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Everything is bigger in Texas, including the intensity
- Updated: November 2, 2016
Jerry Jordan, Editor
FORT WORTH, Tx – It’s the eighth race in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship – the middle round of the sport’s semi-final playoffs – but that doesn’t mean the racing at Texas Motor Speedway is insignificant. In fact, it’s quite the opposite and, as the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas including the desire of drivers wanting to lock-in their shot at a championship in two weeks at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson made it official this past weekend at Martinsville Speedway – he will compete for NASCAR’s final Sprint Cup trophy as the series leaves the sport after 13 years in the entitlement role. But there are seven other eligible drivers wanting a shot at keeping Johnson from achieving his seventh championship and they will be battling it out this weekend at The Great American Speedway.
“Now, it counts,” said Eddie Gossage, track president. “As we have seen in the first two rounds, those two rounds, the strategy has revealed itself as just don’t get in trouble, just don’t run into anybody or anything. Finish and you will advance. But now that we are down to the Round of 8, you have really only one option. You’re going to have to go to the front and you are going to have to perform well and try to win, so you are not going to Phoenix – the penultimate race – and facing a win or else situation. So, these three races in this round are incredibly critical. You just can’t ride around and hope someone else has bad luck; you are going to have to make your own luck.
“We saw how intense it got two years ago when Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski got into a fight after the race. You actually saw blood from a busted lip and busted nose. You know, fights in racing are using a shove, a water bottle gets thrown and that is about it but that one had real live punches. So, that tells you that things have gotten really, really intense here and that is what fans come to see – the drama that the intensity builds on. And for whatever reason, this one seems to be the most intense of the three.”
Of course, for Gossage, perhaps one of the best showmen in auto racing, the fact that his racetrack ratchets up the intensity, hurt feelings and a burning desire to win is something that makes him smile as he watches the fans pour into the track in advance of race weekend.
With tripleheader racing from now through the end of the season, the action at Texas Motor Speedway kicks off Friday night with the Camping World Truck Series. On Saturday, the NASCAR Xfinity Series hits the track and the Sprint Cup Series closes out the weekend Sunday afternoon.
Gossage also shared some insight about The Chase and whether or not he thinks drivers actually like the elimination format. Of course, for him, the drama and intensity are good because it makes the action on the track even more exciting but it also creates a lot of pressure.
“I can tell you that the drivers don’t like The Chase,” he said. “It puts a spotlight on them and makes a tough job even tougher. That’s when you see the champions rise to the top or the pretenders sink and don’t get there. Of course, then you have bad luck like Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. when their motors broke at Talladega. That’s back luck. Then you have people saying ‘this isn’t fair, blah, blah, blah.’ Well, I remember the New England Patriots going undefeated all the way through the regular season, through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl, only to have the New York Giants, who had a mediocre season at best, beat them in the Super Bowl. Who won the Super Bowl? The New York Giants. You have to play all of the games or there is no reason to have a series and if the outcome is preordained by ‘well, we have had a good season, so we deserve to advance,’ then what is the fun of watching it? You have to perform at the right time and unfortunately for those two guys, something broke and they don’t get to advance.”
But it doesn’t matter what drivers like and don’t like – the system is in place and most fans love The Chase. Old fans and new ones, both by the thousands, will be on-hand this weekend to watch the eighth race in The Chase. For the new, Gossage and his team created something called “Race Day University” or Race Day U for short.
Drivers Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman; team owner Jack Roush; spotter T.J. Majors and others will meet with new fans as part of an insider’s look at what goes on before, during and after a NASCAR race. Gossage said it is an ultimate learning experience in a VIP-setting and all it takes to be a part of it is to call the TMS ticket office at 817-215-8500 or by going online to www.TexasMotorSpeedway.com.
“This is something we have for fans that have never been to a race before and it is sort of a VIP experience where we hold their hands so they can see all sides of what a race day is like,” Gossage said. “They’ll have lunch and we’ll have four drivers come by, as well as, Jack Roush and they will get a tour of the garage, the pit area and be in front of the stage for the pre-race concert and driver introductions. That is an experience that people will say. ‘how did they get that’ and it is something we have available, particularly for fans that have never been to a racetrack before.”
The web site and phone number are the same for fans wanting to purchase any number of tickets packages for the upcoming events. Gossage said the races aren’t sold out and reasonably priced tickets are still available. Plus, for the first 30,000 fans to walk through the gates, on Sunday, there will be a special surprise to honor Stewart’s final year as a driver in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.
“I should have bought a bunch of ponies last year because I can tell you the price of ponies has gone up in the past year. They were a lot more expensive for some reason when we called,” Gossage laughed, making reference to the two ponies that he bestowed on Jeff Gordon when he retired in 2015. “This is Tony’s last race here and we do have a surprise for him. It was a big hit for Jeff, or at least, Jeff’s kids.”
Whatever the surprise Gossage has in store for Stewart, he is keeping it a secret. But for those 30,000 fans, they will get the first of a series of impending bobble head dolls starting with one representing a slimmer Stewart.
“We were together a couple of weeks ago and I showed it to him and he agrees we were very kind to him. The bobble head is very svelte and we could have put a lot more meat on his bones to make it more realistic.” Gossage said. “And oddly enough, I have bobble head Tony on my desk and he always agrees with what I have to say.”
Getting back to the fans, Gossage said everyone welcome at Texas Motor Speedway and whether they drive in for the day, stay in hotels for the weekend, camp in million-dollar motor homes or sleep in tents there is something for everyone.
“Just come on out … everyone is the same and we just have a lot of fun out here,” Gossage said. “That is what it is all about.”