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Martin Truex Jr. takes Texas 500 pole at 190.369 mph, as Michael Waltrip's rejuvenated team continues to impress.

  Martin Truex Jr., on the pole for Saturday night's Texas 500, has a new outlook on racing this season, with his team rejuvenated by the off-season changes, including new competition director Scott Miller (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   FORT WORTH, Texas
   Jamie McMurray spent Friday morning playing around with hot laps here in a street Camaro, 135 mph, rather modest compared to the 190-mph laps he'd be turning later in the day, in his NASCAR stocker for Saturday night's Texas 500.
   However, 135 over these bumps makes Texas Motor Speedway seem almost ripe for some smooth new asphalt.

   Drivers, though, don't much like new asphalt. Too much potential for one-groove racing.
   Still, this track has some of the oldest pavement of any track on the Sprint Cup tour.
   And nearly every NASCAR promoter it seems has been on this repaving craze lately, something about a tax break on capital improvements.
   Phoenix. Daytona. Kansas. Pocono. Michigan.
   Curiously, though, not Bruton Smith, who owns this track. Not yet at least…although there is rampant speculation about what he might have planned for Bristol Motor Speedway's August night race. Some official announcement is expected at Bristol April 25th. Perhaps asphalt again, after some 20 years as a concrete track?
   And that brings us to Texas Motor Speedway, which, aside from patches, hasn't been touched really since 2001 (when some concrete was apparently mixed in with the asphalt, to make for a harder surface).
   Of course those first few years here were so tumultuous, with rain seeping up from the ground (this soil don't perk) and weeping up through the asphalt, that Smith spent a small fortune getting the racing surface just right.
   And maybe if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
   Yet over the past five or six years NASCAR asphalt has undergone a radical change, to a super-tough, tightly-packed, polymer-infused mixture, which is not only quite durable but also incredibly smooth and grippy.
   The most dramatic case may be Darlington, a tough ol' track, with amazingly tight corners, ungainly corners to be sure. The 2008 repave turned that place into a stunning 200-mph track; Kyle Busch says 206 mph at times into the corners.
   And drivers seem to be handling Darlington rather well, all in all, perhaps surprisingly.
   So what to think about this Texas track?
   Ripe for remodeling?
   Maybe so.
   A ride around the track Friday morning with McMurray was quite informative.
   McMurray says he's not in favor of a repave here, because this track has developed a lot of 'character' over the past 10 years.

 Jamie McMurray (R), with crew chief Kevin 'Bono' Manion. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   While much has been made over the years about the wide, expansive corner entries here, McMurray says the corner exits are the real tricky part of the 1-1/2-mile layout, because – like Daytona's infamous second turn – the banking falls off while the drivers are still turning through the corners.
   "This is probably the worst track for hitting the outside wall on corner-exit," McMurray says.
   "The cars are really bad about wanting to push out. See those skid marks into the outside fence?
   "And in qualifying you're pretty close to wide-open all the way around…"
   And then there are the bumps. And there are a lot of them.
   So it would seem that this track ought to have some great racing, as much character as it boasts.
   Why do drivers and crews predict another race filled with long stretches of green?
   McMurray says he's a little baffled by that too.
   Perhaps, he suggests, it has something to do with how aero-sensitive the track is.
   "I don't know why it doesn't produce better racing, because it's so much like Atlanta...with tires wearing out," McMurray says, with a nod toward the south Atlanta track, quite similar in design and asphalt.
   Drivers consider Atlanta one of the best tracks on the tour for driving, in part because of the considerable tire-falloff during a 100-mile run.

    Scott Miller, Michael Waltrip's new competition director, has clearly made a big difference in Martin Truex' performance (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Interestingly, there is new asphalt here, a lot of it, down on the first turn apron. "Look at how smooth this stuff is," McMurray marvels.
   "But I hope they don't repave this track. To me a repave never makes it better.
   "Part of what makes this track fun is how rough it is.
   "But this is one of the most aero-sensitive tracks we come to. By far. And I don't know why that is.
   "Even if a guy is so far ahead you can barely see him, you can still feel him (and the dirty air spilling off his car). And when he pulls off the track it's like 'Oh, it's okay now.'
   "I don't know if it's because the corners flatten out so much more than other places, but, man, this place is aero-sensitive.
   "And there are some really bad bumps. The bottom (groove) isn't as bad as the top. The corners are tight, and then you add the bumps into it…."

    There is another aspect to racing at this track, the rubber-build-up on the track, frequently caking up under the race cars.
   "We'll make an 80-lap run, and the track will look all black (well rubbered-in)….and then we'll ride around under caution and all the rubber gets picked up on our tires," McMurray says.
    "It's been like that the last three or four years. I don't remember this track being like that before."

      Jeff Gordon: needs to turn his season around, but Texas Motor Speedway hasn't been a good track for him, and he'll start deep in the field Saturday night, 34th. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    This was once one of the toughest tracks on the stock car tour for Goodyear to deal with. Those right-front tires take a heck of a beating.
     Jeff Gordon and Mike Skinner took fearsome hits here when their tires blew, back in the track's early days.
    Now though Goodyear has a solid setup, which it retested here in February, with Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton, for reconfirmation.
  Goodyear engineers have been busy this year, and this month in particular. A major test at Michigan last week, and major tests at Dover and Pocono in the coming days.
   McMurray himself will get a good taste of some new asphalt later this month when he tests tires for Goodyear at Pocono, which boasts the longest straight on the tour…a straight that Kenseth says may now be, really, just out of date, considering how much power and slick aerodynamics these stockers have today.
   Tire testing sometimes seems more an art form than pure science, McMurray says. "We'll run some laps and tell Goodyear 'This is what you need to do,' and they'll do it, and we'll come back and see 'Well, that didn't quite work out like we expected,'" McMurray says with a laugh.
   Kenseth just tested at repaved Michigan, at 215 mph. McMurray, looking ahead himself to the Pocono test, says when Goodyear tried some softer rubber at Michigan "the softer tire didn't wear out faster."
   Kenseth says speeds on the frontstretch at Pocono could hit 220.
   McMurray disagrees: "We always run faster at Michigan than at Pocono.
   "And there is so much aerodynamic drag in these cars….
    "Now 215 is fairly easy. But once you get close to 220, it takes a lot of power to overcome the drag.
   "If we could drive these cars in a straight line forever, I don't think they'd go much faster than 225, because they have so much drag.
   "At Daytona and Talladega, the car will only run about 180 by itself, with the plate. And that's only choking the engine down by a couple hundred horsepower.
   "So I think there's a terminal velocity, without more power."
   Now McMurray himself may be able to test that theory at Pocono April 24th.


     Yes, Texas always has weather, and spring time is typically filled with storms. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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