News & Media

Heat, slick track the challenge at Kansas in June

June 04, 2011, Dave Rodman,

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Kansas Speedway is staging its first summertime Sprint Cup race in its 11th year of hosting NASCAR's premier series, and the temperature difference between now and September, when the single race was previously held, are instantly noticeable.

"It's just a lot hotter and the track's a lot slicker -- the conditions are just way more extreme," Kansas native Clint Bowyer said. "But I knew it was gonna be, going into this because it's always hot this time of year. And that's what we love about Kansas -- you just never know."

"The conditions are just way more extreme ... And that's what we love about Kansas -- you just never know."


Denny Hamlin knows at least one thing. After winning four times at this point a season ago, Hamlin just got back into the top 12 in the standings last weekend and needs to win a race. The Kansas conditions for Sunday's STP 400 might favor him.

"The speeds are about three-quarters of a second slower than what they were in October when we came here," Hamlin said. "Those slower times mean the track has aged quite a bit because this year we have been given tires with more grip. I think that's going to mean passing should be easier [because] usually the slower we go at a race track, the easier passing is.

"So, you're going to have to search around for lanes and different things like that. I am a fan of slicker race tracks like Atlanta and this track's kind of getting in that category."

This weekend's schedule had two practice sessions on Friday and qualifying only on Saturday. A.J. Allmendinger was one driver who rued that format.

"This heat is something," the California native Allmendinger said. "It is one of those things that's just tough, not having a Saturday practice with conditions like this. You just don't know and it is so hot out and so slick. We aren't very good, either, which is part of it. We just aren't good right now and need to keep working on it."

The forecast for Sunday calls for temperatures of around 95 degrees Fahrenheit, a much higher ambient temperature than in the fall that had drivers estimating track temperatures would be "20 to 30 degrees hotter" at race time.

"But you never know," Bowyer said after he qualified second for Saturday's Camping World Truck Series race, an event he won. "During that qualifying session it got hazy, and then the track temperature cooled down about 12 degrees. If you don't like the weather in Kansas, stick around a little bit and it'll change.

"In this sport, that's what you have to be able to do -- you have to adjust and adapt to the conditions, to be good. The cars and the tires are always different, so I think we're able to adapt and learn how to get better as the race progresses, and how to work on our cars -- because you have to make up the difference."

Like Bowyer, Missourian Carl Edwards, the series' point leader, would like nothing better than to win at his "home track." He also recognized the challenge of the conditions.

"That is one of the neat things about this sport, that we have these long, hot races," Edwards said. "It is pretty grueling. It didn't take me long to realize, but took me a while to adapt to the fact that that is just the way it is -- it is uncomfortable.

"Last week [at the Coca-Cola 600] I am probably not the only driver that was driving down the straightaways with my heels off the floor because it is burning your feet. I think that will be a factor in this race Sunday -- not a huge factor, but it will be a factor."

One thing drivers noticed immediately Friday were the cracks in the asphalt track surface that had been sealed with a material that's widely used for race track patching. "Drivers beware" was the most widely held opinion.

"It's not any different but all the conditions are hotter and slicker than they were last fall, so when you cross those [seams] it can give you a handful," Bowyer said. "Where they've tarred and patched the cracks [is] really slick. You've got to be conscious of those and not get on those, cross them or try to drive on them [because] if you run your right sides [tires] on them you could bust your butt pretty easy.

"You absolutely do adjust to avoid them. You straddle them, you run above them or below them. You don't want to cross those things because when you do, it can get you in trouble in a hurry."

Juan Montoya, who after qualifying second for the STP 400 said the sealed strips at Kansas weren't as disruptive as those at Atlanta or Auto Club speedways, said they made it "interesting."

"The seams is one of those things where, if your car is half-decent and you can use them to your advantage, you're really fast," Montoya said. "If the car is a handful, it makes it even worse."

The Kansas pole-sitter, Kurt Busch, said he has a simple way of dealing with the strips of sealer.

"You choose a lane," Busch said. "If you want the bottom lane you choose that first lane. If you're going in [to the corner] in the high groove, you choose that third lane and you really stay in it -- you don't cross over the seams because they can upset the car. But it's not as bad now, with those being worn in over the last couple years."

Jeff Gordon, who won the first two Kansas Cup races, had a seemingly faster car on Friday than he did when he qualified 22nd Saturday, but he said he had no issues with the track.

"To me this track has just gotten better and better every single year," Gordon said. "I loved this track from the beginning obviously, but, like all tracks do over time as they settle in, you get some different characteristics that come into play -- different bumps, you see the pavement start to wear a little bit.

"Here in Kansas, I think those things have really only made the track better because the way it wears the tires, the grip level just makes for multiple grooves. We already saw [Friday] in practice cars up against the wall, cars on the bottom, cars in the middle. That is going to make for a great race here [Sunday]."


2.J. Montoya 174.154 31.007
3.Ky. Busch 174.081 31.020
4.B. Vickers 173.992 31.036
5.J. Logano 173.852 31.061

Bowyer agreed with Gordon.

"As it ages this track just gets better and better, the groove really widens out and it creates great racing," Bowyer said. "It's slick, man. Every time I come back here, the track gets slicker and slicker. But I'm telling you, for an old dirt racer that plays right in my hand. I enjoy that. That's usually when I perform my best."

But it does require some adjustment, Busch said.

"In the summer months, I think you really have to focus on corner exit," Busch said. "That's where it's really hard to put all the horsepower down that we have -- to get that forward bite and traction. But when you're a racer, you don't care what the conditions are."

"If the car handles good, it's a lot of fun," Montoya said, smiling. "Because if you can get into the corner and it doesn't do anything stupid, doesn't step out real horrible getting in and doesn't push out of control in the middle and you can get back in the gas -- yeah, you're going to be sliding around -- but if you can actually drive it and go forward, yeah, it's going to be fun.

"If you're out there and you can't even touch the brakes getting in [to the corners], you get in the middle and it doesn't turn and you get back in the gas and it snaps [loose], it's a handful. But it brings out the best in you. You've really got to step-up your game and it's interesting. It's completely opposite of Charlotte, but it's fun."

And dealing with the conditions the best may result in a trip to Victory Lane.

"I think we have something we can work with as the track slicks off," Edwards, who's won a Truck Series race at Kansas but badly craves a Cup win. "Right now it is hard to say who is in the best position to win because I think the track will change a ton. That pavement will get hot and slick and greasy and change a lot during the race. The guy that reads that, the best will win this race."