Sunday’s Samsung 500 race at Texas Motor Speedway will be unlike any NASCAR event fans have seen at the Fort Worth track.
This weekend marks the debut of the Sprint Cup Series’ new car at the track. Formerly called the Car of Tomorrow, the car was used during the 2007 season on a part time basis on NASCAR’s short tracks and road courses. It’s began its first season of full time use in February.
The new car is bigger, heavier, and instead of a vertical blade spoiler, has a wing in the back for handling. The front of the car has a splitter, a horizontal piece that runs along the bottom of the front end of the car and juts out a few inches in front to also aid in handling. The driver’s seat is closer to the middle of the vehicle, and energy absorbing foam lines the inside of the vehicle where the doors would be on a passenger car.
The new car was designed with safety in mind, and is also meant to increase competitiveness between teams. With the old car, race teams would build track-specific vehicles. NASCAR’s clamped down on that by requiring teams to run identical cars at all tracks.
The car’s shown its superiority as a safer vehicle during Friday’s qualifying session after rookie Michael McDowell drove into oil residue left on the track and slammed into the turn one wall head on, sending his car tumbling eight times before coming to a stop. The driver of the No. 00 car walked out waving to the crowd, and did not suffer any injuries.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will sit on the pole for Sunday’s event, but he won’t be the only driver fans are watching. Joe Gibbs Racing has stood out this year, after switching manufacturers and becoming the Toyota’s marquee team. With one win already on the books this season, look for Gibbs drivers Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch to perform well Sunday. Stewart holds the track record for most laps led, and is the winner of the 2006 Dickies 500. Busch won at Atlanta, TMS’s sister track.
Roush Fenway Racing teams have won more Cup Series races at TMS than any other NASCAR organization. With five wins in 14 events, the Roush Fords will be challengers for the win. Carl Edwards led in both of Saturday’s practice sessions, with teammates Greg Biffle, David Regan, and Matt Kenseth all running in the top eight during practice.
While the Roush team has combined for the most victories at TMS, current points leader Jeff Burton is the only repeat winner at the track. Burton’s Richard Childress Racing team has seen a lot of recent success at Texas, and teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick have all visited TMS Victory Lane in at least one of NASCAR’s three national divisions.
Rounding out the top contenders is Hendrick Motorsports. The four-car mega team that dominated the circuit last year hasn’t put a car in victory lane this season, but that could change Sunday. Two-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson won his first TMS race last November, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won his first race at the track. Texas, however, is one of two current tracks NASCAR races at that four-time champion Jeff Gordon hasn’t won at in his career, and it’s unlikely Hendrick’s fourth driver, Casey Mears will take the checkered flag.
The green flag drops at 1 p.m., and if you aren’t in Ft. Worth catching the race in person, you can see it on Fox.