Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick state concerns about track prep

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The two winningest Cup drivers this season have raised concerns about how traction compound was applied to Kentucky Speedway last weekend, and the president of the company that owns the track said that if drivers have such concerns they “are welcome and encouraged to call or text me directly.”

What happened at Kentucky is a concern because NASCAR heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for Truck, Xfinity and Cup Series races. That track and Kentucky are both owned by Speedway Motorsports, the company founded by Bruton Smith and run by his family.

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, who each have a series-high four wins this year, were critical this week of traction compound being re-applied to Kentucky Speedway before last weekend’s Cup race.

“I love the Smith family, but they go rogue sometimes when it comes to thinking that they’re in the competition business,” Hamlin said Friday in a Zoom session with media. “It’s disappointing because the information that NASCAR gets from us on track prep and how to prepare the racetrack to put on the best possible racing comes from the drivers who do it themselves, and they know better than anyone. Better than anyone.”

Said Harvick: “Last week we showed up on race day, the PJ1 (traction compound) was put on the racetrack without anybody knowing.”

Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, responded to their concerns in a statement to NBC Sports.

“I know the drivers want to put on the best show for the fans, and EVERY effort we make as track operators both on the track and in the grandstands is geared toward doing right by the fans.” Smith said in the statement emailed to NBC Sports. “Track prep has been happening for decades, and we unapologetically work for compelling competition that will keep fans on the edge of their seats. Our team at Texas is working hard and I’ve got a seat on the Tire Dragon for any driver who’d like to help us out. The drivers are welcome and encouraged to call or text me directly with any concerns.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Friday that there is no change to the process of applying traction compound to tracks, adding that drivers are consulted each week and the series has developed a “solid dialogue and process.” The spokesperson also said that if traction compound is re-applied, NASCAR lets drivers know in advance of the race.

MORE: Friday 5: Kyle Busch bewildered by Cup car’s performance 

MORE: Cup starting lineup for Texas

Traction compound is meant to help deliver multiple lanes of racing in the corners, providing more chances for drivers to pass instead of running single-file. It is used at several tracks for Cup, Xfinity and Truck races, including Kentucky, Bristol, Texas, Charlotte, Pocono and Phoenix, among others.

Hamlin is among the drivers who have taken an active role in working with NASCAR on where and when to apply traction compound.

Hamlin said it didn’t take long to see an issue with Kentucky Speedway and where it had applied the traction compound leading into a weekend of racing that included two Xfinity races, an ARCA race, a Truck race and a Cup race.

“The track was prepped in a certain way,” Hamlin said. “We weren’t overjoyed with it to start the weekend, and we saw the Xfinity race, the first couple of races. We had an issue and we really needed to work on it, and the issue is to let that main line run off.

“The only way to stop that one lane racetrack is to let (the traction compound) wear out and with them just going in overnight and respraying that middle lane again before the (Cup) race was just not ideal and there was a lot of people that weren’t happy with it.

We had a four-wide to the finish, that saved the day as far as A, do we have a great race or not? Man, you got to, I really wish SMI in particular would just kind of listen to the guidance in which the drivers and NASCAR give them when it comes to spraying these race tracks.”

For this weekend at Texas, NASCAR stated this is how the track will be prepared:

In Turns 1 and 2, the low groove (approximately 18 feet from the apron) will not be treated. The middle grooves will be treated with PJ1 traction compound and tires will be dragged over that portion. The area treated is about 60 feet wide.

In Turns 3 and 4 at Texas, the low groove (approximately 18 feet from the apron) will not be treated. The middle grooves will be treated with PJ1 traction compound. Tires also will be dragged over that area, which is about 30 feet wide.