Drivers get first chance on Kansas Speedway repave
Matt Kenseth fully expects his Kansas Speedway lap record to fall in the near future.
Kenseth was among eight drivers to check out the repaved surface of the 1 1/2-mile tri-oval on Tuesday during tire testing for Goodyear. New variable banking combined with the smoother asphalt surface made for some quick lap times, even during shortened runs in race setups.
Kenseth set the record of 29.858 seconds in October 2005, but said he ran 30.30 on his last lap Tuesday. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he turned a lap of 29.90 in race trim.
''You know it's going to be faster when everybody runs in qualifying runs. I expect it to be the high 28s in a qualifying run,'' said Kenseth, who has never won at Kansas, finishing fourth at the race in April. ''It'll be faster than the old record by at least a half a second.''
Folks at NASCAR were almost certainly paying attention to the tire test after a repaving at Michigan resulted in speeds that some drivers felt were unsafe.
Marcos Ambrose qualified for the June race at Michigan at 203.241 mph, the first time since 1987 that the 200-mph mark was broken during Sprint Cup qualifying. NASCAR ultimately decided to alter the left-side tires, which slowed down the cars for the race.
The speeds at Kansas won't be nearly the same, but Regan Smith said he was on edge during his early runs over the repaved surface - at least, until a little rubber was laid on the track.
''It took a little while to start coming in,'' Smith said. ''It started to take rubber a little bit and gain some speed, and a little bit of security with the cars. I know I was fighting some security issues with my car. Once it came in, it started to feel pretty good.''
The original surface at Kansas Speedway took a beating over the years, and big chunks of asphalt were breaking loose during the race earlier this year.
When the decision was made to resurface it, owner International Speedway Corp. decided to re-grade the entire track. The original, uniform 15-degree banking has been changed to 17-20 degrees of progressive banking, which officials hope will promote passing during long green-flag runs.
''The general perception of drivers is not positive about repaves. They worry about what the track is going to be like when they come back, they worry about what kind of grip they're going to have,'' track president Pat Warren said. ''What I was really pleased about is that the response from the drivers was overwhelmingly positive about the new configuration.''
Earnhardt said the changes were evident in Turns 1 and 2, but the other two turns appeared to be the same. Earnhardt also said the entrance to pit road has become more challenging because of the way the banking meets the apron of the track.
Other drivers who are taking part in the two-day tire test, which wraps up Wednesday, include Mark Martin, Joey Logano, Paul Menard and Juan Pablo Montoya.
None of them seem to think that they'll be able to gain much on the rest of the competition before the Sprint Cup series returns Oct. 19. There are already extra practice sessions planned for the race week to allow everyone else to get up to speed.
Still, the importance of the fall event at Kansas cannot be underestimated. It's the sixth race in the 10-race Chase, so it could have a significant impact on the championship.
''Sometimes you leave these tests and you feel like you learned a lot. Sometimes you leave and you feel like you don't learn anything,'' Kenseth said. ''I don't think the guys are going to have much advantage going back after this.''