Drivers rave after “best Texas race in years” but thin crowd is a concern


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The verdict is in from the top drivers of the IndyCar Series: Texas Motor Speedway really can stage a modern IndyCar Series race that isn’t a cure for insomnia.

“It was fun, I have to say,” remarked McLaren Indy driver Pato O’Ward, a past winner around the oft-maligned 1.5-mile superspeedway oval. “It’s got to be the best Texas race in the last four, five years. It was freaking awesome.”

Last year’s Texas 375 produced a wild finish as Josef Newgarden’s last-corner pass around the outside of Scott McLaughlin brought him the victory, but outside of that moment and a few brief scrambles after Safety Car restarts, it was still difficult to run the higher grooves around the corners and race wheel-to-wheel for sustained periods.

Many factors contributed to a more invigorating race at Texas this time. IndyCar’s decision to stage practice sessions specifically to lay rubber on the outer grooves has helped, along with Texas Motor Speedway using a new resin to treat the surface instead of the problematic PJ1 traction compound applied previously.

IndyCar brought the race start forward due to weather concerns
“This year you could run the second lane,” remarked 2021 series champion Alex Palou. “Last year it was like one-and-a-half.”

IndyCar teams also had the option to fit special barge board pieces, sidewalls, and Gurney flap infills to either increase or decrease the amount of downforce to their liking, similar to the pick-and-mix aero options available for the Indianapolis 500.

Trust between drivers also went a long way in the quest towards a race which was thrilling but didn’t tip over the edge of being needlessly dangerous as past Texas races have. “That’s how it has to be,” added O’Ward. “There’s really no other way to do it.

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“We’re going way too fast to mess around at those speeds. We’re going wheel-to-wheel at 226 miles an hour or something. A little wiggle from somebody can be really big. So hats off to everybody.”

Newgarden and O’Ward put on a thrilling fight for victory
Josef Newgarden, who got his third win at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, is one of those who feels like the Texas 375 got the balance right: It was a genuinely fun race, but one that didn’t cross the line into a nerve-wracking pack race where one brush of wings could trigger a catastrophic multi-car pile-up and risk serious injury, if not worse.

“I really think today was a good mix,” remarked Newgarden after his victory. “I’d probably take a little downforce off if you ask me. I don’t like it super packed-up.”

“But I think today was a very good mix between the two worlds, of not having a pack race, but also having a difference maker where there’s tyre degradation and you have to work as a team to figure that puzzle out.”

Whether he was leading the race as he did for 123 laps, or mixing it up in two-wide battles for position, the two-time IndyCar champion felt positive about how all the changes made for a better race around a circuit that has taken its fair share of criticism over the years as a venue for top-flight racing.

“We’ve got a lot more downforce on the cars. The lanes were working pretty well. How great was that to see – there was a second lane!” he exclaimed. “This was a real race today, which was fantastic.”

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“I know from an entertainment standpoint this had to be significantly better than last year. It just had to be,” Newgarden added. “I just want to see Texas race the way it should race, and I think most people would look at today and say that’s how Texas should race.”

The small crowd in attendance witnessed a spectacular race
The race’s future on the IndyCar calendar won’t rest entirely upon its on-track action. Even with O’Ward giving away as many as 600 tickets to the event, race day attendance cannot have been at the level the promoter would have desired. Television cameras often showed grandstands that were far from full – a problem that has plagued several oval races in recent years and driven them off the calendar.

In 2015, California Speedway in Fontana staged one of the most intense, pulse-pounding IndyCar oval races outside of the 500 in recent memory. But attendance was so poor that the circuit never returned to IndyCar.

Now the speedway in its current form is set for a total renovation into a half-mile short oval, if not an outright demolition. Farewell to the venue of the fastest ever lap of a closed circuit during a race weekend – Gil de Ferran’s staggering 388.5kph (241.4mph) average in 2000.

The Texas Motor Speedway faces a comparable dilemma as far as IndyCar is concerned – though without the existential threat the Fontana course now faces. The on-track product is good enough now. They just need to give their fans incentive to come see them in person – lest they become another IndyCar oval that fell to the wayside.

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RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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25 comments on “Drivers rave after “best Texas race in years” but thin crowd is a concern”

  1. “The on-track product is good enough now”

    That’s subjective. There’s very little at stake really. All the cars are Dallara. So from a fans perspective there’s not much you can really identify with and follow. The biggest error sports promoters makes in this game is assuming lots of overtaking and different winners is what creates fans. It doesn’t. Narratives and stories do. Right now IndyCar doesn’t have any. So the on-track product isn’t good enough. If a Dallara wins every race, and will always win every race, then the overtaking and on-track action has less consequence.

