Conditions Challenging for Drivers

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch topped the opening practice session. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

SPARTA, Kty. – Extreme heat and a rough race track are making this weekend’s racing at Kentucky Speedway a challenge for Sprint Cup Series drivers.

Kyle Busch led Friday’s opening practice session with a lap of 177.801 mph as drivers battled the hot weather and slick track trying to dial in their cars for Saturday night’s second running of the Quaker State 400.

Marcos AmbroseThe conditions caused two drivers to have trouble in the session with Brad Keselowski hitting the wall and now forced to a back-up Penske Racing Dodge and Marcos Ambrose also spinning into the infield grass.

“The heat just makes it harder on everything,” said Jimmie Johnson, who was third quick in the opening practice. “You have less downforce because the air is thinner. You can’t run as much tape on the nose of the car, so you lose some aero there. Engines are hotter. The tire grip-window is far less because of the heat. Oils come out of the asphalt. Every element slows the car and makes it more difficult, the hotter it is; which is cool. I think a lot of guys with a dirt background enjoy that.

“So the track will be low on grip. The cars will be low on speed. The track is also rough, so it’s going to add another physical element to us where we’re going to have to catch the car and really drive it and wheel it around here.”

Kentucky’s worn out racing surface becomes even more or a hurdle with the heat and finding a groove that works throughout a 400-mile race is a moving target.

“It’s a little rough and the groove is not real distinct,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. “So, it lends itself to good side-by-side racing. The exit to turn four is really, really wide so you just kind of play around and find a groove that works for you. Every time you change tires you kind of have to be ready to move around a little bit and find out where your car is fast and where that set of tires wants to run on the race track.”

Perhaps a saving grace for the race is that Saturday’s race will be under the lights which means at least somewhat cooler temperatures as the event wears on. It’s something that will not only be a welcome relief but change the track conditions yet again.

“Yeah, it is definitely toasty and I am glad it is a night race and not a day race,” said Matt Kenseth. “Hopefully when the sun gets down and cools off a little it will be nicer not just for us but the fans and crews working down there. Getting rid of the sun will help a little bit but it is going to be the hottest race all year for sure.”

Kevin Harvick says that in order to deal with the changing conditions teams will have to rely on past experience as both Kentucky and elsewhere.

“It will probably change a tremendous amount,” said Harvick. “We will have to go back and look at the notes and try to make a good estimate from last year’s race as far as what we predict the pace to be so that we can get the bump stops and things set right so that the car doesn’t drag the track when it gets cool. You just have to count on the things that you know from the past and hopefully tomorrow we can get a good balance of the car.”

Kentucky Speedway

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