O’Reilly Auto Parts 500


 By John Sturbin

JUNIOR COMPETING CONCUSSION-FREE: Earnhardt Jr. confirmed he has fully recovered from the concussion-like symptoms he began experiencing after a crash at Michigan International Speedway in June.

“I don’t think I’d be in the car if I wasn’t (fully recovered),” he said. “You can’t get out there with any kind of limitations or disability. I definitely wouldn’t want me in the car if I wasn’t 100 percent. There’s too many good drivers out there that could do a better job than me if you’re not 100 percent. We tested in the offseason and checked all those boxes and felt good about what I was feeling then. I’ve felt great all season, had a good time in every race. I’m confident we’ll get what we need (speed-wise) and figure out this new aero package at all these tracks and start running well.”

He downplayed the notion he did anything heroic when he sought medical help, and then agreed to sit out 18 races while recuperating. He returned to the series with the season-opening Daytona 500.

“Concussions weren’t common, but there wasn’t a popular method of how to approach concussions, other than to wait it out, wait for it to go away,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “You didn’t hear the horror stories you hear today. You didn’t hear about the long-term effects. We were just so uneducated about it. The reason why I went to get help was basically I was incapacitated. I couldn’t do my job, much less typical everyday things. I had to seek help. There wasn’t no hiding my symptoms”¦you kind of get scared into getting checked out. You want to get some professional help.

 “So it’s hard for me to take credit for doing the right thing because I was scared into that situation. I was desperate to get something figured out and get some treatment to fix it. Every condition is different and gives you something new. It’s kind of like walking through a haunted house; you don’t know what’s going to jump out at you and what the experience is going to be like. That scares you; that gets you right in front of the doctor quick.”

RAHAL READY TO REPEAT ON THE REPAVE: Graham Rahal still is catching his breath after his victory in last summer’s Firestone 600 Verizon IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. The race will be run the evening of Saturday, June 10, with a new sponsor and titled the Rainguard Water Sealers 600.

Rahal captured his lone win of 2016 on TMS’ 1.5-mile oval in late August, two months after “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” was postponed by two days of rain in June. “The Resumption” saw Rahal edge James Hinchcliffe by 0.0080 of a second to establish the record for the closest INDYCAR finish in TMS history and fifth-closest in Indy car history.

“Last year, great memories to get the win,” said Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Steak n’ Shake Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “This place has been tough before and last year rewarded us. But we’re going to have to focus pretty hard on the repave. I anticipate the race will be even crazier than what you saw at the end of last season. The repave is going allow us to go, potentially, even more cars wide. I’m anticipating you’ll have a little more grip just because it’s new. The old track was pretty rough on top of (Turns) 3 and 4 and our cars, as low to the ground as we run, made it difficult. I hope that’s a little better this year.”

In addition to a complete repaving, Turns 1 and 2 have been re-profiled from 24 to 20 degrees; Turns 3 and 4 have retained their 24-degree banking.

“It’s going to be exciting to go out there and see the facility all done-up and looking good,” Rahal said. “We’re going to get to test (April 12) after the Cup race and I would think it’s going to change things for us quite a bit. From a (Firestone) tire perspective, it’s going to be relatively the same but with new pavement you’re going to have to adjust.

“I hope the end result is the same as last year. It was one of the most exhilarating races you could ever watch. I mean, I heard from fans of all types that last year’s INDYCAR race here was one of the top three races they’ve ever seen in their lifetime.”

Rahal, who finished 17th in the season opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 12 after contact in the opening laps, noted that last summer’s race was different than the hair-raising “pack racing” made famous at TMS a decade ago.

“It’s edge-of-your-seat racing, but it’s also clean,” Rahal said. “There wasn’t too much bumping and banging, which we don’t need in our cars. Guys were giving each other room and guys were having a blast. The fans love it. The response to the video on my Facebook page (of the final 10 laps), it had over 2.5-million impressions in just a few days.

“People are attracted to that style of craziness. So if it’s safe and if it’s fast, it’ll be fine with us. The new car (for 2018)”¦that car is going to produce even closer racing the way it develops downforce.  So I would anticipate the racing over the next couple of years is going to get better and better and better.”

GOSSAGE “JACKED” BY SEASON OF CHANGE: As the NASCAR tour prepares for its first 2017 visit to the Dallas-Fort Worth market, TMS President Eddie Gossage is all about change.

