SPARTA, Ky. – No practice, no problem even with a new rules package at Kentucky Speedway?
That was the sentiment of at least one Sprint Cup driver as inclement weather again scuttled trying a new lower-downforce approach Thursday. A nearly two-hour session was scrubbed after persistent rain and weepers eliminated two two-hour practices Wednesday.
That leaves two practices scheduled for nearly three hours Friday as the last chance teams have to get acclimated to a reduced spoiler and narrower radiator that should make cars more of a handful to drive. The objective is to de-emphasize the importance of aerodynamics (which can make it more difficult to pass the leader).
Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle said the testing and computer simulations used by teams should alleviate any concerns about adapting smoothly to the new rules, which haven’t been tested at the 1.5-mile oval.
“I think these teams and the technology that we have are so smart, and I think everybody has had this package in the wind tunnel,” he said. “We don’t know what it’s going to drive like, but we know it’s going to be OK. This isn’t like, ‘Oh, I hope this works. We’ve got to get some practice in.’
“It would have been nice to get some testing in to kind of hone in that setup a little bit, but at the same time it’s fair for everyone. It’s a level playing field. I didn’t get to test. They didn’t get to test. So when we get on the race track it’s going to be fair for everyone.”
NASCAR officials were hoping to have Sprint Cup cars practice for at least 90 minutes at some point in advance of Saturday’s Quaker State 400, but Biffle speculated even less time would do the trick.
“I think we could probably race this package without testing it,” he said. “I doubt whether that will happen. I think we’ll need some practice because we have gotten as close as we can with the setup and the springs and the shocks and the wedge and the front swaybar as we could possibly get, but I think we’re going to need at least an hour to get it, ‘OK, it’s not spinning out, and I’ve got it fairly decent.’
“Now, do we need four hours of testing and then an hour-and-a-half of practice and qualifying and all that? No, we don’t need all that, but we do need some track time.”
Jamie McMurray of Chip Ganassi Racing still would have preferred as much as possible.
“I think most of us wanted to have (Wednesday) and then a day to think about it and try to come up with other ideas in case what you had wasn’t working,” he said. “It’s different. I remember running this package at Michigan with a little more motor. The cars were quite a bit looser, even though it seemed like the aero balance shifted to the rear.
“I think all of us would like to have as much practice as we can get. However, if you can get an hour, hour and a half, you’ll have an idea of where you think your balance needs to go.”
As intermittent rain continued Thursday afternoon, NASCAR was wrestling with scheduling problems with its other series, too. A four-hour practice for the Camping World Truck Series was washed out Thursday morning, and qualifying later was canceled, too, for Thursday night’s race.
Two-time defending truck series champion Matt Crafton said he thought the series would be able to race if teams received 30 minutes of practice.
Erik Jones said starting the race without practice would be “quite a spectacle; a lot of people fighting for their lives,” but he and Crafton both expected NASCAR wouldn’t allow it.”
Later, after Jones and Crafton spoke to the media, NASCAR announced that it planned to run Thursday’s Truck race despite canceling qualifying and practice for the series.