    1. “There’s very little at stake really. All the cars are Dallara. So from a fans perspective there’s not much you can really identify with and follow. ”
      Sorry, but that’s just nonsensical. IndyCar is not about cars competing, it’s about RACING DRIVERS competing. You identify with drivers (aka the athletes), just like in every individual sport.

      And I absolutely agree with what you said about narratives and stories. The disappointing thing is that they are all there, it’s just that IndyCar’s marketing department is one of the worst I know in sports and they fail to deliver sharing those.

    2. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
      3rd April 2023, 14:39

      There’s very little at stake really. All the cars are Dallara. So from a fans perspective there’s not much you can really identify with and follow

      Gobsmacked… not everyone follows motorsport the way you think they do. Like many, for me who built the car is much less of an issue. I want to see the skill of the driver in a high powered, open wheeled, single seater. The bravery and skill shown at Texas was amazing. A real treat.

      1. That’s all good and well, but there aren’t many people like you. There are far far far far more people who prefer the structure of F1.

        1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
          4th April 2023, 11:27

          I think there are more that follow motorsport like me than you think. I couldn’t quantify it in any way, certainly not in your

          far far far far more

          terms. I love F1 and enjoy the same aspects as you do, but I sometimes feel sad the World Drivers Championship is decided in F1, because in reality lap-time is about 98% car and 2% driver.

          I watch Indycar because it isn’t F1. It’s different. The tracks are more varied (and I believe more challenging), the cars require more driver inputs and I think are harder to drive. Most importantly the driver makes much more of a difference. I enjoy great drivers going wheel to wheel at high speed in a way which in some ways has much higher stakes than F1, Indycar is more dangerous for sure.

          Also there is way less politics in Indycar which is a breath of fresh air compared to F1. I particularly don’t like the way the FIA have downplayed Indycar as a possible feeder series for F1. This has an indirect affect on its quality of driver and popularity. Not a good look for F1.

          I believe the on track product is good enough, it’s great, because that’s where the focus is. Both Indycar and F1 exist because they are different and are great products. Sure popularity has tipped in favour of F1 recently, but hey, everything changes.

          1. “I think there are more that follow motorsport like me than you think”

            I think it’s the opposite. I think there’s way less than people think. You only have to look at IndyCar’s Youtube channel to see the size of the difference. Some videos barely scrape above 1000. Telling me why you like Indycar doesn’t matter. I can tell you why I think karting is the most superior form of motorsport on the planet and ticks every single box you could imagine. That doesn’t change the fact that absolutely no one is tuning in.

            I am sympathetic to the notion F1 is trying to dominant everything and make everything subservient to it. I think its tacit influence on karting has been largely negative. I am not blindly pro-F1. I just tend to not pretend like IndyCar is this perfect example of great racing. ‘Good racing’ is not in short supply. Neither are top quality drivers. None of these things make something worth watching. Good racing needs high stakes. You are probably correct that IndyCar is a little more dangerous, but that kind of thing you can’t really say out loud without attracting severe backlash.

          2. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
            4th April 2023, 12:58

            I don’t think the number of views on Youtube is a good way of measuring whether a motorsports “The on-track product” is good enough. There are so many other factors that could affect this, not least, marketing, accessibility and that I don’t think Youtube is the go to place for watching motorsport for many people.

            I guess we will have to agree to disagree on how many people follow motorsport like me, as I don’t think there is good way to measure it, unless you can think of something other than Youtube. Perhaps a well framed opinion poll on this website – @keithcollantine ?

            I wasn’t pretending Indycar is a perfect example of great racing, just that F1 and Indycar can learn from each other. You obviously prefer F1, that’s cool. If I had to choose between them I’d choose F1 too. Although I be interested to hear what you don’t like about F1 too, as well as Indycar.

        2. @sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk

          Youtube is an excellent way to gauge general interest. it’s also the go-to for people wanting to catch what all ‘the fuss’ is about. Publishing videos that get a thousand or so is demonstrative of a general lack of interest. A poll on a motorsport website is almost pointless because it’s selective bias. We only have to look at the number of IndyCar articles there are vs F1. IndyCar gets some attention, but the interaction rates are very low wherever you look.

          The on-track product is directly related to the value placed upon it. Close racing is not in short supply in motorsport. Good drivers are not in short supply. These don’t constitute what a good product is. You have to look beyond that.

