Texas Motor Speedway Ends a Longstanding Tradition Familiar to NASCAR Fans
Last year’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway was all about lead changes. A year after Kyle Larson dominated and there were a track record-low eight lead changes, the 2022 edition saw Tyler Reddick win by making the last of a record-high 36 lead changes stick.
This year’s big development at the Fort Worth track could end up being a change after the racing is done and the winner drives onto Victory Lane. There’s a chance this will be the last TMS Cup race for a while, and it’s not going to go out with guns a-blazin’.
Texas Motor Speedway has fallen out of favor in the Cup Series
NASCAR is far from announcing its 2024 schedule, so we don’t know yet what next year’s twists will be to follow this season’s move of the All-Star Race to North Wilkesboro Speedway and the decision to drop Road America in favor of a Chicago street course.
However, few people would be stunned if NASCAR dropped Texas Motor Speedway from the Cup Series in favor of a track it hasn’t visited recently. And fewer still would be disappointed. NASCAR has become bearish on the track very quickly in recent years, reflecting the sentiment of fans.
Last year, six incidents in Turn 4 over the first two stages triggered yellow flags costing the field 51 green-flag laps. It made the 21 lead changes before the start of the third stage even more meaningless than usual. It was a bad look, especially for a playoff race.
Only four of the remaining 12 playoff drivers cracked the top eight, and fans participating in Jeff Gluck’s weekly poll voted it the worst points race of the season. The only race that fared worse was the All-Star Race – also at Texas Motor Speedway.
Texas Motor Speedway’s only remaining race will wrap-up differently
Texas Motor Speedway hosted two points races per season from 2005-20. The following year, NASCAR moved its spring race to the Circuit of the Americas but gave TMS the All-Star Race, which amounted to a consolation prize.
This year, the All-Star Race is scheduled for North Wilkesboro, leaving TMS with just one Cup Series event, the first race in the playoffs round of 12. The stakes will be high, as will emotions. The celebration in Victory Lane will be especially sweet if the winner is one of the playoff drivers since it’ll mean a guaranteed spot in the semifinal round three weeks later.
However, a Texas Motor Speedway tradition will be missing. Many tracks have special celebrations, such as the presence of the lobster at Loudon. Others have unusual trophies and prizes, like the grandfather clock at Martinsville. The TMS tradition has seen the victor don a cowboy hat and hold a pair of six-shooter pistols.
That tradition seems to have ended a month ago when the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and IndyCar shared the track for the weekend. The Indianapolis Star said track officials decided “months ago” to retire the six-shooters firing blanks into the sky. It’s not clear whether a sponsor will continue presenting a rifle to the pole winner of the Cup series race.
The track made an exception in 2017
Mass shootings, like the one in Nashville recently, have spawned intense debate over gun laws. How much of that is in play in Texas Motor Speedway’s decision isn’t clear. However, track officials have temporarily suspended the six-shooter celebration in the past.
There were no guns in Victory Lane in 2017 following Kevin Harvick’s win in the Cup Series out of respect for victims of a rampage that killed 26 people in a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church. Juxtapose that with 2013, when the National Rifle Association bought the naming rights to the spring race at the track.
It’s a different time now, and track officials may be looking to steer clear of anything even mildly controversial after being criticized last spring for having Gov. Greg Abbott wave the ceremonial green flag at the All-Star Race. At the time, his administration was under fire for calling upon state agencies to investigate gender-affirming treatments for transgender teenagers. It resulted in an awkward and cryptic apology from NASCAR days later while acknowledging the start of Pride Month.
NASCAR already has reasons to abandon Texas Motor Speedway, and track officials may be looking to make sure they don’t make the decision easier.
Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at [email protected]