That begins, of course, with a repaved and re-profiled 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway.

Any fan or reporter using the term ”˜cookie-cutter,’ all they’re doing is showing they don’t know the sport,” said Gossage, reiterating one of his pet peeves. “If you’re going to call it a ”˜cookie-cutter’ now, you’re Stevie Wonder. Even he could tell the difference.”

Gossage noted the decision to reduce the banking in Turns 1 and 2 from 24 to 20 degrees was made by Marcus Smith, Speedway Motorsports Inc., CEO and son of founder and executive chairman O. Bruton Smith.

But Gossage also is excited about all that’s new with NASCAR.

“It’s a season of change in NASCAR with a new series sponsor (Monster Energy); we’ve got a new race sponsor with O’Reilly Auto Parts and we’ve got a brand new race track and a new format for the sport (segment racing). I’m really jacked up over the start of the NASCAR season so far - five races, five different winners. Guys you typically expect to be at the front of the pack they’re not. You got young guys that are winning races that are the future of our sport and they’re showing why they’re the future of our sport.

“Since the track is different - not just the asphalt but the re-profiling of Turns 1 and 2 - whoever’s been good in the past, that doesn’t mean anything as to who’s going to win next week. It could easily be a Kyle Larson, a Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott and that to me is really exciting because we’re going through this transition. It’s great to witness it.”

Gossage also is a proponent of NASCAR’s new three-segment racing format. 

“People always oppose change,” Gossage said. “Before the first race”¦’It’s the worst idea”¦I’m never going to watch another race in my life’”¦give it a chance. After watching it, I think it’s great. You’ve got really hard racing and they’re trying strategies to be at the front of the pack when those first and second segments come to a close.  I think it’s fascinating. At the end of the day, you’ve got a guy standing in Victory Lane celebrating. That’s all you can ask for.”

ODDS AND ENDS: Through the generosity of driver guests Dale Earnhardt Jr., William Byron and Graham Rahal, the trio helped raised more than $7,000 for Speedway Children’s Charities Texas through Thursday’s No Limits Luncheon. The money was raised through a VIP ticket, which included a signed Milano cowboy hat by all three drivers and a photo with them, as well as silent auction tickets for various signed items by them. ”¦ Texas Motor Speedway unveiled its 2017 bobblehead series before the sold-out crowd of nearly 600 with the life-size versions of the drivers. On the NASCAR side, Danica Patrick is the bobblehead promotion for next Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 and the Kevin Harvick bobblehead will be available for November’s AAA Texas 500. Graham Rahal had the honor of unveiling his own bobblehead that will be featured for June’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600 Verizon IndyCar Series race. Gossage surprised the crowd by giving all attendees a Danica bobblehead, in which 30,000 are scheduled to be distributed next Sunday. ”¦ Texas Motor Speedway announced that legendary musician Ozzy Osbourne and his son Jack will serve as honorary Race Directors for next Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. It will be the first NASCAR race ever attended by Ozzy and the duo is scheduled to film an episode of their show “Ozzy and Jack’s World Detour” that airs on the History Channel during the visit. Ozzy and Jack sent a video from the road to visit with the crowd at the No Limits Luncheon. (Click here for video.) ”¦ Texas Motor Speedway unveiled the layout for Robby Gordon’s Speed Energy Stadium Super Trucks that will be part of June’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600 INDYCAR/NASCAR doubleheader. The trucks will run up pit road, turn onto the quarter-mile track located in the infield ballfield, down the frontstretch and then jump into the South Paddock segment that has a figure 8 layout with another jump. The series will be part of the Texas Off-Road Ruckus in the infield Friday and Saturday of that race weekend and it will include a show truck area, vehicle obstacle course and mega-truck ride alongs. The Super Trucks and Ruckus are free with the race day tickets, and the Super Trucks competition will be held before and after the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 race. ”¦ Rainguard Water Sealers, Texas Motor Speedway’s new entitlement sponsor for June’s Verizon IndyCar Series race, had some fun with the rain issues the speedway endured last year during its races as well President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. The company, based out of Newport Beach, Calif., gave all the guests red ball caps with the slogan, “Make TMS Dry Again.” Please note that this is not FAKE NEWS. 

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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