NASCAR finds itself fighting on two fronts entering Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
The race is the scheduled debut of a track-specific aereodynamic rules package, one of five NASCAR has planned this season. The package is designed to improve the racing in the Sprint Cup series.
It has been hard to get a read on how that will work out. Most of the test and practice time scheduled for teams at Kentucky this week has been rained out.
Add to that a renewed focus on safety following the wreck at the conclusion the rain-delayed Cup race at Daytona International Speedway, which sent Austin Dillon’s car airborne into the frontstretch catchfence early Monday morning. That crash resulted in injuries to at least five fans.
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Thursday night, Ben Kennedy’s truck tore into the frontstretch catchfence at Kentucky, bringing an abrupt halt to the race with five of 150 laps remaining.
The combination has NASCAR’s resources stretched thin.
We would like to dictate the winners and losers of the race based on driver’s talent.
Kyle Larson will start the race from the pole after qualifying was canceled on Friday because of rain. The lineup was set primarily by practice speeds.
By Friday afternoon, Cup drivers had only had about an hour’s worth of track time with the new rules package, but most still looked forward to the experiment.
“We would like to dictate the winners and losers of the race based on driver’s talent and perhaps not some of the peripheral items that come into play in a race,” said defending race winner Brad Keselowski, who will start second Saturday night. “This package definitely leans toward having that possibility.
“Certainly, the car’s performance will always play a role, but it feels slightly less significant, which I think is a good thing.
“It’s a race car – it should be hard to drive. It shouldn’t be just point and play. This isn’t a video game, nor should it be.”
They don’t drive good, that’s for sure.
Joey Logano, on NASCAR Sprint Cup cars with new rules package
Asked for a first impression after Friday’s abbreviated practice session, Joey Logano said, “They don’t drive good, that’s for sure.”
“They slide all over the place,” he said. “What happens in traffic is still probably an unknown, but there was a lot of slipping and sliding around, and trying to figure out which way the car is going when you go into the corner is kind of hard.
For nearly three hours Thursday night, track officials’ focus was on repairing the damage to the catchfence and energy-absorbing SAFER barriers entering Turn 1 – a stark reminder that such incidents are not reserved to the sport’s superspeedways.
No fans were injured and Kennedy, the great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., was also unhurt.
“You didn’t really see much; you just saw a bunch of dust and debris flying and then I came down,” Kennedy said of his wreck. “The ride from the wall to the ground was pretty hard but I’m OK.
“You don’t really know what to expect. I don’t know, I just remember hitting the wall and being along for a wild ride. You don’t know if someone hit you or what’s going to happen.”
Kentucky Speedway’s general manager, Mark Simendinger, said he was impressed with how well his track’s safety measures faired and with the track operations crew’s ability to make repairs to prevent a disruption in Friday’s schedule.
“It was obviously a high-impact situation,” Simendinger. “The cables and fasteners (of the fence) remained intact. There was significant damage to two poles.”
A difference at Kentucky from other tracks is it was built with its grandstand seats significantly elevated from track level and with a sizeable “moat,” or alleyway, between the fence and the grandstands.
“We had no debris that so much as made it out of the ‘moat,’” Simendinger said.
Already working on an investigation of Dillon’s accident, NASCAR on Friday was awaiting the arrival of the remains of Kennedy’s truck at its research and development center in Concord to take a closer look into that accident as well.
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