- Associated Press - Friday, June 8, 2012

FORT WORTH, TEXAS (AP) - The tension surrounding Texas Motor Speedway began in the offseason, when drivers still reeling from the death of Dan Wheldon questioned the compatibility of IndyCar and high-banked ovals.

It’s led to a conflict between a track promoter who champions himself a longtime IndyCar supporter and the stars of the series who want to ensure they will be safe Saturday night when racing returns to Texas for a 16th consecutive year.

When the checkered flag falls Saturday night, the 24th running at Texas could very well be the final race around the 1.5-mile oval for IndyCar.

“We’ve had no discussion about anything, and as far as I’m concerned, we’re running the race and we’ll address 2013 when the race is over,” TMS President Eddie Gossage said Friday. “I run a race track. I want to run races, and we’ve had spectacular races over the years. But at the same time there it has grown increasingly difficult in dealing with these folks. And, at some point, you have to decide if the pain is worth the trouble.

“What has happened of late really just sucks the passion out of you, and it’s really hard to be passionate when you have been there and supported _ some may even say saved IndyCar racing _ and you feel like you are due a little respect and loyalty and courtesy. I don’t think we are alone in this category of feeling this way, and it’s absolutely puzzling.”

TMS and IndyCar are dealing with several issues. Among them is the high sanctioning fee the series charges the track, and a date shift this year that gave Belle Isle the slot after the Indianapolis 500 that Texas usually held. Gossage did not think a different race date warranted the same fee from IndyCar.

But the greatest concern is safety, stemming from Wheldon’s fatal October accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner died when his head hit a fence post, but there were several mitigating factors that the accident report cited as contributing to the 15-car accident.

Among them was the pack racing on a high-banked oval, the crowded 34-car field of drivers of varying experience and a track wide enough that allowed drivers to run three-wide at more than 220 mph.

The drivers immediately began fretting over Texas, which marks the first high-banked oval race since Wheldon’s death. They are unanimous in not wanting Saturday night’s race to feature any sort of pack racing and met privately as a group last weekend in Detroit to vote on suggestions for IndyCar officials.

What they came up was a recommended level of less downforce that IndyCar accepted.

“I think that really helped the whole group calm down because we felt like IndyCar is listening to us, and listened to our concerns,” said Justin Wilson, the de facto leader of the driver group, who noted the downforce recommendation came on a unanimous driver vote.

“The biggest concern for all of us is the pack racing. People want to be able to drive the cars, but they want to be in control. We’re OK with danger if it’s our responsibility. If you go into a corner and drive too fast and crash and get hurt, well, you screwed up or something happened or it was racing. The thing that concerns everyone is just that unknown when everyone is (racing) flat out, just waiting for something to happen. None of us want to do that.”

In decreasing the downforce, the cars should be more difficult to drive, thus separating the pack.

“We want to make it so it’s not just musical chairs and who is in the lead when the music stops,” Wilson said. “That’s what some of the pack racing can get like, and we want to make it where you’ve got to earn it.”

The desired effect seemed to be achieved through Friday’s practice session, which received mixed reactions by drivers having to adjust to not being able to run wide open.

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