NASCAR Could Be In For ‘Miserable’ Day At TMS

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 19 2020

A hot time is expected at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Jim Fluharty)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – NASCAR Cup Series driver Chris Buescher, a native of Prosper, says it’s very simple to describe a sunny July afternoon anywhere in Texas.

“It’s just miserable. Miserably hot,” said Buescher, chuckling at the prospect of dealing with strength-sapping heat during Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. “It could very well be our hottest race of the year to-date, and possibly for the year.”

NASCAR’s Cup, Xfinity and Truck series originally were scheduled to compete on TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval from March 27-29. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted NASCAR to shut down and retool its season, with TMS rebooked for the first big-time July racing weekend in its 23-year history.   

Local weather forecasts call for an ambient temperature today of 96 degrees, with heat indexes ranging between 102 and 105. The Cup race, scheduled for 334-laps/501 miles, will be televised at 2 p.m. (CDT) on NBC Sports Network. A Goodyear Racing engineer estimated track temperature at that time likely will read from 130 to 140 degrees.

“I have always wanted a hot, hot race where the track is slick and greasy,” TMS President/General Manager Eddie Gossage said. “That’s what these drivers want and they’re going to get it. It’ll be really interesting to see how this plays out because that’s their favorite condition _ a slick, greasy racetrack.”

The 24th annual OAP 500 will be the first major sporting event in Texas conducted with fans present since the pandemic shutdown. Under guidelines issued by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 19, TMS is allowed to accommodate up to 50 percent of its listed seating capacity of 135,000, including suites.

“We’re not coming close to that. I’m realistic about that,” Gossage said. “It’s not perfect. And these days we’re having a whole lot of ‘not perfect.’ But if we can go to Major League Baseball games in Arlington for almost 50 years now and sit out in the sun, we can do it for one day at the racetrack.”

On Wednesday, Gossage declined to offer a ballpark attendance figure on a day that eventually saw Tarrant County hit a record-high 857 new COVID-19 cases. Across the state, a record 10,791 new cases were recorded that day alone. On Friday, a record 174 people died in-state for reasons related to COVID-19 _ up 45 from Thursday’s 129 _ according to the Department of State Health Services website.

The NASCAR All-Star Race Wednesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway reportedly drew upwards of 30,000 fans. Gossage is expecting “guests” from nearby Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico to mix-in with Texans and visitors “from various states.” While that fits the CDC’s definition of a possible super-spreader event, Gossage is counting on everyone on-site to be socially responsible.  

“Distancing, we’re handing out hand sanitizers, wearing masks, those kind of things _ it shouldn’t be a problem,” Gossage said. ”People got to do the right thing. They’re certainly not going say ‘I didn’t know,’ because there’s signage everywhere. Just be smart. Common sense.

“We haven’t been through something like this before. We’re not trying to set an attendance record here, we just want to give fans an option. So between COVID-19, the heat, I don’t think we’ll see a very large crowd. What will be the true numbers, I don’t even know. It won’t be large at all.”

That said, what will temps be like inside a Cup car at TMS? “It’ll be anywhere from the 140 to 150 range, conservatively,” said Denny Hamlin, defending champion of this event and a four-time winner in 2020 wheeling the No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. “You’re probably looking more in the 150 range, so it will not be easy for sure.”

Buescher, 27, cut his racing teeth in Legends Cars during the heat of summers past on the Lil’ Texas Motor Speedway oval. “I’d say we’d be lucky if we only get to 150 degrees,” said Buescher, who is in his first season of driving the No. 17 Roush Performance Stage 3 Ford Mustang fielded by Roush Fenway Racing. “NASCAR’s been keeping up with temperatures inside race cars and we’ve seen thermometers mounted to headrests the last couple years. The hottest I’ve ever seen was 158 numerically _ but I did see one of our thermometers just say HOT. So I want to know at what temperature it just goes to HOT.

“It’s very difficult to concentrate, especially by the end of these races. It’s something where you’ve got to work really hard to stay hydrated. It’s a struggle. The heat is probably the hardest part of what we do. It’s hard for people to get their head wrapped around the fact that we’re in a race car and going in circles _ that’s the premise of it. But it’s a workout. It’s extremely physical. Your core is engaged the entire time. You’re trying not to let the G-forces throw you out of your seat. Your neck _ by time you put on several pounds of carbon and fiberglass and padding onto your head _ that helmet feels real heavy when you start adding all those G-forces as well.

“On top of it is the fact we’re in the car for three and-a-half to four and-a-half hours at minimum 100 degrees inside the car. I mean, we never get anything any better than 100 degrees. It’s not very well understood but it’s definitely an athlete’s sport.”

Hamlin, 39, said he might drop 11 pounds off his 170-pound frame during a four-hour race.You don’t beat the heat. You’re not going to beat it,” said Hamlin, a three-time Cup winner at TMS. “From my perspective, the humidity is the biggest factor when it comes to how I feel in the race car. If it’s just temperature and not humidity, I can handle it. Humidity _ that really drains the fluids out of you.”

Hamlin said he typically trains for hot-weather races by hydrating and carbo-loading on foods like pasta, a regimen similar training to run a 26.2-mile marathon.

Gossage recalled the old-school method “Alabama Gang” legends Bobby Allison and his late son, Davey,  cooked-up to prep for races in the South. “They actually used to ride around in the summer with the windows in their (street) cars rolled up to try to get themselves in shape for Sunday,” Gossage said. “They were famous for doing it, and to give people an idea of what it’s like _ that’s it.”

Buescher said that sounded like the sauna he has used in the past as a training tool. “But I’m not going to get in a vehicle and turn the heat on with a sweatshirt on and drive around,” Buescher said with a laugh. “If there’s AC in a vehicle, I’m going to use it.”


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 19 2020
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