Newly Revamped Kentucky Speedway Creates Uncertainties

Kentucky Speedway went into the salon and came out looking fresh, clean, new and fast. And this weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Sparta, Ky. (yes, that’s the actual name of the city) for the Quaker State 400 on Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. on NBC.

The 1.5–mile track underwent a complete repave, as well as a change to the banking in turns one and two (which is now banked higher than turns three and four).

When we arrived, there was no driving line, no rubber, it was a clean sheet of paper,” Jerry Kaproth, manager, testing logistics and track engineering for NASCAR, told NASCAR.com.

“The goal is not only to allow the rubber to get embedded into the track, but (create) a wide racing groove so we can get to the point where we’re having double-wide racing,” said Kaproth.

A handful of drivers participated in a Goodyear tire test at the speedway about one month ago, saying that more rubber needed to be laid down. Now, Kaproth believes they did just that. “We feel very comfortable with what we see. And when we’re done, we think it will be a very competitive race track.”

With the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series having multiple practice sessions and races on the surface, rubber in the groove will be plentiful – barring unforeseen weather hitting the Sparta, Ky. area, that is. The track was also infamous for holding water in the seams of the racetrack, taking it an absurd amount of time to dry. Kaproth mentioned to reporters that the problem has been addressed and solved.

But a new track isn’t the only change that is happening in the bluegrass state this weekend. The same newer lower downforce package that debuted at Michigan International Speedway earlier this season is making its second (and final scheduled) appearance. The package features a smaller spoiler, rear splitter as well as rear deck fin. At MIS, the race was extremely lackluster by most accounts. I believe that this weekend’s Saturday night showdown at Kentucky will produce more action, especially with the Chase closing in fast and only a limited amount of spots remaining. Drivers will do whatever it takes to grab a win.

Mother Nature wreaked havoc on track activity during the afternoon on Friday, including NSCS qualifying. It was cancelled due to rain, meaning that points leader Kevin Harvick will start on the pole. Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards will round out the top-five starting positions when the green flags drops Saturday evening.

Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin will round out the top-ten, with the remainder of the field being set by current points standings. The 400-mile, 267-lap race was won by Busch last season, his second win of the season which propelled him to the historic championship.

PREDICTIONS: As I stated in this week’s episode of Victory Lane, I’m going with the No. 19 car to find victory lane this weekend. Carl Edwards will win the Quaker State 400 for Joe Gibbs Racing, and do a backflip onto the newly repaved Kentucky – or so I think. Enjoy the race, everyone!

NOTES: William Byron won the Buckle Up Your Truck 225 on Friday for his fourth win of the season (series leading) and 51st for Kyle Busch Motorsports (most all time in the NCWTS). The Alsco 300 in the XFINITY Series takes place tonight at 7:30 p.m. from Kentucky.