NASCAR hits the reset button on its playoffs this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, and the track is doing a soft reboot too.
The Xfinity Series and Cup Series are set to begin their championship Rounds of 12, respectively, on Saturday and Sunday.
Meanwhile, TMS has a new leader after track owner Speedway Motorsports hired Mark Faber as the venue’s general manager and executive vice president last month.
Faber spent 17 years with AEG, where he worked since 2014 as senior vice president of global partnerships at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. In a phone interview this week, he talked about improving amenities for fans.
“I was the first boots on the ground for T-Mobile Arena,” he said. “It’s all about what we call the guest experience, the fan experience.”
The track is opening four new concourse bars this week totaling 7,000 square feet. Faber said the three main bars near Gate 4 offer an open view toward the action on the racetrack. New drink rails in the grandstands provide more room for fans to stretch their legs and stash their coolers. He said the bar area features a grab-and-go purchase option for certain items.
“We’re trying to reduce the time that fans are out of their seats,” Faber said.
The weekend schedule is headlined by the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and the Andy’s Frozen Custard 300 at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Practice and qualifying sessions for both series begin at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
Chase Elliott and Joey Logano lead the Cup Series playoff standings after four drivers were eliminated last week at Bristol. Only 14 points separate third-place Ross Chastain from 12th-place Austin Cindric.
Playoff drivers can clinch a berth in the next round by winning in Fort Worth. Doing so would spare that driver the stress of navigating potential chaos at the remaining second-round tracks — Talladega and the Charlotte road course.
But playoff drivers have yet to win in the three playoff races so far. Last week’s winner was Chris Buescher, a driver from Prosper who picked up his second career victory with a triumph at Bristol.
“Bristol is the top of my list,” Buescher told the Record-Chronicle. “That made me so happy to be able to pull that one off because it is No. 1. I love that racetrack. That race just means so much — the Bristol Night Race.
“It’s just a race win that I’ve wanted more than anywhere else. I’d take it over a Daytona 500 or a Coke 600. It’s just that cool to me.”
NASCAR’s seventh-generation Cup car made its TMS debut in May, but that was the All-Star Race. Faber said he is looking forward to seeing a full field of the cars tackle the 1 1/2-mile oval for the first time, and Buescher was eyeing this weekend’s weather forecast.
“A hot race, which usually is good for racing — makes it a little greasier, makes you slip and slide a little bit and hunt for some grip,” Buescher said. “NASCAR will be putting PJ1 [traction compound] down, trying to widen the groove out some. ... It’s hard to make a groove faster around the top when there’s so much grip on the bottom that you’re naturally just going to try and get there.”
Buescher finished eighth in the All-Star Race, while Ryan Blaney took the checkered flag in dramatic fashion.
Blaney returns to Denton County eighth in the playoff standings, four points above the elimination line. Blaney will be trying to repeat the feat of Kyle Larson, who won the All-Star Race and the Autotrader EchoPark 500 en route to the 2021 championship.
Still alive in defense of his first title, Larson sits in fourth place, 21 points behind Elliott and 10 points above the cut line.
The Xfinity Series also is entering its Round of 12, but the difference is that NASCAR’s Triple-A circuit is just starting its playoff. The field faces the same three-track gauntlet to reach the Round of 8.
Noah Gragson and Ty Gibbs lead the standings, with Justin Allgaier and AJ Allmendinger also enjoying a gap over fifth-place Josh Berry. Gragson has a career-high six victories and is on a three-race win streak.
The TMS Xfinity race in May was won by Cup star Tyler Reddick. No Xfinity playoff driver has a win at the track.
From 2005 to 2020, Fort Worth hosted two points races each year in the Cup Series. That changed last year when Speedway Motorsports moved the All-Star Race from Charlotte to TMS and staged a new points race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin.
Next season, the All-Star Race is moving back East as NASCAR returns to North Wilkesboro for the first time since 1996.
“The fact that it moved is not a detriment to Texas Motor Speedway or North Texas at all,” Faber said. “It’s the opportunity for NASCAR to get back to its roots.
“We’ve already made it known all the way to the highest levels that we’d like to have that race and that weekend come back in 2024. … There’ll be ongoing dialogue.”
The 2023 schedule will leave TMS with one race apiece in the Cup and Xfinity series.
“I would love to have two, but at the end of the day we’ve got to be able to bring the people out for it,” Buescher said. “We’re going to keep after it and keep trying to see if we can get everybody pumped up and excited about it.
“If we can get back to two races, awesome. Maybe we’ll get back to that point if we can start getting people there and selling it out again.”
Another recent question surrounding TMS was the status of its long-running IndyCar Series race, but the track has announced a new deal with the series.
“We have a multiyear agreement with them,” Faber said. “The future is bright for Indy car racing at Texas Motor Speedway.”
The IndyCar Series race in early April once again will be paired with a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event.
Faber replaced Rob Ramage, who was promoted to an executive position within Speedway Motorsports. Ramage spent one year at TMS, replacing longtime track President Eddie Gossage.
Before he worked for AEG, Faber held multiple sports jobs in North Texas. He said he’s noticed a significant improvement in traffic flow for fans at TMS since it opened in 1997.
“I was here for the first NASCAR race they had, the first Indy car race, the Rolling Stones,” Faber said. “What I remember was traffic congestion and nothing else out here but pastureland.”