Circular logic: Texas might look similar but isn’t the same as other 1.5-mile ovals

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What kind of track is Texas Motor Speedway?

Ryan Newman has a simple but elegant way of looking at it.

“It’s really a big circle,” Newman said in a team release.

It’s a 1.5-mile circle that looks similar to sister tracks Charlotte Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. But Texas, which opened in 1997, deserves a closer look before Saturday’s Duck Commander 500.

While Texas is the same length as Charlotte at 1.5 miles, its frontstretch is longer by 270 feet. Texas’ backstretch also is shorter by 170 feet. The straightaways of both tracks connect to turns with 24-degree banking.

“Texas is unique because the banking falls off faster than a lot of the other 1.5-mile tracks on the exit of Turn 2 and 4″ Jamie McMurray said in a release. “We used to see a lot of guys flat-side the right side of the cars, but now with the no ride-height rules and how you can get the nose to ride so much lower, you don’t have that as much. That is still an issue there with how the baking falls away, but not as much as before.”

On the NASCAR on NBC podcast, analyst Jeff Burton detailed how Texas is different from its sister tracks.

“Turns 1 and 2 at Texas are unique to itself,” Burton said. “The entrance to Turn 1, the way you have to get into the corner and they way the banking transitions from the straightaway to the corner is the strangest thing in the world. If you’re going down the backs straightaway at Texas and you look at the way the banking increases, it does it really late into the corner.

“That makes it really, really difficult.”

Texas also is a wider track than Charlotte with a minimum width of 58 feet. In the turns, Texas features a 750-foot radius to Charlotte’s 685 in Turns 1 and 2 and 625 feet in Turns 3 and 4. But that doesn’t make passing any easier, according to Newman.

“Having good corner speed is important so you can have good straightaway speed,” Newman said. “It’s a fun track but it’s still difficult to pass because the cars are so fast there. I really don’t know what the tires are going to be like and that’s probably the biggest unknown. I think we have a better understanding now at this point of the (low) downforce package and how we’ve adapted to that, but the tire is the big outlier.”

The Sprint Cup Series will be driving on new compounds for all four tires this weekend. The compound came out of a tire test at Homestead-Miami Speedway last December. The Nov. 8 race at Texas featured multiple teams dealing with tires shredding throughout the 500-mile race.

Compared with what was run at Texas last season, the right-side tire features a construction change and a compound change on the outboard 10 inches to give the cars more grip. The left-side tire features an updated construction and mold shape, as well as a compound change for more grip.

Matt Kenseth observes drivers will look for a “compromise ” to find speed on restarts.

“It’s one of those tracks where the track surface is old, but you’re still fast on new tires,” Kenseth said in a release. “I think that especially with this new package, you’re going to need to find that compromise to be fast on restarts, but then still have something that hangs on really good for the long run. The hardest thing to negotiate there is that the entries and exits are very flat, while the corners have a lot of banking and Turn 3 is probably the trickiest part of the track.”

Restarts are even more important at Texas because of where the winners tend to come from.

“I heard a stat the other day that only two winners in the last 10 races at Texas have come from starting outside the top five,” said Brian Vickers in release. “That’s incredible. That means getting a good start is important. So, qualifying has added emphasis.”

Those non-top five winners were Jimmie Johnson last November when he started eighth and Joey Logano in the April 2014 race after starting 10th.

Johnson has planted his flag in Fort Worth, taking his No. 48 to victory lane six times, including the last three races and five of the last seven.

“It’s crazy to think that we have won all those races in a row,” Johnson said in a release. “I think part of it is the surface at Texas is seasoned. It’s older, so it just fits my driving style and the No. 48 Lowe’s team. Plus, it’s such a long race, and we have all that time to make the right adjustments.”

At 334 laps, the Duck Commander is a long race around a “big circle.”

But for Kurt Busch, the Texas’ pole-sitter last April, that fits right into track’s wheelhouse.

“They say that bigger is better, and everything is that way in Texas,” Busch said in a release. “That racetrack has that mentality.”