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Ryan: A necessary evil is coming soon to the surface of Texas Motor Speedway

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FORT WORTH, Texas – Shut Up and Drive … The Sequel?

There are no rumblings of resurgent acrimony between Texas Motor Speedway and the stars of the Sprint Cup Series. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite in recent years.

But a wedge issue is looming — witness an interminably long delay for drying a waterlogged surface Sunday —  and the track president already is laying groundwork to help mitigate future ill will.

Leaping from a conference table with a Sharpie and a sense of purpose Saturday morning in his Speedway Club office, Eddie Gossage preemptively tried to make the case for why his 1.5-mile oval will need an asphalt makeover that every driver in NASCAR’s premier series assuredly will decry.

“I know they’re going to hate it,” Gossage said of the reaction he expects from drivers when he breaks the news of a repaving that is inevitable. “I hate it. It’s millions of dollars, but it has to be done at some point. We’re much closer to the end than we are to the beginning of the life of this pavement.”

On a dry-erase board, Gossage scribbled a rough diagram of the four layers of asphalt at Texas.

The bottom three layers mostly are fine, which is somewhat surprising given that is usually the source of “weepers” (groundwater that bubbles through a track’s surface).

But the surface is the major problem. The 2-inch top layer is comprised of stones, sand and polymers and designed to be pliable, and it’s become porous over years of being hammered by the ground effects of Indy cars and stock cars (not to mention jet dryers and Air Titans).

When it rains at Texas, the water soaks into the top layer and sits, turning track drying into a herculean task that often teeters on Sisyphean.

Last summer, an IndyCar race had to be postponed because five hours of drying wasn’t enough. A passing shower this past Thursday afternoon forced the rescheduling of a Camping World Truck Series practice to Friday morning.

The only solution is a $5-million overhaul that isn’t in the Speedway Motorsports Inc. budget.

Yet.

“We’re obviously close to time to repave,” Gossage said. “But that could be three years, or five or whatever.

“It could be January.”

That won’t be met well by Sprint Cup drivers who fiercely resist repaves, planting the seeds for discontent in a racing surface that already has been sewn with much controversy.

When Texas opened in 1997, its jarringly uneven transitions and narrow frontstretch were the twin hallmarks of an inauspicious debut marked by massive pileups on the track juxtaposed with six-hour traffic jams outside it. Rusty Wallace demanded a total reconstruction of the track, and several more stars loudly grumbled about the debacle.

A year later, with the track selling T-shirts that read “Shut Up and Drive,” water seeped through the Turn 1 asphalt and caused a practice to be canceled, and the race was another wreckfest that had teams and NASCAR officials in virtually open revolt.

The track was reconfigured after the 1998 race, repaved a few years later and gradually rebranded as a superspeedway that drew raves for a pockmarked surface littered with character-building bumps and holes.

Once the opulent jewel whose lone fatal flaw was a maligned ribbon of asphalt, Texas has become perfect in its imperfections.

Drivers beg track owners to eschew repaves because they believe it ruins the racing through their new ultrasmooth, high-grip surfaces that fail to produce the speed disparity for consistent passing and side-by-side racing.

When Texas repaves, it likely will be met with an angry chorus predicting boring, follow-the-leader races at breakneck speeds.

But there is no other option.

Shut up and start pouring asphalt.

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch questions Xfinity rules package at Indy

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Kyle Busch isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and he certainly did so after Saturday’s  Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NASCAR implemented a number of changes to make the racing closer, tighter and more exciting — including restrictor plates, a larger rear spoiler, aero ducts, and a smaller splitter — and achieved all that on many fronts.

But not for the younger Busch brother, who wasn’t pleased with the rules package. Was it actually designed to specifically slow him down rather than to even out things for the entire field?

Or was he just simply upset because he didn’t win a third Xfinity race in a row at IMS?

Check out how our NASCAR America analysts gauged the Xfinity changes in the above video.

 

TriStar Motorsports team owner Mark Smith passes away

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Mark Smith, owner of TriStar Motorsports, died Saturday at his home, after a long battle with cancer, the team announced Monday. He was 63.

He began his racing career building engines for his brother Jack’s drag car in the 1970s. He moved his family from the West Coast in the early 1990s to pursue a career in NASCAR. He was the owner of TriStar Motorsports and Pro Motor Engines.

TriStar Motorsports fields the No. 14 in the Xfinty Series with JJ Yeley and the No. 72 in the Cup Series with Cole Whitt. The team stated the team will continue operations under the management of Bryan Smith, son of Mark Smith.

“It was dad’s dream to own and operate a NASCAR team,” Bryan Smith said. “He devoted his life to that dream and his family plans to honor his wishes by continuing our efforts in his memory.”

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Victory Junction Gang victoryjunction.org or NOVA (National Organization for Vehicle Access, part of the BraunAbility) novafunding.org.

The family will receive friends from 5-8 p.m. ET, Aug. 1 at Cavin-Cook Funeral Home, Mooresville, North Carolina. They have created a Facebook page where you are encouraged to leave a story for the family to enjoy. (facebook.com/Remembering-Mark-Smith-301261653675224)

NASCAR America: Analysts break down Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. wreck (video)

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Given how wild the Brickyard 400 played out, the big wreck between race leaders Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. wasn’t exactly surprising.

Rather, with the way the race transpired from the opening lap, was the Busch/Truex wreck almost inevitable?

Truex got loose and washed up into the left rear of Busch’s car, sending both drivers and their respective cars into the outside retaining walls, hitting hard and ending their respective days.

Check out what our NASCAR America analysts had to say about the wreck from Monday’s show in the above video.

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr. recaps wild Brickyard 400 (video)

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, Dale Earnhardt Jr. — who will become part of our NBC Sports Group in 2018 — looked back on a wild and intense Brickyard 400.

Earnhardt was one of several drivers whose day came to an early ending — in Junior’s case when he ran into the back of Trevor Bayne‘s car, destroying his radiator in the process.

All the mayhem and mishaps could be linked to over-aggressive driving, Earnhardt said, saying that every driver was in “attack mode,” especially on restarts.

Check out Junior in the video above.