the big cars.
With 30 rides entered into this weekend’s event, INDYCAR had to redraw pit lane to accommodate the extra cars. They also said they would not be bumping anyone this weekend, pulling even farther away from their odd magical number a capped field at 26 cars. Interesting dilemma here, you could bump and bring some drama from Indy with us to other tracks on the schedule at the risk of sponsors cancelling deals with team owners because they were sent home. I like having all the cars able to compete, and with TEAM money being paid out through p24, this should make for some interesting decisions by the back of the pack. With an honest to goodness full second race groove the double file restarts should be spectacular and ac clean as in Indianapolis. The only aspect I am unsure of is the blind draw to secure starting positions for race two. Using best lap times in the first race has been kicked around and I think that would have been a much better way to fill the grid. The new format nonetheless will be plenty entertaining, especially if there are fast cars in the back of the grid for the start of race two.
The double file restarts that worked wonderfully at Indy will undoubtedly make for some heated racing. Add in the sprint distance of 171 miles, duel race format, heat, 24 degree banking and sub 25 second lap times, this race will prove to be as action packed and nail biting as any stop on the calendar. This is the old IRL’s home away from home, the place that showed how crazy open wheel racing can be on ovals. Bemoaned by some critics, and loved by others, racing in Texas is always fun.