It doesn’t matter if you are a two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion or one of the most promising young championship contenders in the sport, Texas Motor Speedway commands your unwavering attention and respect.
When the NTT INDYCAR SERIES arrives Sunday, April 2 at TMS 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 … racing at 220+ mph 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 two podiums in his first four appearances.
“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, ‘Man, 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.
“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.”
Power, coming off his second series championship last season, has seen the different variations of TMS. His first start came in 2008, and he will make 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 Fort Worth venue.
2018 Indianapolis 500 winner Power also has enjoyed success at TMS, with two wins (2011, 2017), four podium finishes, 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 SERIES track record with Tomas Scheckter.
Despite that record and logging 3,480 competitive laps 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’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES race at TMS 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,” Power said. “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.”
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford and longtime Fort Worth resident Johnny Rutherford joined Power and O’Ward before the media March 15 at TMS. “Lone Star J.R.” celebrated his 85th birthday Sunday, March 12.