Sprint Cup crew chiefs are famous for their thick book of notes that they take at every stop on the schedule, especially when their driver has had a very successful day at the track. Those notes that are accumulated over the years makes a crew chief’s job easier when he sets up a car for the weekend as it provides a baseline that has been successful in recent races.
Those notes are used to guide a crew chief and his team in which direction they need to go when making changes to the car in practice when they are looking to improve the car’s handling without having to sacrifice any speed. Also buried in a crew chief’s notebook is how a track changes during a race so he can anticipate what changes that will have to be made during a pit stop in order for the car to keep up with the ever changing demands of the track.
Now in order for all of these notes to be of any real value to a team, some things have to remain the same from year to year. That just will not be the case this upcoming weekend with the Cup series rolls into Kentucky Speedway for the running of the Quaker State 400. When the crew chiefs and teams unload, they will have a new downforce package for their cars, a newly paved surface and a reconfigured track.
NASCAR used the race at Kentucky last season to introduce a new downforce package that led to some of the changes that were mandated for this season. The sanctioning body will be using another new package this weekend and has already used it once this season at Michigan. The goal of the new package is to continue to take away some of the downforce on the cars to put more of the racing back into the hands of the drivers and not just on the car’s setups.
The one variable that crew chiefs can almost always count on when they roll into a track to begin the long hard Sprint Cup weekend is the track’s layout. Some tracks have never been reconfigured since the day it hosted its first ever race but a few tracks have been reconfigured either to improve the racing or to make the racing safer.
Kentucky has been reconfigured since last season and the reason was a simple one, track officials wanted to make the racing a little tougher and in the process make it a better show for the fans. The major change took place in Turns 1 and 2 where the banking has been increased from 14 to 17 degrees. The width of the pit road exit lane has also more than doubled, from 14 feet to 30 feet. That change has narrowed the racing surface from 74 to 56 feet.
The track was known as one of the roughest racing surface on the entire schedule in years past but that will not be the case this weekend as it was completely repaved after the end of last season. The new smoother surface will have to have some rubber laid down on it during both practice and the race before it will allow the car to handle in and out of the turns. The reconfiguration in turns one and two should increase the speeds going into turn three but the new aero package that features a shorter spoiler will make the car looser going into the turns. That will be made even more difficult on the new surface that will only support one groove of racing but could become wider as the weekend goes on as there is a Camping World Truck Series race on Thursday and an Xfinity Race on Friday night.
This may be the toughest victory lane to make it to on the entire schedule because of all the changes but success at Kentucky usually translates to success in the Chase. The Chase’s schedule features five races on a mile and a half tracks just like Kentucky but none of them are as tough as the one that calls the Bluegrass State home.
Event: Quaker State 400
Track: Kentucky Speedway (1.5 mile tri-oval, Banking in turns 1 & 2 – 17o, 3 & 4 – 14o)
Date: July 9, 7:30 p.m.
Defending Champion: Kyle Busch