          If F1 is looking at a sport that can only garner 1500 views on a major platform like Youtube then it’ll get into trouble real quick. Arguably, there are signs of that potentially happened.

          it’s not about what I prefer. I prefer karting. I think the Norberg v Turney dynamic is fascinating. Europe Vs America etc… I have a lot of problems with F1 and how it conducts itself.

          I just say out loud what seems to be forbidden and tghat is that single make racing (in Indy’s case single-chassis) does not create a good racing product that people on mass want to consume.

          1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
            4th April 2023, 15:35

            Yeah… I don’t think we look at things the same way. Never mind, we both seems to enjoy our motorsport. That’s the main thing.

            This does put things into perspective I guess.
            Viewing Figures

            Although if Indycar was marketed as skillfully as F1, it could do a lot better. The on track action IS good enough… just the overall package, maybe not.

            Texas was as exciting to watch for me as any F1 race recently. I had no idea who was going to win, Melbourne on the other hand…

            Anyway, Happy F1 watching!

    3. I agree, It’s part of why myself who was once a huge fan of Indycar racing no longer watches it as closely as I once did.

      Spec series racing just doesn’t interest me as much as seeing a grid of different looking cars with multiple chassis suppliers competing and with teams able to develop those chassis as well as designing there own if they wish to.

      I miss CART, That was true Indycar racing & brought success to the series which wasn’t seen before and hasn’t been seen since. The CART/IRL split and the ‘spec-ification’ of what came after has taken what was once seen as a true alternative to F1 and turned it into something that is essentially a slightly faster version of F2 & that is a real shame.

      In the CART days the stands would have been packed last night, The stands everywhere were packed because that series had a buzz & excitement around it. Nothing that has come since since has had that & for as good as the on-track product may be in current Indycar it’s lacking everything else that made Indycar racing great in the past & for as long as it’s a spec chassis series it will never be able to get back to where it was because it will never be viewed as a top tier category.

      They had a chance with the 2008 merger to get back to where they were & yet they have sadly squandered every opportunity.

    4. You obviously didn’t watch. It was an amazing race! The thing that has hurt Texas over the years is the traction crap that NASCAR puts on the track which is incompatible with IndyCar’s tires. It limits the amount of track that can be used and ruins the racing. The racing has sucked, but not yesterday! The minor aero changes they made made a huge difference. Attendance would be really strong if NASCAR wouldn’t have ruined the track for them. Unfortunately I get the feeling that they will be moving to COTA and dumping the oval.

      1. Attendance at Texas wasn’t that good before the track was altered and that stuff was laid down for nascar.

        It was also never that good when the racing at Texas was pretty good in the past.

        Indycar attendance for ovals outside of the 500 hasn’t been that good despite some good racing since the CART era. Even the crowds for the 500 are down on where they were pre split and the event just lacks a chunk of the buzz it used to have when it was a more open event.

      2. The PJ1 surface Nascar used on Texas certainly ruined the surface a few years – mainly because it’s taken so long to wear out. That said Texas recently used a resin to reseal the track that wore out much quicker and clearly made a big difference.

        Also, there was post-qualifying track session to get cars to run a 2nd groove into the track to create a viable 2nd lane for racing – which clearly worked.

        As for COTA, not happening. Indycar went there in 2019, then Nascar effectively took the race date from Indycar. COTA wanted the extra race but Nascar will bring in far more people.

      3. I watched every lap. I watched almost every lap of Indycar for a number of years. I watch it because I am very interested in drivers, but I also recognise the limitation of the IndyCar product.

    5. Alan Dove, that’s a really bizarre take. Manufacturer championships are far less relevant to the public than the drivers. And the ability of smaller teams to compete has been way better than in F1 for decades but is particularly better when the top teams can’t just outspend on improving the car. It gives the likes of Juncos (9th & 12th) and particularly David Malukas (4th) to punch way above their weight if they get it right, as they mostly did yesterday.

      What has always mattered to me is the ability for underdog teams to have a shot. Indycar provides that. Until reliability in F1 massively improved through the 2000s it felt that there was a chance to scalp a podium or even a win. But it’s simply not the case anymore despite the slowest cars in the field being closer to the fastest than arguably has ever been the case in F1.

      PeterG, same arguments apply – that & I suspect that you haven’t watched an oval race and certainly not in person. Except for Indy, I’ve yet to go to an Indycar oval race where I’ve not been able to see the entire track (Milwaukee, Fontana, Gateway). And while CART was great, having a bad chassis could destroy a season or a race – Penske’s 94 vs 95 seasons come to mind. Even Indycar in its current form had that problem in 2015-2017 where the Honda aerokit was terrible vs the Chevy, so on non-ovals Honda powered cars simply couldn’t complete. It’s the reason it went back to being a spec series, to ensure equal equipment.

