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.