Back to the drawing board: Teams chasing setups at Kentucky

Jimmie Johnson (right), pictured here with crew chief Chad Knaus, has never won at Kentucky Speedway.

With our first road-course race behind us, we are back to the mile-and-a-half track this weekend at Kentucky Speedway. The one thing you can say about Kentucky is that it has its own characteristics. It has a very old surface. To give you an idea how old, that surface hasn’t been touched since the track was built back in 2000.

Actually, the biggest thing about Kentucky Speedway, as the drivers to a person will tell you, it is very, very bumpy. Take one lap around that joint and you’ll soon see and feel all the dips and bumps. Those really throw a real curveball to the drivers and the crew chiefs who are trying to set the car up.

Saturday night under the lights will mark the fourth time we will race the NASCAR Sprint Cup series there. What’s really cool is in the three previous races, we’ve had three different winners. Interestingly, Matt Kenseth is the defending winner from 2013 and he is one of those drivers still searching for a victory in 2014.

Headache? Nosebleed? Just blame ultra-bumpy Kentucky Speedway

The other variable is, like most of our Saturday-night races, these drivers were scheduled to practice during the daylight hours on Friday, yet still run the race under the lights Saturday night. While they have a notebook from the previous three races there, what the teams don’t have are race notes under this new rules package for 2014. What this does is create almost a totally different scenario from the last three years when it comes to setups.

I would expect that if you are going to win this race, you are going to have to beat a Hendrick driver or one of their alliance partners in a Stewart-Haas car. I also will be keeping my eye on the Penske Fords. There’s no doubt they still have fast race cars, but it just seems they’ve gotten a little bit off center from the dominance they enjoyed much earlier this season.

Like I seem to be doing every week, I’ll also be watching Joe Gibbs Racing. While the JGR Toyotas haven’t been as far off as the Roush Fenway Fords, they still haven’t shown me that they’ve totally gotten their arms around this new rules package yet. So I will be anxious to see how they fare on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.