Eddie Gossage couldn’t have been more pleased with this year’s opening race weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
The track drew an estimated crowd of 154,000 for Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500, more than double last spring’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race. Only 71,000 showed up a year ago in a nightmarish scenario.
If you recall: With the Final Four in Arlington, TMS went away from the Saturday night race and moved it to Sunday, the day between the semifinals and championship game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. But rain forced the race to Monday, the same day as the championship game, and the sparse crowd said it all.
“A year ago, it was just miserable,” said Gossage, the TMS president. “Rain is the worst thing.”
Well, unfortunately for the track, the chance of rain hovered once again this year. Forecasts early in the week projected as much as an 80 percent chance of rain for Saturday, only to see it drop to zero later in the week.
That threat prompted the track to spend money to bring in an additional jet dryer (a high-powered machine that dries the track rapidly after rain fall) and, as Gossage said, “It costs us at the ticket gate because people don’t buy tickets when they’re predicting rain, rain, rain. It costs us so much money when they are so wrong.”
But Gossage took solace in the crowd the track was able to attract over a weekend that included the Rangers’ home opener and the Main Street Arts Festival in downtown Fort Worth.
Granted, those aren’t Super Bowl-type events like the Final Four, but other entertainment options take potential fans away. And Gossage understands that those issues are never-ending in this market.
TMS’ IndyCar race on June 6, for instance, is the same day as the Rolling Stones concert at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“It’s a busy market,” Gossage said. “But despite all those things, we always draw those monster crowds.”
Gossage on the race
Saturday’s race didn’t stir the drama as some in the past. No major dust-ups between drivers. No notable wrecks.
Just hard, clean racing from start to finish between some of the bigger names in the sport, including race winner Jimmie Johnson, reigning Sprint Cup champ Kevin Harvick and the most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“We capped off the weekend with a great race Saturday to make it probably one of the top weekends we’ve ever had,” Gossage said. “You can’t ask for much better at the end with Jimmie out in front and Harvick chasing him down, as well as Junior being in the mix. That’s the best racing. It was excellent.”
Kyle Busch said Wednesday during a news conference that he still doesn’t know when he’ll be able to return to the NASCAR circuit.
Busch has yet to run a Sprint Cup race this season, as he continues to recover from leg and foot injuries suffered during a wreck in a Xfinity Series race at Daytona in February.
“First and foremost, I have to please my doctors,” Busch told reporters at Joe Gibbs Racing’s headquarters in Huntersville, N.C. “I have to go step by step and do everything they ask. ... They say my recovery is going faster than they expected, but they still won’t [tell me when I can return]. I don’t even ask. They won’t release me a timetable.”
He said it
“I just love short-track racing. If you look over the statistics of my career, I’ve performed best at the short tracks. Bristol is also one of those race tracks I loved to go to as a kid. There were places on the circuit you looked forward to, but Bristol was always on top of the list. There is just no other track like it.” — Earnhardt Jr. on Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Cup race
7 Finishing spot for Jeff Gordon last weekend at Texas, his highest placing this season. He sits 13th in points standings.