If anyone didn’t want to see Kentucky Speedway receive a complete repave and increase of banking in Turns 1 and 2, it was Joe Gibbs Racing and Brad Keselowski.
The youngest track on the Sprint Cup schedule, Kentucky has been the playground of JGR and Keselowski since it was added in 2011. All five races have been won by a JGR car or Team Penske’s Keselowski. Kyle Busch won the inaugural event and won again on his way to a championship in 2015.
In Between, Busch finished outside the top five once, in 2012, when he ended up 10th. After five races at the 1.5-mile track, he holds the best average finish at 3.8. Only three other drivers — Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson — have average finishes in the top 10.
“It will be just like any other race on a repave — there are going to be a lot of unknowns and a lot of different variables,” Busch said in a press release. “With the reconfiguration of the track – the paving, banking, angle changing in (Turns) 1 and 2 versus 3 and 4 – you basically have a whole new race track. I think it’s going to be a benefit running all three races this weekend so I can learn to understand the nuisances of the new configuration and learn how to pass on a single-groove race track.”
The JGR driver will appear in the Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series races this weekend. But Keselowski, who is tied with Busch for three wins this year in the Sprint Cup, isn’t a slouch. He’ll also be in the Xfinity race Friday night.
But how will the track’s repave and reconfiguration impact the racing? Of the past winners, only Busch was involved in the June 13-14 tire test.
Kenseth, who won at Kentucky in 2013, will get his first shot at the track’s new look Thursday in the first of three practice sessions.
“Kentucky used to be the roughest track on the circuit and it is a very unique track that is tough to get around,” Kenseth said in a press release. “Typically with repaves, the track will obviously be really smooth and the groove usually at the bottom of the pavement, and the track will also usually be very forgiving. You’ll have a lot of grip until you don’t and then it can be really hard to catch cars usually on new pavement, so you’ll want to keep up as much momentum and your track position as much as you can after they repave a track.
“I’ve always thought that the racing has been really good at Kentucky over the years, so I’m looking forward to going there and seeing what it’s like now.”
The racing has been great for teams owned by Joe Gibbs or Roger Penske.
Kentucky is the only Sprint Cup track that has yet to host a Chevrolet team in Victory Lane. Even though Johnson has an average finish of 7.4 and combined with Busch and Keselowski to lead 78.5 percent (1,048 of 1,335) of the laps ran there, Kentucky is one of four tracks the six-time champion hasn’t won at.
“It’s been a tough stretch for the No. 48 Lowe’s Racing team,” said Johnson, who has only had one top-10 finish, the Coke 600, in the last eight races. “We have had fast cars but not the finishes we’ve been looking for. It will turn around; we just need to be patient. We’ve had really fast cars and made some progress in that direction.”
Even though JGR leads the season with seven wins (plus Martin Truex Jr.‘s Coke 600 victory) a triumph at Kentucky would be its first in five races. A win by Keselowski or teammate Joey Logano would give Ford its third at Kentucky and its fifth of the season.
If any Chevrolet team can break through Saturday, it would be only its third in the last 13 races of the season.