Texas repave proves tricky for some, shakes up typical practice leaderboard – Nascar
It was definitely a different look and fresh feel as drivers took to the newly paved Texas Motor Speedway for Friday’s opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice — a pair of veterans (Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin) and two newbies (Chase Elliott and Erik Jones) spun out on the new track surface, while some new names topped the speed chart.
Ryan Blaney led opening practice for Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 (1:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR) followed by Michael McDowell and Texas native Chris Buescher. Jones actually posted the fourth-fastest lap before a mishap in the No. 77 5-Hour Energy Toyota late in practice. A.J. Allmendinger rounded out the top five.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series leader Kyle Larson was next-fastest.
Six-time Texas winner Jimmie Johnson led the four-car Hendrick Motorsports team with the 14th-fastest lap. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 15th-quickest, Elliott 20th and Kasey Kahne 22nd.
Elliott and Jones both had to go back-up cars for qualifying later Friday afternoon because of their crashes during practice. Elliott’s No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet made hard contact with the wall exiting Turn 2 with less than five minutes remaining in the opening practice session.
“Just made a mistake and got too high off (Turn) 2,” Elliott said. “Got into the fence and ran out of room.
“With new repaves we have to have a tire that can withstand the speed and when that happens it just makes it real on edge and that is just part of it. Not an excuse, just made a mistake.”
Kyle Busch’s team was initially unsure if repairs could be made to his primary No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota in time for qualifying, but his Joe Gibbs Racing team went forward with it.
The new pavement was obviously “Topic A” leading into the weekend. There was no test here before the race, however Goodyear assured it was confident with the tire it brought to the 1.5-mile Fort Worth high banks.
Second-fastest McDowell certainly seemed to become a fan after practice.
“Maybe we should repave all the tracks,” McDowell said on Twitter following the opening session.
Others insisted the track will only get better as the weekend goes and more cars work in the surface. Not only was it newly surfaced, the banking in Turns 1 and 2 was lessened from 24 to 20 degrees and the track surface there widened from 60 feet to 80 feet. To compensate for the changes, NASCAR scheduled an extra hour of practice time.
“I thought that practice was enough,” said Martin Truex Jr., who was 16th-fastest. “It’s going to get better.”
Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said earlier this week that he absolutely expected drivers would push the limits to get a fair idea of the new surface. And that some would find the limit the hard way.
“It’s different than normal so we’ll see,” Gossage said. “I think there’s a certain unknown to it all and that can be both really cool and not cool. You may find someone figures it out quickly.”