Firestone 600 will add to 20 years of Texas Motor Speedway lore

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FORT WORTH, Texas – It was evident from the first time Indy cars raced at Texas Motor Speedway that the Lone Star State oval would provide competition and entertainment like no other. That unpredictability and excitement is expected to continue with tonight’s Firestone 600.

The ninth race on the 2016 schedule also marks the 20th straight year that the Verizon IndyCar Series is competing on the 1.455-mile oval – since the track opened in 1997. Tonight’s race (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network) will be the 28th at TMS.

CLICK HERE: Firestone 600 qualifying results

And, boy, there have been some good ones, starting with the very first encounter, the True Value 500k on June 7, 1997. It’s when Billy Boat took the checkered flag driving for A.J. Foyt, but Arie Luyendyk thought he had won and went looking for an official from sanctioning body USAC in Victory Lane.

Foyt and Luyendyk had what is now a famous scuffle (pictured above) before a review of the results showed Luyendyk indeed was the winner by a lap. Nonetheless, the cantankerous Foyt still has possession of the original winner’s trophy today. Ironically, the trophy that the track unveiled in 2000 listing all the race winners’ names is called the Foyt-Rutherford Trophy.

Texas Motor Speedway hosted two races a year from 1998-2004. Scott Sharp won the June 2000 edition that featured a race-record 32 lead changes. Jeff Ward led one lap – the last one – to collect the only Indy car win of his career by 0.0111 of a second over Al Unser Jr. in the June 2002 race.

The closest race finish in TMS history took place in the September 2002 race, when Sam Hornish Jr. beat Helio Castroneves across the finish line by 0.0096 of a second to wrap up his second straight Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

Unser Jr. captured the last of his 34 career wins in the June 2003 race. In October of that same year, Gil de Ferran won what would be his final race. The late Justin Wilson provided a fan-pleasing win in 2012 for Dale Coyne Racing, taking the lead with two laps to go after Graham Rahal brushed the wall.

Castroneves became the first four-time winner at TMS in 2013. Scott Dixon won last year’s 248-lap race on his way to becoming a four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion.

Dixon starts second tonight in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, alongside Verizon P1 Award winner Carlos Munoz in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda. The competition is tight, with the top 17 qualifiers separated by less than a half-second over the two laps.

Figuring the proper downforce levels to run, managing tire performance throughout a stint and working through traffic have been topics of paddock conversation over the weekend. Whichever driver and crew devise the best plan for those obstacles will likely add their name to the Foyt-Rutherford Trophy and TMS lore tonight.

“I think the (tire) degradation (level) they give us is very good for racing,” Dixon said of supplier Firestone, “the drivers and teams having to figure out how to preserve the tire better. I think it's just so hard when you can potentially run 212 or 214 (mph), then you pile on a bunch of downforce, you can only run 207, nobody wants to run that.

“But on the long run, it's going to be a huge amount better for you. You're going to slow down 3 or 4 miles an hour instead of 9 or 10 (over the course of a stint).

“Breathing the throttle a little bit definitely helps (tire wear) throughout the race if you're getting into a situation where you can utilize that; also the lane usage. The low lane is definitely quicker, but it also chews up the tires pretty quick. I think throughout the race you’ll see people running second, third lane. That's for a reason, to try to help the longevity of the speed that you run.”

Firestone 600 fast facts:

Telecast: 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network

Start engines command: 8:45 p.m. ET

Distance: 248 laps/360.84 miles

Track: Texas Motor Speedway, 1.455-mile oval

Fuel: 95 gallons of Sunoco E85R ethanol

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