Everything Not OK In KC

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Can anybody drive these things?

What is this? Bristol times three? And they call Darlington the “Track Too Tough to Tame”?

“I knew it was gonna be a case just like that,” said rookie Kurt Busch, who brought out one of the cautions by spinning through the grass, but still managed to finish ninth. “Usually, inaugural races are quicky-dry 500s, and you’ve got to get through all the wrecks and you’ve got to make sure you position correctly when the restart drops.

“Nobody has a consistent base for a setup. It’s very edgy, and you’re unfamiliar with the circumstances that each race track gives you. All these veterans have that repetition at the other places, so that’s why it’s so edgy on me on inaugural race tracks.”

The 13 cautions were the most on any track bigger than a half-mile this season. The second race at Bristol Motor Speedway, that high-banked half-mile famous for yellow flags, had 16 cautions. The first race at Bristol at had 13 cautions.

Now, Kansas Speedway joins that elite group. No other superspeedway had more than 11, and that was achieved last week at Dover and a month ago at Darlington. And Dover and Darlington have tough reputations.

Want more proof how difficult Sunday’s race was? Eleven cars didn’t finish, matching the third-highest total all season (19 cars didn’t finish the Daytona 500, and 12 cars had DNFs at Atlanta and the second Dover race). Besides those 11, at least seven more had damage.

That’s nearly half the field.

But why? Is Kansas a car eater? Perhaps, but there were only five cautions in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race here in July. Yes, there were 100 fewer laps in that race, but it still doesn’t add up to Sunday’s debacle.

“It’s all wrong,” Mark Martin said. “The aero package is terribly wrong, and the tires they’ve got us on is the opposite. We’ve got way too much downforce on these cars and way too hard of a tire to drive on. They need to make the cars the same speed, but take the bodies basically almost off of them. Then, give us a tire we can drive on and we won’t push when you get behind other cars or spin out when you get in front of other cars.

“It’s a horrible deal. I’ve been telling them for three years. You can’t race because when you catch the car in front of you, you’re dead if he doesn’t pull over and let you go. That’s not racing.”

A Goodyear spokesperson admitted the tire was hard, but it wasn’t an unknown. The same tire has been raced at Chicagoland Speedway, California Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

“It was used a number of times, so it’s not a new tire,” Goodyear public relations manager Carole Swartz said. “It was running really well. Some guys didn’t change tires some of the time.

“The tire has a good history. It was running well.”

Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jason Leffler might disagree. Those three had trouble, with Kenseth and Earnhardt Jr. losing right-front tires. A possible problem, other than a bad tire, could have been air pressure that was too low.

“When you start at new race tracks, you usually start a little on the conservative side,” said Robbie Loomis, the crew chief for Jeff Gordon, who won Sunday’s race. “As the race went along we kept looking at them and we were going off Jeff’s feedback. We slowly eased them down. When we saw somebody blow a right front, we eased them back up.”

Tires played a big factor in Sunday’s race. Drivers stayed on the track instead of taking on fresh tires because track position meant so much. And the old tires held up enough to make them as fast as fresher tires.

And even if a car was faster, it was hard to pass at Kansas Speedway.

“At Chicago we had a lot of grip, so you could do a lot of racing even though you knew there wasn’t another groove,” Robert Pressley said. “Here, the track was just so slick that there was nothing you could do. Whenever you put new tires on, the car would just jump around with you for about eight or 10 laps. That’s why we didn’t want any tires. We wanted to just stay on the hottest things we had.”

The outside groove wasn’t much of a factor, said Sterling Marlin, who wanted the lead-lap cars to start on the inside on restarts.

“Rusty (Wallace) has asked NASCAR, probably every driver who runs up front has asked to please let the fast cars start on the inside,” Marlin said. “You’ve got a high-speed track. Tires are real slick the first four or five laps. It’s ridiculous to make us start on the outside. I guess it sells more tickets.”

The cautions did make for excitement of some degree, as it kept fans wondering what was going to happen next.

But not every driver thought Kansas Speedway was to blame.

“It was partially part of being a new race track – not just the surface or the track or anything like that, but just drivers adapting to it,” said rookie Ryan Newman, who finished second. “For instance, when we go down into Turn 1 at the start of a race at Charlotte, everybody – unless you’re a rookie – you pretty much know what to expect.

“The track, like I said, really came around to us about halfway through the race, and it opened up to where we had two and sometimes three-wide racing. Those cautions were just part of racing. Some days you’ll have a lot and some days you won’t have any.”

Ricky Rudd even disagreed with Pressley about the tracks’ amount of traction.

“I don’t really have an answer for it because the bottom groove had a lot of grip,” Rudd said. “It was very good down on the bottom of the race track, and the top wasn’t all that treacherous. I’m not really sure what was going on with all the guys that were having trouble. My car never really came close to breaking loose, maybe because it had a front-end push all day.

“Maybe if I would have gotten it looser, we would have had some problems, but I don’t really have an answer for it. I didn’t see where the race track conditions were that treacherous. Certainly, the top groove didn’t come in on the entry to the corner like we’d like to have, but not anymore treacherous than say a Chicago or anywhere else we’ve been running.”

Maybe it was just a bad day for most. It would be hard to dispute that.

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