It doesn’t matter if you are a 18-year veteran and two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion or a fourth-year budding superstar, Texas Motor Speedway commands your unwavering attention and respect.
When the NTT INDYCAR SERIES arrives Sunday, April 2, for the PPG 375, Team Penske’s Will Power and Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward are at the front of the line when it comes to fearlessness and fierceness on any type of layout. But both are keenly aware of how daunting Texas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval can be with its varied high banking, dogleg frontstretch and … of course … doing it in excess of 220 miles per hour for 250 laps with no margin for error.
The track has a special place in O’Ward’s heart with his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory coming there in 2021 and enjoying two podiums in his first four appearances. The 23-year-old Mexican driver also remembers his first laps probably as vividly as his Victory Lane celebration.
“I love this track.” O’Ward said. “I think my first time maybe I didn’t find so much love for it because it was probably the first time, I was in a race car where it was like #@$ this is quick. The first time I went around this place I remember my eyes were just massive inside of the car. After you see qualifying onboards top of sixth gear this looks pretty planted, and I was on top of fourth and two gears to go and it just feels ridiculously fast.
“Anyways, I have had good success here. I have really grown to love what it is like to race at superspeedways. It is definitely a different skill to what it is on road courses and, obviously, street courses. The way you have to approach it is different as well because the risk is that much more and the speeds, like I said, are very quick.”
Power, coming off his second series championship last season, has seen the different variations of Texas Motor Speedway. His first start came in 2008 and he will be making his 17th start in the upcoming PPG 375, which will move him into a tie with Scott Sharp for the fifth-most career starts at the Forth Worth venue.
He also has enjoyed success at TMS, with two wins (2011, ’17), four podiums, three pole positions and ranking third for most laps led (453). His three poles, which he won in consecutive years from 2013-15, are tied for the INDYCAR track record with Tomas Scheckter.
Despite logging 3,480 competitive laps and having success at TMS, the 42-year-old Australian still approaches the layout with the utmost respect.
“It’s always been a spectacular place to race with the high banks and being a superspeedway,” Power said. “The frontstretch is very tough because it’s not straight and it’s not a constant curve. You have to hit two apexes which also makes it quite daunting when you are three wide or even two wide. … I’ve seen many big wrecks here too, so it’s unforgiving and you’ve got to respect the place. I really enjoy it. I love it.”
Team Penske dominated last season by taking three of the top four finishing positions in the PPG 375. Josef Newgarden slipped by teammate Scott McLaughlin on the final turn of the final lap and held on for a .0669-of-a-second victory while Power came home in fourth. The margin of victory was the closest of the 17-race NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
“Last year we came in and I was vocal about us running a special session to run the second lane to create some really good racing. We had one of the best finishes we have ever seen here with a pass for the lead on the last lap – I mean the best finishes as far as the lower downforce races we’ve had at this track. We’re going to do that again this year but with all cars running a second lane. All cars will get a set of tires and try and bring in that second and even third groove.
“I’m looking forward to the race. We’ll have more downforce this year – it’s quite a bit more – which helps the car stick to the road so you’re going to see closer racing. I think we will be more wide open for more laps in the race and potentially easier to run on the outside.
“I think INDYCAR made some good changes to promote good racing here so I’m looking forward to getting back here. I’ve had a lot of fun around this track. It’s always an enjoyable race and I think it’s one of the toughest tracks we come to as far as superspeedways go with really high banking and really exciting racing. It’s going to be fun so hopefully you’ll get a big crowd.”
The two-day event will have the NTT INDYCAR SERIES on track Saturday, April 1, for practice and qualifying. The opening one-hour practice will begin at 8 a.m. CT and be followed by qualifying at 11:15 a.m. Split-field practices will run from 12:45-1:15 p.m. and then a final one-hour full-field session at 1:30 p.m.
The weekend culminates Sunday, April 2, with the PPG 375, which begins at 11:15 a.m. (TV: NBC & Peacock, Radio: INDYCAR Radio Network, SiriusXM, 95.9 The Ranch-local).
The season-opening race weekend at Texas Motor Speedway also will feature the SPEEDYCASH.COM 250 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race Saturday, April 1, at 3:30 p.m.
Ticket information and online purchases are available at www.texasmotorspeedway.com.
Notebook: During Wednesday’s media day, Power and O’Ward did their best to replicate that dramatic finish of a year ago between Newgarden and McLaughlin in a karting race exhibition at the Lone Star Kartpark situated at Texas Motor Speedway. The two NTT INDYCAR SERIES stars treated the media and a throng of fans on hand to several thrilling moves with Power barely edging O’Ward at the checkered for the victory. “It was good fun,” Power said. “I liked learning the track and it was good racing.” Added O’Ward: “Will took the fastest kart so I had to take the second-fastest, but they were pretty even. Mine was good in some places and his in others. It was fun.” … Justin Schuoler of KickintheTires.net won the Media Top Driver Challenge with a best lap of 51.2 seconds. He also won the qualifier to advance to the final. … Three-time Indy 500 winner and Fort Worth native Johnny Rutherford was on hand to join O’Ward and Power for their visit. Rutherford celebrated his 85th birthday on Sunday.
Texas Motor Speedway’s 2023 events schedule consists of everything from the April 1-2 NTT INDYCAR SERIES/NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series doubleheader and the Sept. 23-24 NASCAR Playoffs weekend, car shows and competitions and the Ducks Unlimited Expo, the four-day Hwy 30 Music Fest and Bandas y Trocas Hispanic concert and truck show, and then wrapping up the year with the family-favorite and speedway tradition Gift of Lights holiday light show.
Season tickets and camping for Texas Motor Speedway’s 2023 major event season are on sale now. Save up to 33 percent versus buying individual tickets, get the best seat selection and more. All-new reduced rates are available for the GEICO Infield, GEICO VIP and WinStar World Casino & Resort Lone Star Circle camping areas. Click HERE for more information and to purchase season tickets.