From Pit Road: Kansas

Drew Blickensderfer

"The unfortunate thing it’s going to be 15 degrees warmer on Sunday so that’s another little checkmark we’re going to have to cover." (Photo: Getty Images)

In the past 12 months NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams have been challenged with four newly paved race tracks: Phoenix, Pocono, Michigan and this weekend here at Kansas Speedway. Throw in a re-configuration of the high banks of Bristol and teams have unloaded cars with a lot of questions on a regular basis lately.

Not only is there new pavement here at Kansas, but the track has been altered in other ways as well. The 15 degrees of banking in the turns has been replaced with variable banking starting at 17 degrees on the inside groove and growing to 20 degrees on the outside.

New pavement and new variable banking; plus changing weather conditions and more and more laps getting put on the tracks means a lot of speculation and projecting what the track is going to do. Hitting that winning setup for the end of the race is a major challenge for crew chiefs.

“I think you have had to build your notebook up over the last few days of testing,” said Drew Blickensderfer, crew chief for Jeff Burton’s Caterpillar Chevy. “Then be able to compare it to a Charlotte, a Michigan another repave that we’ve gone to – even Las Vegas (reconfigured before 2007 season).

“Once you can get it compared to some place, then you can predict what those tracks do when it’s hotter on Sunday and when you get into a group of cars. So, the first thing you do is compare it somewhere else, so you can use that notebook to make your prediction.”

After two days of open testing on Wednesday and Thursday; and a day of practice on Friday teams are still not sure of what to compare it to.

“Jeff has said it drives nothing like what Kansas used to drive like,” continued Blickensderfer. “It doesn’t drive like any other place that we’ve gone to. It’s probably like when we first went to Las Vegas when they repaved it, the difference is Las Vegas was real bumpy into turn one where this place is real smooth. It’s kind of its own animal for us right now.”

While the track is something different, one thing teams have a little experience with is the Goodyear tires they will be using. The tires are the same that were used in August at Michigan International Speedway.

“I think that is where we got our baseline race air pressures and base line qualifying air pressures,” said Blickensderfer of the tires. “We look at what worked there and what didn’t work there and it seems to correlate to what is going on here. So I’d say the Vegas and Michigan; those two have correlated real well for here.”

Then there is the variable degree of banking, not something that has been considered through the three days of track-time here.

“Right now I think the drivers want to go up there,” he continued. “But it’s kind of like driving in snow right now – you go where the other tire tracks are because there is more grip there. Hopefully the Nationwide race will fan out and clean that up -- lay some rubber down so it will be easier for Cup cars to go up there.

“I think right now the way it is, you will give up a spot to be odd (running order) to start on the bottom coming off pit road because people are real nervous to go up there, nobody has even tried it yet.”

With so much uncertainty, even after four days of testing and practice, for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400; there is yet another challenge they will face.

“The unfortunate thing it’s going to be 15 degrees warmer on Sunday so that’s another little checkmark we’re going to have to cover,” said Blickensderfer.

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