This year’s Battle in the Bluegrass is going to be one wild show.
No, I am not talking about the Kentucky Wildcats vs. the Louisville Cardinals. I am talking about 43 machines taking on one of the most difficult tracks in NASCAR on July 9. Drivers and race fans will experience something completely different at Kentucky Speedway.
Last year, NASCAR debuted the new low downforce package at Kentucky. NASCAR knew they were onto something and competitors raved, saying it was the most exciting race of the season.
With an aging and bumpy surface that was criticized by several Sprint Cup Series drivers, Kentucky Speedway officials announced it was time to repave the roughest track on the circuit.
Besides a complete repave, the track has a new drainage system and has been reconfigured. The banking in Turns 1 and 2 has been increased from 14 degrees to 17 degrees, and the racing surface has been narrowed on that end of the speedway. Fourteen teams were able to test out the renovated track earlier this month as part of a NASCAR-sanctioned test.
Tim Bray, Director of Communications of Kentucky Speedway gave his thoughts about the upcoming race. He is just as excited as race fans.
“I think it is going to be fast, very fast. The drivers are all in awe because of the fact it is nothing like the old track,” Bray told POPULAR SPEED. “Turns 1 and 2 are only 54-feet wide, turns 3 and 4 are much flatter and wider”
NASCAR is bringing the lower downforce package that debuted at Michigan. The goal with the new package is to not only reduce downforce, but to lower sideforce produced by the cars, essentially allowing drivers to pass and be less dependent on aerodynamics.
“Drivers and crew chiefs are going to have to make some decisions as to how they are going to set up their cars, and it all has do with the new package,” Bray said.
Another important aspect of the race is going to be which tire Goodyear and NASCAR chooses.
“They brought a tire from Vegas, and we want Goodyear to bring that tire back for the race,” Bray explained. “Goodyear has some decisions to make, but I think the biggest tire will be the one they use during the race.”
According to Bray, the low groove is already established, so the main task now is to widen that groove so that fans will see side-by-side racing. Bray is hopeful the reconfiguration will help Kentucky maintain its reputation as a one-of-a-kind oval.
“We want the track to live up to what it is, a unique mile-and-a-half on the circuit,” Bray said.
Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch took part in the 14-team test, and the two most recent cup series champions offered their take on the revamped facility.
“You won’t leave here with a headache that is the best part.” Harvick chuckled.
The Stewart Haas Racing driver also praised the new drainage system.
“That was one of the biggest problems. Drying the track and not losing track time and making the fans sit around for no reason,” said Harvick. “The effort into spending the money on something like this shows the commitment Kentucky Speedway and SMI have.”
According to Bray, the defending race winner at Kentucky spent a lot of time working on restarts and trying different grooves around the track. With so many new factors, Busch isn’t sure what to expect come race time.
“It is going to be interesting. The biggest thing I see is the groove goes from so wide coming out of turn four onto the straightaway it narrows going into turn 1,” Busch said. “We are trying our best to get it rubbered in. The tires seem to be reacting well in turns one and two, but in three and four it has been a trying process.”
Emily Spink is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist.
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