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Test session opens Cup weekend at Kentucky

July 07, 2011, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

SPARTA, Ky. -- Drivers get chance to navigate 'some very significant bumps' in low groove

The last time NASCAR's premier series competed in the Bluegrass State was nearly 57 years ago, when Lee Petty won on a half-mile dirt track in Corbin, Ky. Unfortunately for the drivers preparing for the first Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway, none of the information gleaned on that long-ago night will translate to Saturday's inaugural event on the 1.5-mile oval west of Cincinnati.

So the first Sprint Cup weekend at Kentucky will open with a cram session, six hours of testing slated to begin at 11 a.m. ET that precedes the first official practices on the layout Friday. In an era of very limited testing, it's a way for drivers and crew chiefs to find a baseline at the first new track added to NASCAR's premier series since Kansas and Chicagoland joined the tour in 2001.

"We're not going to have to load up and leave and then come back. It's going to be good. I like that kind of testing."

--GREG BIFFLE

"It'll definitely be good for the teams, because we're already there for the weekend, and it's going to get rubber on the track," Greg Biffle said. "We're not going to have to load up and leave and then come back. It's going to be good. I like that kind of testing. If you're going to do any, do it on Thursday going into a weekend. This is kind of the first time we're going to do it, but I think it's a great idea, I really do. This has to save a tremendous amount of money than gathering all of your people up, shipping them both ways, and shipping all of your equipment both ways. It seems like a pretty efficient way and a pretty efficient use of your time."

For drivers, Thursday will offer the opportunity to find the best line around Kentucky, a place where many teams tested before the track added NASCAR national-series events. But finding that line during those tests wasn't always easy, because of the lack of tire rubber on the surface. Given the number of cars that will be on the track, Thursday's session will offer a much more true-to-life feel, providing a better environment for drivers to work on finding their braking and acceleration points.

Thursday also gives drivers a chance to navigate what Jeff Gordon called "some very significant bumps" in the track's low groove, which could come into play particularly during qualifying runs. Although many teams have tested at Kentucky and have data on the facility's corners and surface, they haven't run the current Sprint Cup car there, and never under race conditions. Some drivers will already be used to the track's idiosyncrasies because of their laps there in Truck and Nationwide series vehicles. For everyone else, it will be a new experience.

"I'd rather we just went and raced, but it will have a benefit."

--CARL EDWARDS

"I like going to new places that we don't have history at," Tony Stewart said. "Obviously, there's a lot of drivers that have run the Nationwide Series there and do know the track and what to look for. It's kind of fun for a lot of us. ... Even though at some point over the last seven or eight years, we've tested there, none of us have raced there. That kind of makes it fun. It's neat to go in there and not have an idea of what to expect. It always makes it fun the first time."

Some do have an idea of what to expect. "They're definitely going see side-by-side racing," said Biffle, who won the inaugural Truck race at Kentucky in 2003. " I think it's going to be real similar to what you see at Kansas. It drives really flat, and you can see the Nationwide races there have all been really exciting. I've had a couple of exciting finishes there with Todd Bodine and a few others, so I think it's going to be a good race."

Not everyone, though, is keen on the idea of a long test day preceding the official race weekend. "I'd rather we just went and raced, but it will have a benefit," Carl Edwards said. "It will let everybody tune their stuff in. But it would be OK with me if that test day got rained out."

Sorry to disappoint, Carl -- Thursday's weather forecast for the region calls for only a small chance of thunderstorms. Then again, there are always Lee Petty's notes from 1954.