Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Keselowski, Harvick & Truex, Who Wins Texas First?

Keselowski, Harvick, Truex: Who Wins Texas Motor Speedway First?

These guys may have kicked some arse at Texas in the past, but they hope a re-profiling will change their winless luck around.

For Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, there are three specific drivers who shockingly haven’t scored a win at the 1.5-mile track yet.

First is Kevin Harvick, who has raced here 28 times. With six top-five and 16 top-10 finishes, the Stewart-Haas Racing man sees Texas as his seventh best track regarding average finish.

Despite only leading eight laps in his opening 24 starts from 2001 to ’14, Harvick has drastically turned his performance up, leading 108 laps since 2015 and finishing third or better in three of the last five Texas races.

He must return to the pace shown from round two at Atlanta Motor Speedway, however, as the No. 4 has been below the radar since that devastating loss.

That is where Harvick and the next man differ, as Brad Keselowski has been one of the sport’s hottest drivers thus far in 2017. Already winning twice, Bad Brad has, at times, been downright stellar at Texas in recent years. In 2015, the No. 2 car led an outstanding 312 of 325 laps from pole before losing the race on a late-race pass by Jimmie Johnson.

Speaking of Johnson, he is the man who has taken a few of these Texas wins away from Keselowski. From their thrilling late-season battle here in 2012 to the brawl in 2014, Keselowski has been darn close if it weren’t for that No. 48.

Lastly, Martin Truex Jr. has blossomed into one of the series’ best on the intermediate tracks. In the two races alone last year, Truex led 207 laps, pushing his career total to 439 across 23 Texas starts.

Like Keselowski and Harvick, the New Jersey native has those few that slipped through his fingers. The worst may have come in 2013, when the then-one-time race winner led 142 laps before coming up short to Kyle Busch. The disappointment returned in last year’s spring event, when Busch grabbed the win over the dominant Truex.

Pent up with winless angst, this trio will be exciting to watch on Sunday evening. Can they overcome their Texas gremlins to knock one off the list?

Is Kentucky Speedway a Fair Comparison with New Texas?

If you’re Rodney Childers, you already know the answer to this question.

Childers, who will be back on the box as crew chief for Harvick this weekend, has been getting back into the rhythm by watching last year’s 400-miler from Kentucky Speedway.

Why? Because the changes made to Texas closely relate to those of Kentucky, which saw a complete repave and banking change in 2016.

So, at least for Childers, no need to pay any attention to past Texas races. It’s a whole new beast.

And that is certainly a positive thing. The drivers generally may not like repaves, due to the lack of multiple grooves and difficulty to pass or keep with the lead car, but an uncertain, fluky reconfiguration is always interesting.

Especially when it’s under the reign of Eddie Gossage, one of the most chancy track presidents in this era of NASCAR. Just seeing him walk through the garage or start a video on social media, whoa, look out and be ready to anything.

One of the major changes for Texas is the widening and flattening of turns 1 and 2. Widened by 20 feet and lowered from 24 to 20 degrees of banking, there is lots of mystery as to which lane will be the quickest under the lights.

Texan Chris Buescher is the only driver to have laps on the track after giving it a roll in a pace car last month.

“The bottom, the radius is so tight, that we may be moving up a lane,” said Buescher as he drove through Turn 1. “Hopefully we move up a lane or two to keep momentum up.”

Now there’s a good sign. The inside lane may not be the fastest way around. Other than that possible prediction, it’s a toss-up as to where the cars will be and how the changes will affect the competition.

What Expectations Are Too High for Formula 1 in China?

Four different leaders, seven non-finishers and a Ferrari victory, all while racing with the anticipated new aero regulations. The Australian Grand Prix was a strong way to kick off the new year for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship.

Wider tires, lower wings, scary-fast corner speeds. You can break it down any way you please, but basically, an important F1 characteristic has returned for 2017. The cars are magnificent to watch.

The visuals are sure to be strong throughout 2017, but the season opener had one concern from both fans and drivers: it’s even harder to pass.

For this weekend’s race at Shanghai International Circuit, one of the drivers skeptical of these changes is currently on top in Sebastian Vettel. The four-time world champion won for the first time since 2015 in Australia and leads the championship for the first time since 2013. The victory gives the Tifosi a certain exception for the entire weekend.

Maybe too high?

It may be the biggest question to find out this weekend starting truly with qualifying on Saturday. In 2015, an early-season Malaysian victory by Vettel gave us fantasies of a three- or four-car battle for the championship alongside Mercedes.

However, by round seven, Vettel was more than a race-worth of points behind Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. It didn’t last long.

So, it will be important to keep this momentum going. China is a good place for the red, as they won here for the first time in 2004 along with wins in ’06-’07 and 2013 with Fernando Alonso.

Ferrari wasn’t the only team to blast onto the scene down under. Romain Grosjean scored Haas F1 Team’s best starting position with sixth. The race, however, was brutal, with both Grosjean and first-year Haas driver Kevin Magnussen failing to finish.

Toro Rosso was a nice addition to the double-point finishers in Australia, as it put both Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. in the top 10.

Around that duo was the strong young-gun crowd currently populating the F1 grid. Max Verstappen came home fifth, while 20-year-old Esteban Ocon scored his first point with Force India in 10th.

In 12th was Antonio Giovinazzi, who substituted (and will again this weekend at China) for injured Pascal Wehrlein. The 23-year-old was consistently ahead of his Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson and will be one to watch in his second race.

Completing the youngster mood, Stoffel Vandoorne finished 13th in his rookie season with McLaren-Honda while Lance Stroll struggled to 16th spot with Williams.

To wrap this all up, the driver in the spotlight is Valtteri Bottas, who will go nose-to-nose with three-time champ Hamilton in Mercedes. The fifth-year Fin did well in Australia, starting and finishing third on podium.

Can he top Hamilton? He has a few things to show.

Can Takuma Sato Make 2017 His Year?

Seven years, four different teams, one win. The time is now for Takuma Sato.

Following one of the silly season changes from this Verizon IndyCar Series offseason, 40-year-old Sato takes over the No. 26 with Andretti Autosport for what is his eighth full-time season in America’s open wheel division.

With 119 career starts preceding the Long Beach Grand Prix on Sunday, Sato has a thing or two to prove with one of the sport’s premier teams. Only five podiums and one win join his career-best points finish of 13th back in 2011. With age not on his side, 2017 is his year.

And it’s already off to a solid start. Qualifying fifth in the 2017 season opener in St. Petersburg, Sato was a stable face in the top half-dozen before finishing fifth, only his fourth top-five finish since 2014. Additionally, he led two laps, his first since Pocono in 2015.

This momentum will now be met with a special track of Long Beach Street Circuit, the place where Sato earned his first and only IndyCar win in 2013.

With the equipment, the track and the experience to show, Sunday is a big day for this Japanese driver.

About the author

Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.

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