Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage is known for his promotions and gimmicks to draw attention to his track. It’s a way to try and entertain and entice fans to show up to the races.
On the serious side, though, Gossage prides himself on running one of the more prestigious tracks in the country. Outside of the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400, the Texas races are among the most coveted for drivers to win.
“The purse … we’re not supposed to talk about it, it’s top secret at the Cup level, but next Sunday’s purse is the third biggest of the season,” Gossage said. “Every driver knows there’s a whole lot of money on the line. These are professionals – dollar bills talk to them. Again, I’m not supposed to talk about it, so I won’t, but it’s a massive check. It gets their attention.”
With that being said, here are the four storylines – a nod to TMS’ four turns – worth talking about going into Texas’ first race weekend of 2018.
1. Repave 2.0. TMS is entering its second racing season after repaving and re-configuring the track going into 2017. Drivers are never fond of newly repaved tracks as they feel it’s slick and more difficult to handle a car.
But it’s a necessary evil, particularly for a track such as TMS that battled lengthy rain delays in recent years. And TMS is doing what it can to speed the aging process as much as possible.
Gossage said the track’s “Texas Tire Monster” has been running daily on the track, trying to lay more rubber into the newer surface.
“We do it from the second groove on up because the drivers will work in the first groove,” Gossage said. “We had a great 2017 with the newly configured track and I think it’ll be even better this time around.”
Asked how long they’ll run the “Texas Tire Monster,” Gossage said: “We’ll probably run it this year and run it next year too. We’re trying to do what we can to help. Some drivers say it makes a big difference, some drivers say it won’t make any difference.”
2. Chase’s time? Chase Elliott has been pegged as the next big thing in recent years. But, after 83 career Cup starts, he has yet to find Victory Lane.
Most within the sport feel it’s just a matter of time. Elliott had 10 top-5 finishes in 2016; 12 in 2017; and has one so far this season.
Is Texas where Elliott finally gets a win? Elliott has finished in the top-10 in all four of his Cup races at TMS, and has even led laps.
Texas is known as a track for firsts, too. It’s the track where Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first Xfinity Series and Cup races.
3. (Forty) Eight ball. Jimmie Johnson is the defending champ of Texas’ spring race. It marked his track-record seventh Cup victory at TMS.
Johnson will be eying No. 8 at the track this weekend. He’s also eying what would be a record eighth series championship this season.
At 42, Johnson remains one of the best drivers in the sport but he has gotten off to a slow start. Johnson has just one top-10 finish, a ninth-place run at Auto Club Speedway, this season.
Texas seems to make sense as a track where Johnson and the No. 48 Chevrolet team get things headed in the right direction. Johnson is the only driver in track history to have led more than 1,000 laps (1,041).
Oh, not to mention the first 30,000 fans will receive a Johnson bobblehead Sunday.
4. Hometown connection. Chris Buescher ranks as the local driver for TMS. He grew up in Prosper and will surely have a contingent of family and friends cheering him on this weekend.
Buescher hasn’t had much Cup success at Texas – his best finish is 21st in five career races. Why might it turn around?
Buescher had a similar track record at Daytona and then turned in a surprising fifth-place run at the Daytona 500 in February. Maybe he’ll find similar magic at his home track.
Buescher drives the No. 37 Chevrolet for JTG-Daugherty Racing.