By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
BROOKLYN, Mich. – For more than a third of active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, there will be no rest for the weary.
One driver from each Cup organization is eligible to participate in a test of newly repaved Kentucky Speedway on Monday and Tuesday. The test is a continuation of NASCAR’s proving-out process for a new lower-downforce competition package earmarked for 2017.
Last year, as the sanctioning body solidified the rules for 2016, races at Kentucky and Darlington were used as benchmarks for the progression toward lower downforce for the Cup cars. This year, in selected events, NASCAR is taking an additional 500 pounds of downforce and 125 pounds of sideforce away from the cars by chopping the size of the spoiler, reducing the surface area of the splitter, tapering the rear deck lid fin and eliminating rear axle offset.
The new package was scheduled for use in the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte in May, this weekend at Michigan and the July 9 event at Kentucky.
It’s important to note, though, that the Kentucky Speedway used as a proving ground last year bears little resemblance to the Kentucky Speedway drivers will visit on Monday and Tuesday. Not only does the track have a new racing surface, but the configuration of the track also has changed, with additional banking that creates two distinct sets of corners, a la Darlington.
And then there’s the asphalt itself, which is a departure from the type of surface used in other recent repaves.
“We have a way of measuring the roughness of the track,” says Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR’s senior vice president, innovation and racing development. “When I talk about the roughness of the track, I’m not talking about the big bumps. I’m talking about the actual very minute analysis of the asphalt itself, and we measure it in micrometers from crest to trough, and the aggregate that they use on this track is much coarser than traditionally.
“There was a time that people were paving with asphalt to make the track last a long time, like I-75 or something like that, and I think there’s a significant amount of evidence now to suggest that that’s probably not the right type of surface for racing. It doesn’t promote tire wear. It’s very, very high grip… so what we’ve done here is they’ve come together or created a very coarse aggregate.”
Accordingly, the new surface also presents a new challenge for Goodyear, which has to build a tire to accommodate both the lower-downforce package and coarser asphalt that exacerbates tire fall-off.
The 14 drivers currently scheduled to participate in the organizational test at Kentucky are: Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet), Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet), Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet), Greg Biffle (No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford), Kyle Busch (No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota), Ryan Blaney (No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford), Joey Logano (No. 22 Team Penske Ford), Paul Menard (No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet), Chris Buescher (No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford), Aric Almirola (No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford), Michael Annett (No. 46 HScott Motorsports Chevrolet), AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet), Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota) and Matt DiBenedetto (No. 83 BK Racing Toyota).