      As for the attendance, it looked significantly up from last year despite an 11am start time. That and this year had the added issue of the NCAA woman’s Basketball championship game that started about an hour after the race finished. In Dallas, 45mins from the track. Not saying it would have made a significant difference but it’s still a factor.

      1. It’s not a ‘bizarre take’. It’s a reason why IndyCar struggles outside of the Indy500 for relevance. I watched the entire race, I’ve watched IndyCar since I was a kid. I am explaining why the on-track product isn’t good. Close racing or a lot of overtakes and close finishes are not in short supply in motorsport. What is in short supply is high stakes racing, that’s what gives the product value. F1 has that in bucket loads.

        1. some racing fan
          3rd April 2023, 21:37

          Define “high stakes racing”? If you are referring to the money and/or prestige involved then that is simply not a fair comparison- that is incredibly elitist, if you ask me. No form of racing other than the factory-backed WEC LMh car class has as much money involved. And you are explaining these subjective points of view as if they are concrete facts- they are not.

          I personally don’t compare anything else to anything else because every series has its own pros and cons.

          1. 100s of people spending thousands of hours and millions of pounds designing a car. It’s an enormous material effort that literally could end up generating not a single point. That is the very definition of high stakes. Mercedes gambled with their concept. Again, the very definition of high stakes.

            It’s not a ‘subjective fact’ that roughly 50% of F1 content is on the technical side of the sport. Whether it be Merc’s no pods, or RedBill’s DRS etc… It’s a HUGE driver of interest for he sport and isn’t elitist. It is this that allows narratives to be created. IndyCar generates very little copy/content. F1 actually is being very very foolish in this regard thinking to get development out of the sport is a good thing, it very much isn’t.

            At the end of the day, in every IndyCar race a Dallara wins. I like watching IndyCar, but there isn’t much depth to it from a sporting perspective. The numbers don’t lie, go look at their Youtube channel. They barely scrape over a 1000 views on some videos.

            I would like IndyCar to be more popular because I think they could design a set of technical regulations that would rival F1 form a spectacle point of view, but as long as it remains single-make chassis then it’s growth will always be inherently limited.

  2. Charles Tamplin
    3rd April 2023, 13:32

    I live close by TMS and went to the race yesterday which was great! Thank heavens the PJ1 is gone!
    The problem with Indycar at TMS is no promotion of the event. If you aren’t a diehard racing nut you’d never know it was here. Starting at 11:00 AM on Palm Sunday didn’t help either.

  3. I think a lot of circumstances helped out. Rosenquist’s crash on lap 172 allowed the sweepers to come in a clear off all the marbles, which had prevented two-lane running. It also allowed the field to catch up to O’ward and Newgarden who had lapped the entire field at that point. If it wasn’t for that crash, it probably would not have been as good of a race at the end.

  4. I’ve never really been a fan of oval racing or IndyCar but I do watch the occasional race and I have to admit this was a thoroughly entertaining race. My only complaint is the length of safety car periods, they’re completely ridiculous and unnecessarily long but apart from that it was a great race

    1. My only complaint is the length of safety car periods

      There’s 2 reasons for the overly long pace car periods.

      One is because on ovals they sweep the high lines to try and ensure there are opportunities for cars to run the high lines.

      The other is because NBC (The domestic broadcaster) has a lot of say in the running of the show and they ask officials to hold off on restarts to allow them to hit certain commercial break markers. They try and work it so the restart takes place as soon as they return from the commercial break with enough time before the next break they need to take for the racing to settle down.

      An additional thing the domestic broadcasters of US racing have had a hand in is how post race procedures go down. When the winning driver gets to victory lane the teams are told to hold back celebrations & drivers are told to stay in the cars until the broadcaster returns from the immediate post race commercial break.

      Having to hold back celebrations is something none of the teams or driver actually like doing as it usually ruins the moment & makes the celebrations feel more contrived, But the broadcasters have a lot of power in how it’s all run so they have to abide by it.

  5. Great race… until Romain Grosjean struck again, no pun intended

    It’s like Formula One fans just cannot get away from him!

  6. “An additional thing the domestic broadcasters of US racing have had a hand in is how post race procedures go down. When the winning driver gets to victory lane the teams are told to hold back celebrations & drivers are told to stay in the cars until the broadcaster returns from the immediate post race commercial break.”

    is buzz kill
    still a thing?

  7. Eric Foster
    9th April 2023, 1:30

    Indy needs more big “names”.
    These drivers attracted a lot of attention and they had fans.
    Now there aren’t enough big names.

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