IndyCar Drivers Challenged By NASCAR Track Enhancement at Texas

Matt Weaver
·6 min read
Photo credit: Ronald Martinez - Getty Images
Photo credit: Ronald Martinez - Getty Images
  • IndyCar drivers have struggled to navigate Turns 1 and 2 at Texas Motor Speedway due to the traction compound sprayed on to enhance the NASCAR races.

  • The PJ1 has made Texas a single groove race track because the upper lane has 20 percent less grip.

  • Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe hopes for cooler weather and regulation changes to improve the racing product next month.

A competition enhancement designed to improve the racing for NASCAR events at Texas Motor Speedway has had the opposite effects for IndyCar races.

What became apparent last summer will continue into 2022 as IndyCar drivers will be unable to get off the bottom groove in Turns 1 and 2 at the Fort Worth intermediate due to the application of a traction compound for NASCAR.

"It’s a no-go zone," Graham Rahal told reporters after a Wednesday test session at Texas. “When they repaved the track [in early 2017] and used the lime wash, it was slippery. The first Cup race they raced here, a lot of guys crashing. I remember talking to Jimmie (Johnson) about it. It’s just very slippery. Everybody here at TMS does a great job trying to find ways to find grip.

"Unfortunately, the dark black stuff is, from the data we got, is about 20 percent less grip than the bottom lane and a half so it’s still going to be a no-go zone."

Rahal, who previously won at Fort Worth in 2016, is hoping IndyCar orders additional downforce to the competition package, alongside a different Firestone tire compound and for cooler temperatures to make for better racing during the May 1-2 doubleheader.

"If the downforce levels are correct and the tire combination is correct and you have kind of an evening race on both days — Sunday not so much but on Saturday — that gives you an opportunity for the track to cool down and be good conditions to let you go race anyway," said Rahal. “I think we’ll be able to put on a better show than what we had the last year or the time before that. But we have to learn."

Andretti Autosports'James Hinchcliffe agreed with the overall sentiments from Rahal but added that additional grip could materialize if teams can find a way to make several laps up top and activate the traction compound.

"It might make that a little more feasible, but right now it’s still pretty slick up there unfortunately," Hinchcliffe said. "We just need more guys trying to run up there at some point."

The compound was first added in the aftermath of the track’s 2017 repave and reconfiguration.

"I tried opening up the radius into (Turn) 1 a couple of times and the car wasn’t very happy," O’Ward said. "Usually, you can sort of feel it out whenever it might come in, but honestly, for what I have felt up until now, it’s not going to grip up. We need that to grip up in order for us to have a good race. The other thing that might help racing is see how the tire deg [degradation] is going to be. (Wednesday’s) a little funky because there’s so much downforce. It’s very windy, but there is so much more downforce because it’s cold, and we’re all flat around the place and it usually isn’t easy flat. You have to kind of take a leap of faith and not everybody does it in qualifying.

"I think last year, Josef (Newgarden) was the only one that did it. We’re all in a situation where we’re just getting all this extra grip that I don’t think it’ll be here on race weekend — it might, but I feel like in that area, it might make the racing very difficult if we don’t have a second lane. We truly need that in order for us to either have chances to pass and (put on) a good show."

O’Ward added that extra bravery is needed to even think about making it work.

"I don’t know how else to say it, but I haven’t had the cojones to go four wheels on the black," O’Ward said. "… Any time you try and get just a little bit of clean air on your wings behind someone, you lose like 10 car (lengths) because you just plow through. It’s obviously very green up there. It needs more rubber. The problem is we don’t know if it’ll rubber in. We’re just going to have to see how everything plays out and if people start using that second row.”

Freshly paved tracks provide so much grip that cars will often go single file because the top makes just as much speed as the bottom but is the longest way around the track. Texas Motor Speedway officials added the compound in the hopes that it would create additional grip to make the groove tenable for NASCAR races.

It’s had mixed effects.

In the case of IndyCar, it’s had no beneficial effect to date, with all involved looking for a solution over the next month.

Two-time Texas winner Will Power offered one suggestion.

"If you did a session, let’s say, 20 minutes leading into the final practice of the race weekend and everyone gets a set of tires and they can only run the second lane, and that segued into final practice, then you get cars running both lanes," Power said.

"As they get to someone, they just wouldn’t stall out. They’d go up there. So I think that would almost fix the problem. We’ve added downforce, the cars are easier and more stuck. You can even do a short line at the moment when you’re running by yourself, but if you can’t go to another lane, how can you ever pass?"

All told, Rahal appreciates that Texas Motor Speedway officials have acknowledged to the IndyCar community that these aren’t the ideal racing conditions.

"Everyone at TMS is responding," Rahal said. "I’m sure when they repaved the track, they thought it was going to be the perfect combination and it wasn’t. They know that, they’ve acknowledged that, and I think everybody here has done a great job to try to adjust to that and make it racy again and I think it’s getting closer."

What competition changes should IndyCar make to improve the racing at Texas Motor Speedway? Tell us in the comments section below.