Kentucky Speedway answers drivers’ complaints: ‘I think we know what we’re doing’

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SPARTA, Ky. – Responding to driver complaints about how the surface of Kentucky Speedway was treated this week, track officials said they merely are doing what drivers said worked last year.

“I think we know what we’re doing,” Steve Swift told NBC Sports in a Thursday interview.

The vice president of operations and development for Speedway Motorsports Inc. (the 1.5-mile speedway’s parent company) said feedback was overwhelmingly positive after the July 2016 race when Kentucky treated the bottom groove in the wake of repaving earlier in the year.

After an additional layer of asphalt was added last October, Swift said “we felt we did the right thing, so we duplicated” it using its Tire Dragon machine on the bottom lane.

“I think what a lot of drivers are forgetting is this track was resurfaced,” Swift said. “It’s a brand new racetrack. So on a new track, you have to put rubber down in what is the groove, not what you want the groove to be.”

Swift said a treatment process to age the new pavement leaves dust in the bottom lane, which necessitates putting down grip by dragging tires. Texas Motor Speedway took the same approach in preparing its freshly paved asphalt for the race weekend in April.

“What we have learned from last year’s Cup race here on the new surface and in Texas is that if we can give them two to three lanes in the bottom, it creates better racing instead of doing the entire racetrack because we’re trying to make sure they can run at the bottom in lieu of not being able to run at all because it’s too dusty or dirty,” Swift said.

NASCAR veteran Brendan Gaughan became the latest driver Friday to implore the track to work on the upper groove, starting at the wall and working down the banking. Swift said that makes sense on older tracks such as Bristol Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway (SMI treated both with a traction compound this season), but the priority on a new surface is establishing the bottom lane.

“If we would have worked just the top down, that would be the only place to have grip,” Swift said. “They wouldn’t go to the bottom because it would have been dusty and dirty. So that’s the reason we went to where they will want to qualify.

“Most repaves before SMI started doing this prep and aging on the tracks, we would have run a single-file race. We haven’t had that, they’ve been able to run two wide (at Kentucky last year and Texas in April). I think we know what we’re doing.”

Kentucky concentrated on the upper portion of the bottom groove, laying down a swath of rubber about 27 to 30 feet wide in hopes of preventing cars from getting too spread out.

“We’re trying to create that bottom area and give them a good 30 feet out there to run again,” Swift said. “Last week at Daytona, they’re running four wide on a 37-foot wide racetrack. This is a 74-foot wide racetrack in turns 3 and 4. To rubber up the entire racetrack doesn’t quite keep the cars in the same area racing each other. That’s the theory behind that, but it’s primarily because it’s a new racetrack was why it was concentrated on the bottom.

“We felt we have enough racing surface to give them multiple passes, multiple lanes (and) not to put them at the wall, where one car is 70 feet away from a car at the bottom of the track.”

Swift said the track doesn’t plan to work on the upper groove this weekend but could bring the Tire Dragon back Friday morning before Cup practice and the Xfinity race or Saturday morning before the Cup race. The traction compound also isn’t being considered as an option.

“At older racetracks, it worked out great,” he said. “On new racetracks with the rubber and a tire machine, we can get enough grip that it doesn’t require the spray.”

NASCAR drivers still were waiting  to hit the surface Thursday as rain scrubbed the first two Xfinity practices. Qualifying for Thursday night’s Camping World Truck Series race also was canceled.

NASCAR America: The challenges of Martinsville Speedway

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What Martinsville Speedway lacks in size compared to other tracks it makes up in difficulty say drivers and NASCAR America’s analysts.

Landon Cassill joined Carolyn Manno, Parker Kligerman and Jeff Burton on Thursday’s show and discussed the challenges of the half-mile paperclip track.

“It can be fun when it’s going well,’’ said Cassill, who will make his Cup season debut this weekend in the No. 00 for StarCom Racing. “That place, if you’re car is not handling well, you can end up going backwards and just by the time you’ve got some clear race track the leader is right behind you. So it can be frustration. I tend to like Martinsville.’’

Kligerman calls racing in the pack at Martinsville Speedway “the most aggressive racing I’ve ever been a part of in my life.’’

Jeff Burton said: “It’s … one of the hardest race tracks we go to period because you have to do it lap after lap after lap and it’s so easy to get, quite simply, just really, really mad at the guy you’re racing with because he’s hitting you and he’s banging on you.’’

Cup drivers have their description of the track. See what NASCAR America’s analysts and Cup drivers have to say about the track that hosts Sunday’s Cup race in the video above.

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Richard Childress Racing reinstates Xfinity crew chief Nick Harrison

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Richard Childress Racing has reinstated Nick Harrison to crew chief  of the No. 3 Xfinity team after he served a five-race suspension for a violation at Daytona International Speedway. 

Harrison’s first race back will be April 8 at Texas.

Harrison was suspended after the No. 3 car of Austin Dillon had a rear suspension violation in pre-qualifying inspection. Harrison and the team’s car chief were ejected by NASCAR after the violation. RCR imposed the suspension.

“I’m looking forward to being back with my team and winning races after my five-race suspension,” Harrison said in a statement from the team.

Brandon Thomas served as the interim crew chief while Harrison was out. Austin Dillon finished a season-best fourth for the team last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Martinsville breakdown, Aric Almirola and Bubba Wallace

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features host Carolyn Manno and Parker Kligerman in Stamford, Connecticut, and Jeff Burton and Landon Cassill from Burton’s Garage.

Among the topics today:

  •  Prepare for paint swapping, bent fenders, and bruised egos. It’s time to go short-track racing at Martinsville Speedway! Jeff, Parker and Landon will tell you what to expect this weekend at the famous half-mile. We’ll also see what it takes to succeed there, as Parker takes us for some quick laps in the NBCSN iRacing Simulator.
  • After making the switch to Stewart-Haas Racing in the offseason, Aric Almirola is off to the best start of his Cup Series career. Currently 10th in the standings, he’ll tell Marty Snider about his early season success.
  • Since finishing second at the Daytona 500, rookie driver Bubba Wallace has cooled off. Now he faces his first Cup Series start at Martinsville in the iconic No. 43 car, and he’s feeling confident — it’s where Wallace scored his first truck series win nearly five years ago. We’ll examine the struggles he might have to work through this season and also hear his reflections on his early years of racing in the latest edition of “A Driver’s Drive.”

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/ If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Weekend schedule for NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway

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NASCAR returns to its backyard this weekend after the three week West Coast swing.

The Cup and Camping World Truck Series visit Martinsville Speedway in Southern Virginia.

The weekend is capped off by Sunday’s STP 500. It will be the first Cup race broadcast on Fox Sports 1 this year.

Here’s the full weekend schedule complete with TV and radio info.

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, March 23

8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck garage opens

11:05 – 11:55 a.m. — Truck practice (No TV)

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. — Truck practice (Fox Sports 1)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Final Truck practice (FS1)

Saturday, March 24

7 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

7:30 a.m. — Truck garage opens

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-truck/three rounds (FS1)

12:15 p.m. — Truck driver-crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

1:30 p.m. — Truck driver introductions

2 p.m. — Alpha Energy Solutions 250; 250 laps/131.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5:10 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 25

9:30 a.m. — Cup garage opens

Noon — Driver-crew chief meeting

1:20 p.m. — Driver introductions

2 p.m. — STP 500; 500 laps/263 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)