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Sprint Cup Series

Harvick on revamped Kentucky: 'So far, so good'

SPARTA, Ky. -- Fourteen NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams kicked off a two-day organizational test here Monday at the repaved and reconfigured Kentucky Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track will host all three NASCAR national series -- Sprint Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck -- next month (July 7-9).

In addition to the repaving, the track has also undergone a change 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. As a result, the racing surface in those turns is now narrower, shrinking from 74 to 56 feet.

The banking and width of the racing surface in Turns 3 and 4 remains unchanged.

"Theres no way to really assess it 100 percent because it takes so long to clean the race track off and put rubber down," Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and the series points leader, said Monday during a break in testing.

"Really, the morning was just spent trying to condition the race track. I think (Turns) 1 and 2 have taken some rubber well; (Turns) 3 and 4 … I think that will be the problem spot to try and make the car handle as far as that goes. Definitely takes some time to get it all right but so far, so good."

The increased banking will likely mean that cars will be carrying more speed coming onto the backstretch and as they rush into the third turn. That change, combined with the current aerodynamic package used this past weekend at Michigan International Speedway and slated for use here next month, could make for some dicey moments.

"It's definitely going to make Turn 3 more challenging," Harvick, the 2014 Sprint Cup champion, said. "I think that's already one trend that we've developed with this particular package -- this car is looser getting into the corner, which it should be with the spoiler cut off the back of it.

"It's going to be very similar to a Charlotte, Kansas-type speed once the track is where it needs to be. There is a bump where the two seams of asphalt meet that's about three quarters of the way around the corner that you're going to have to navigate. It doesn't do anything to the car right now other than move the car. But that will be one spot that you will have to navigate as the speeds keep coming up. By the time it's all said and done, you'll be well into the 28-second bracket."

Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski holds both the qualifying record (28.603 sec., 188.791 mph) and race record (145.607 mph) at Kentucky.

Monday morning's lap times started off in the 31- to 32-second range on the new asphalt before beginning to creep down. A handful of drivers had slipped into the 29-second range prior to the lunch break.

The afternoon session, which concluded at 5 p.m. ET, saw Harvick with the fastest single lap (29.169 seconds), followed closely by Martin Truex Jr., AJ Allmendinger and Joey Logano.

"I think the biggest thing right now that I see is the groove goes from being so wide coming out of Turn 4 down the front straightaway, it kind of narrows up getting into Turn 1," defending series champion Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota) said. "The race track width narrows up, (and) the groove, it's only one-groove wide right now."

The narrower Turn 1, he said, should provide for some interesting moments as well.

"It's just a little bit deceiving, something you don't remember Kentucky Speedway being," he said. "You're used to (going) way out to the outside wall and being able to come way back down to the bottom. Now that groove is narrower, I'd guess about 12 feet or so. It's a different feeling, something you're not accustomed to from what you remember."

Busch counts two Sprint Cup wins at Kentucky among his 37 career victories, including last year's stop. He has won here in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series as well.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing, No. 21 Ford) said the uncertainty surrounding how cars would react on the new surface and configuration played a major role in slowing any initial progress.

"We spent the first couple of hours kind of tip-toeing around the race track and not trying to wreck," Blaney said. "I think the last hour it kind of came in to where we could make changes on our car and be able to tell what the change did. Before, you couldn't really tell because the track kept getting faster as rubber got laid down. …

"Tomorrow will be a really good test day for everybody to try some more stuff out. I think the track will be rubbered in where it should be."

In addition to Harvick, Busch and Blaney, others testing here on Monday were Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing), Paul Menard (Richard Childress Racing), Kasey Kahne (Hendrick Motorsports), Michael Annett (HScott Motorsports), Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing), Logano (Team Penske), Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing), Matt DiBenedetto (BK Racing), Aric Almirola (Richard Petty Motorsports), Chris Buescher (Front Row Motorsports) and Greg Biffle (Roush Fenway Racing).

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