Any advantage Jimmie Johnson has at Texas Motor Speedway may be gone with the changes made to the track over the offseason.
Texas repaved and reconfigured the track ahead of the 2017 season and Johnson, a six-time winner at the 1.5-mile speedway, compared it to a “clean sheet of paper.”
“You can’t pick a favorite right now,” Johnson said. “Anytime there is a reconfiguration, a new asphalt it’s a total game changer. All of past history is now out the window and it’s like we are coming here for the first time.”
The track has been completely repaved and turns 1 and 2 were flattened to 20 degrees and widened to 80 feet. Turns 3 and 4 pretty much stayed the same at 24 degrees of banking and 60 feet wide.
Johnson would be the favorite entering Sunday’s race if it was on old pavement and the previous configuration. His six wins at the track have come in the last nine races and five of those wins have come during the daytime. Sunday’s race is just the second time since 2011 that the spring race has been run during the day.
But with new asphalt and two new corners, there’s no telling who has the advantage.
“Everyone is on equal playing ground,” Trevor Bayne said. “Nobody has 10 years of notebooks to go to and say, ‘I am Kevin Harvick and I run the bottom at Atlanta and I am really good at it.’ You can’t do that now … I am not at a lack of experience at this race track compared to other drivers or any re-paves. I think that helps with young drivers. I think that is why you see Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, myself, Ricky Stenhouse able to get a little more speed as compared to normal.”
Fresh tires probably aren’t going to be very advantageous either. At Auto Club Speedway two weeks ago, drivers would consider getting fresh tires after just a handful of laps because its pavement is the oldest in NASCAR. With Texas’ new pavement, two-tire pit stops are likely to be the norm, and some teams may consider no-tire pit stops if there isn’t a dramatic fall-off in speed throughout a fuel run.
“Tire wear has been so high here and any caution you would take tires otherwise you would be lapped right away and we won’t have that issue,” Johnson said. “We will probably scuff every set of tires that NASCAR will give us. We might put cold tires on, but they are not going to be worn out. You might have a little speed on the front side of the run with cold right-side tires. I doubt we will put many left-side sets on.”
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