How do drivers go fast right away on a new track? (Update: They don’t)

NASCAR drivers are on track today at Texas Motor Speedway, but none of them have ever taken a lap in a stock car around the repaved and partially reconfigured track.

So when practice goes green, how the hell will they go all-out right away? I asked Jimmie Johnson that question during his media session Friday morning, because I honestly had no idea how drivers would be super fast right off the bat.

The answer, according to Jimmie Johnson: They won’t.

“We’ll definitely tiptoe our way into it,” Johnson said.

Johnson went around the track in a rental car Thursday night on a scouting mission and said Turns 3 and 4 look “pretty similar” to how they did before. He said it would be pretty straightforward that drivers would run the bottom there, since the banking didn’t change in that end of the track.

But Turns 1 and 2 — which had the banking lowered from 24 degrees to 20 — look “way different” and left Johnson unsure of what the best line will be. He’s not certain drivers will even run the bottom there.

With no experience or data to use for that part of the track, the only way to tackle it is trial and error, he said. Johnson said he’ll find a spot on the wall where he’ll get off the gas, judge how the corner went and then go further the next time.

“We’ll look for visual reference points and systematically work our way up to speed from lift points, braking points and also back-to-gas points around the track,” he said.

So there you have it. I learned something today.

UPDATE: Denny Hamlin spun on his second lap of practice in Turn 2. Hamlin said he was going “70% at most,” but his first lap was still 3.5 seconds faster than Johnson, who “tiptoed” around like he said. “It’s nasty out here,” Johnson said after his lap.

UPDATE 2: Kyle Busch, Erik Jones and Chase Elliott also crashed during practice. Busch had damage to the right rear, but the team decided to repair it; Jones and Elliott were forced to pull out backup cars.

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