NASCAR & Auto Racing

IndyCar races in Texas no longer a thrill ride, but search is on

Alexander Rossi celebrates after winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, on May 29.
Alexander Rossi celebrates after winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, on May 29. AP

Only Indianapolis Motor Speedway has hosted IndyCar Series races longer than Texas Motor Speedway.

TMS made a name for itself early for how thrilling the open-wheel races were.

Sam Hornish Jr. held off Helio Castroneves by 0.0096 seconds for the win in 2002, and the following year Al Unser Jr. beat Tony Kanaan by 0.081 seconds.

After that race, Unser Jr. said: “Everybody in the sport knows the Texas races are the closest. It truly is a blast racing there because you get to run wheel-to-wheel, but it seems like everybody respects your space. It is so competitive.”

Can Rossi back it up and have success and prove that he wasn’t just a one-hit wonder?

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage, on 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi

Those close, competitive races have become a thing of the past, though, with safety concerns essentially eliminating pack racing on the 1.5-mile oval.

Still, IndyCar and TMS has made a conscious effort to improve the quality of racing in recent years and held a test session last month in hopes of accomplishing that. The answers will come during Saturday’s Firestone 600.

Among the other storylines to watch this weekend:

1 Sustaining momentum. IndyCar has struggled restoring its relevance in recent years, but there’s a chance for a turnaround this year. The series just celebrated the 100th Indianapolis 500 and must ride that wave going forward. Texas gives it that chance as one of the biggest market tracks the circuit visits yearly.

Alexander Rossi won the Indy 500 on Sunday, and swung through DFW on Wednesday. Video by Drew Davison.

2 Rossi effect. Alexander Rossi is not a household name among racing fans, but surged into relevance by winning the centennial Indy 500 last month. How does Rossi do going forward? That is a big question surrounding the sport. Rossi has a chance to become an American staple in the series, or he could flame out like Derrike Cope, the forgettable 1990 Daytona 500 winner. As TMS president Eddie Gossage said, “Can Rossi back it up and have success and prove that he wasn’t just a one-hit wonder?”

We’re still trying to find what’s a good way to race for the fans and for the drivers to be safe enough.

IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan

3 Better racing? As stated, the quality of racing has dropped in recent years at Texas. But there has to be a better way to keep fans engaged throughout the race instead of the single-file racing that has become commonplace. Just don’t expect a return to pack racing, which has been deemed too dangerous. As Tony Kanaan said, “I’m not sure you’ll see a pack race anymore just because we went away from that just for the fact of how dangerous it is, you know? We’re still trying to find what’s a good way to race for the fans and for the drivers to be safe enough.”

4 Truckin’ it. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is set to run Friday night, and there are plenty of interesting storylines going into that race. A regional angle is Christopher Bell, a 21-year-old from Norman, Okla., who is making a name for himself. Bell drives for Kyle Busch Motorsports, and has been running well of late with three consecutive top-10 finishes. Bell finished eighth in his lone truck start at TMS last fall.

5 Off-track notables. TMS is known for the show it puts on away from the races itself, and it has several lined up this weekend. Robosaurus, the world’s largest transformer, 40-feet high and weighing 30 tons, is set to make an appearance in the Dallas area Thursday and will be the pre-race headliner before Saturday’s race. And, with it being an Olympic year, the track plans to have a few former Olympians — including 2004 gold medal gymnast Carly Patterson — serve in honorary positions. Finally, the track will introduce another concession stand item, the Ranchero Dawg (hot dog topped with chili with chorizo, beans, avocado and a strip of bacon) for its bacon-themed “Hawg Heaven” line.

Drew Davison: 817-390-7760, @drewdavison

Firestone 600

7:45 p.m. Saturday, NBCSN

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