NASCAR drivers face challenges at Kentucky

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The finish line isn’t in view just yet, but Kentucky Speedway’s days as the roughest track in NASCAR are coming to an end.

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The track that has bloodied drivers’ noses from the bumps and bruised their egos is in the middle of a repaving project. It’s one of several projects for the 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) track in Sparta, Kentucky, expected to be finished at the beginning of June.

Most NASCAR drivers raved about the bumps, saying the rough track challenged even the best drivers. How will they feel about the repave?

“Whenever you have new pavement on the track it just speeds it up so much,” said Ben Rhodes, a rookie in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. “That’s really cool as a driver because we love new pavement.”

Rhodes will be one of the first drivers to test the new racing surface. The NCWTS Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 is the first race on the 2016 calendar schedule on July 7.

Here are four things to know about Kentucky Speedway:

1. Bank on it: The repave isn’t the only major project. Banking is being added to Turns 1-2 starting about 500 feet from the start/finish line, taking them from 14 degrees to 17 degrees. Turns 3-4 will remain at 14 degrees.

The extra banking will help drivers carry speed down the backstretch and into Turn 3.

“This is one of the more challenging stretches they’ll find anywhere in NASCAR,” said Mark Simendinger, Kentucky Speedway general manager. “They’re going to be coming through here with even more speed. The drivers will have to figure out what they can do to maintain as much speed through [turns]3-4 and get safely through there.”

2. No more weeping: Rain washed out practices sessions and qualifying last year as water seeped up through cracks in the track, also known as weeping.

A new drainage system should help eliminate that problem.

Simendinger had a chance to speak with some NASCAR drivers in Charlotte recently and discussed the repaving with them. The general consensus of the repaving?

“Honestly, I think a little bit of resignation,” he said. “I think they all knew it was worn out. We lost a lot of qualifying and practice last year. We just couldn’t get the track dry enough and it was primarily due to the weepers. This track will be a lot easier to work on. It’ll be a lot easier to dry. We’re going to get a lot more track time.”

3. Turning to a new challenge: Kentucky Speedway won’t be able to use the slogan The Roughest Track in NASCAR — well, at least until the new pavement starts wearing down.

With that in mind the track needs to promote a new challenge.

“Ironically, that’s the turn [Turn 3] we’re not changing. But that’s the one that’s going to highlight how difficult that turn is. I would be very surprised if we don’t hear drivers talking about how it forces them to deal with Turn 3. That’s where you have to get on the edge and figure out how much speed can I maintain through there and do it safely,” Simendinger said.

4. Go green: The speedway’s season opens July 7-9 with the NASCAR tripleheader.

After the Trucks on July 7, the Xfinity Series turns its first race laps on the new surface on July 8. Kyle Busch attempts to defend his Sprint Cup victory in the Quaker State 400 on July 9.

TNS

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