O’Reilly Auto Parts 500


By John Sturbin 

DALLAS (March 30, 2017) – NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one week away from his next career challenge - the repaved and re-profiled racing surface at Texas Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt and his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series peers will roll onto the 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth as group on Friday morning, April 7 for their first hot laps on a track that has undergone a complete offseason repaving, installation of an extensive drainage system and a reduction in the traditional banking in Turns 1 and 2 from 24 to 20 degrees.

“I haven’t seen the track yet, but the repaves are a bit of a challenge for everyone because there’s obviously not a preferred groove,” Earnhardt Jr. said during the media session prior to Thursday’s No Limits Luncheon that served as a season preview for the speedway. “I know they worked hard to try to speed up the aging process to give us the ability to widen the groove.

“As a driver, you’re always excited by what might be better, so I’m anticipating getting on the track and getting some laps.”

The O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, scheduled for 334 laps/501 miles, will take the green flag Sunday, April 9, at 12:30 p.m. CT (TV: FOX, Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Channel 90, locally 95.9 FM The Ranch).

Earnhardt Jr., who scored his first NASCAR XFINITY and Cup Series victories at TMS, hasn’t won at “The Great American Speedway” since 2000. But he did finish second in last April’s Duck Commander 500 in his most recent on-track appearance at the venue.

“He’s the biggest name in the sport, without question,” TMS President Eddie Gossage said. “There’s definitely a connection (with Junior) because winning didn’t just happen once, it happened twice in two different series. I was a Bristol when Dale Sr. won his first Cup race and forevermore Dale Sr. and Bristol were linked together. I’d like to think forever we’ll be linked to Dale Jr. He earned it on the race track.”

Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet SS fielded by Hendrick Motorsports, said he has wheeled several competitive cars in Fort Worth since that breakthrough win.

“I don’t know how close we are to the next one, you just keep showing up,” Junior said. “I think we’re a team that can win pretty much anywhere we go. There’s a lot of teams like that on the circuit, which is a problem.

“This place definitely has always been one of my preferred stops because of the success we had in the XFINITY Series and Cup Series - you never forget where you won your first race, and neither do your fans. So I always look forward to coming here. This is a track that really puts on a good show and before the repave it was a very wide race track and you could use a lot of different lines and it was so much fun. I think the track will still be that way. This place is going to maintain its character and personality. The asphalt is new but it’ll age with the weather out here and the environment, it’ll speed up that process.”

The first five Cup events of 2017 have produced five different winners. Earnhardt Jr., who finished 16th in last Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., counts himself among the 20 to 25 cars that have a chance to win every week.

“I’ve been around the sport a long time and in the ”˜70s there might have been six (cars capable of winning); in the ”˜80s there might have been 12,” he said. “With the cars getting faster”¦we’ve slowed down the cars a little in the corners with the aero package, but they’re still much faster than over the last decade. Passing becomes more challenging and it just makes the competition even tougher.”

Earnhardt Jr. is 21st in Cup points with 91, or 152 behind Auto Club Speedway winner and leader Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing.

About the author

The Texas Motor Speedway Media Relations Department is located on the 6th floor of The Speedway Club outside of Turn 1 of the speedway. 

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