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ANDERS: Repave brings unknown at Texas

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Erik Jones hits the wall coming out of Turn 4 during a during a practice session for Sunday's Monster Energy Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Friday, April 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Larry Papke)

NASCAR Texas Auto Racing-2
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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Texas Motor Speedway has established itself as one of the wildest spectacles in NASCAR.

The track helmed by master showman Eddie Gossage has become known for its wild pre-race shows, outlandish marketing schemes and, of course, Big Hoss, the 218-foot wide video screen that looms large over the backstretch.

The thing is, the racing has never quite lived up to the spectacle that surrounds it. True story: in April 2012, I was in a hotel room with my dad in Southern Pines where we were staying before going to the Truck Series race at Rockingham the next day. Dad and I watched the Cup race from Texas, where they ran the last 234 laps under green, and I've never been so bored or so close to giving up on racing altogether.

Anyway, Texas has become more known in recent years for brutally long rain delays, caused by its porous surface that hadn't been replaced since 2001. The fall race last season was delayed nearly six hours because of issues drying the surface, and an IndyCar race there last season started in June and wasn't completed until August due to a postponement after track officials struggled to get the track dry.

Today's Monster Energy Cup Series race is the first at the track since a complete repaving process that started in January. The entire racing surface and pit road are brand new asphalt, with a new drainage system to alleviate the drying issues. But the most interesting part of the endeavor was the fact the track knocked the banking of turns 1 and 2 from 24 degrees down to 20 and widened the racing surface from 60 to 80 feet. The dimensions for turns 3 and 4 remained unchanged, giving Texas a Darlington-esque personality with different specs at either end of the race track.

Whether or not those changes add some intrigue to the racing product likely won't be known until down the road. What is known now, though, is this: today's race has a ton of unknowns.

Repaves are usually wildly unpopular among drivers and fans. The new asphalt has so much grip in the bottom groove that it makes side-by-side racing nearly impossible for at least a few races until the asphalt begins to age. Saturday’s Xfinity Series race largely held to that norm, with cars on the bottom at an extreme advantage and anyone who found themselves more than a half a lane up the track usually sliding back through the field.

Friday's practice saw Chase Elliott and Erik Jones total cars, and saw Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin lose control as well, meaning today's race could be treacherous as drivers test the limits of the new surface.

Unfortunately, history says it's possible, or even likely, that the first couple of races on the new surface won't be particularly thrilling, but there are definitely some question marks around the new surface that could add some drama to this first show on it.

Here's hoping it just doesn't turn into a typical Texas spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Prediction

Repaves tend to somewhat nullify a team's prior notes or setups at a particular track. For that reason, I'm going with a still-new driver/team combo that has no prior notes to go on and that has been surprisingly strong this season. He also qualified third for today’s race.

Pick: Clint Bowyer.

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

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