Speeds dropped dramatically on the newly repaved 1.5-mile track as temperatures crept into the high 60s on Saturday.
Matt Kenseth topped the speed chart with a lap of 182.760 mph in Happy Hour, but that was considerably slower than his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle’s lap (186.156 mph) and way off Kasey Kahne’s record-setting qualifying run of 191.360 mph Friday.
AJ Allmendinger, who is subbing for Regan Smith in the Phoenix Racing ride, was amazed how the track changed from testing Wednesday through Saturday afternoon.
“It’s been four days, and the track is completely different than anything we’ve seen,” Allmendinger said. “With the sun out, it’s slick now. You’ve seen that in the repaves. Phoenix, last year when they dropped the green and everyone was sliding around. Michigan, this year, I felt like I was sliding around. With the sun out — and the track has been oiled down about 15,000 times (laughs). At the end of that practice it was really slick — particularly in (Turns) 3 and 4.
“In 3 and 4, you’re on top of the racetrack so you tighten it up to try to fix it. One and 2, as the sun gets higher, there’s actually still shade on the racetrack. So 1 and 2 actually feels like it has decent grip in it, but then it seemed to flip-flop. One and 2, the last couple of days, was actually the ones that were right on the edge of not having as much grip, and in 3 and 4 you could just mat it. Now, they flipped. It will be interesting. With it being hotter tomorrow, I think the track will be very slick to start the race.”
Allmendinger won the pole and 44 laps in the spring before progressive banking was added to the track. Now Allmendinger and the rest of the field are just waiting patiently for a second groove to be established in order to pass Sunday and take advantage of the reconfiguration.
“It’s a little wider, but I think at best you have to be door-to-door two cars. As soon as you get out of that groove, it’s just dirt. You start going towards the wall. It’s not like Michigan or Phoenix, where if you get up there you just slid forever. But you definitely lose grip if you get out of the line.”
CALLING THE REINFORCEMENTS
Bragging rights are in order for Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards every time the Sprint Cup tour rolls into their hometown track — Kansas Speedway.
While Bowyer desperately wants to win here, his priority right now is the championship. Edwards, who missed the Chase, doesn’t have that concern.
Edwards led the point standings when he raced here last fall. But it has been 64 races since his last victory in a Cup car. It has been seven races since he has led a lap. And he has posted just three top-five finishes all season.
If this season weren’t disappointing enough for Edwards after losing the championship last year by a tie-breaker to Tony Stewart, his longtime crew chief Bob Osborne stepped down as the crew chief of the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing team with a medical issue.
Although Chad Norris took the reins at Indianapolis 12 races ago, the rapport is developing slowly. So the past few weeks, Osborne has been helping out on the weekends.
“Bob is here in Kansas helping out, and I think he knows how important this race is for me,” Edwards said. “Chad Norris has been doing great, and Bob is as good as any crew chief in the garage, but he had health issues. He has been working through those. The key for us is to have some fun. This year is pretty much shot in terms of all of our big goals, but we still have some things we can do. A win here would be great or even just a really good showing for all these folks that have come out and supported me for so many years would be huge.
“So far, it has been the most fun weekend of the year for me. We have been fast in practice, I have seen a lot of folks that I haven’t seen in a while and I am having fun. That is really the key. I am almost ready to say we are going to win Sunday. I am almost ready to predict that. I think we are going to be very, very good.”
Edwards, who qualified 17th, said having Osborne at the track has helped things come together quicker — particularly since he’s driving a new car this weekend. Still, Edwards will have to battle traffic to come to the front of the pack. But he was seventh-quickest during Saturday morning practice and is willing to do whatever it takes to win.
“This racetrack is so fast,” Edwards said. “It is going to be hard to pass, and it is a little scary when you get out of the groove. I swear to you I am going to drive as aggressively as possible. This is not going to be a points race or a cruise-around race. I am going strictly to the front.
“There is nothing that is off the table if I can see the lead on the last lap. There is no telling. I want to win.”
81 — Laps of practice run by pole-sitter Kasey Kahne on Saturday
182.475 — Miles per hour, best 10 consecutive lap average posted by Jimmie Johnson in second practice
180.940 — Miles per hour, best 10 consecutive lap average posted by Mark Martin in Happy Hour
With track position expected to be at a premium Sunday, Kahne said he can make up significant ground on Sprint Cup points leader Brad Keselowski, who rolls off 25th.
“Well, I think it could be a pretty big one,” Kahne said of his advantage of being on the pole. “I think those guys will really figure out how to go fast in race trim. That is what they have done all season long. They haven’t qualified great really this whole year, but they know how to race.
“With strategy and however they will figure out how to get to the front if they are fast enough to stay up there. You know you will see the No. 2 car at some point. They have shown that all season long, but for ourselves, we have a great starting spot, we have a great pit stall. A lot of things from today will help us throughout the entire race, not just the start of the race. I feel really good about where we are at, and if we can capitalize and make the right decisions, get the right balance of the car, hopefully we can gain some points.”