Tag Archives: Kansas Speedway

An on-track perspective of Kansas Speedway

9 Jun

Brett Bodine is a former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. His younger brother Todd is tearing up the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and his older brother Geoff also competed at NASCAR’s highest level. Those three represent the third generation of their family in racing. Before the STP 400 last Sunday, Brett was back on the track, giving pace car rides in the hours before the race would begin. Listening to him, here’s what I and several other media members learned about Kansas Speedway.

1. First, let’s address that “Tar of Death” question. Everyone who lives in Kansas will tell you that the weather is schizophrenic – one day you’ll need a t-shirt and shorts, but the next you’ll be desperate for jeans and a jacket. A bigger problem for the racetrack than the oscillating weather, however, is the extremes the state gets between seasons. It’s not unusual to encounter wind chills in the negative teens in the winter months, and the summer yields 98-degree days on a regular basis. Over the last 10 years, those harsh temperatures on both ends of the thermometer have caused the track surface to mature drastically, Bodine said.

“Those seams have widened out and racetrack maintenance has applied some sealer down in those cracks. If it wasn’t such a different color they probably wouldn’t be near as noticeable, but they’re there. You can feel them as you cross over them diagonally, and you also feel a few horizontal or 90-degree bumps and cracks in the track.

“That’s part of an old racetrack. It gives it character.”

2. The fastest part of the racetrack is when you’re approaching Turn 1. The front straightaway is about 800 feet longer than the back stretch, which is why it’s so much faster.

3. The banking at Kansas Speedway is one of the lowest for 1.5-mile tracks. There is 14 degrees of banking, a far cry from the 24 degrees at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where drivers had competed the previous week.

“Going into turn 3 you’ll notice, Where’s the banking?” Bodine said as he turned the wheel. “Relatively flat-looking as you enter the corner.”

4. It’s a slick ride in the summer months. The grip just deteriorates as the race goes on. As the track just progressively hotter, it takes rubber right off the tires of the cars. When that happens, Bodine said, grip tends to go away.

“Drivers’ll continue to move up the racetrack looking for some fresh blacktop. They’re not going to find any because we’re using all the lanes right now.”

5. The speedway has a nice wide pit road, with three lanes of travel and one pit stall lane. There is one little drawback to the setup, however.

“Pit stalls are kind of short, they’re not very roomy, so getting boxed in in possible, particularly under yellow flag.”

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Understatement of the Century

8 Jun

Here it is: “NASCAR teams come well-prepared.”

This past weekend at Kansas Speedway, I took a tour of Jeff Burton’s No. 31 team hauler. I had never been in one of these monstrous vehicles before, so suffice it to say I was impressed. The gentleman who showed me around opened cabinet after cabinet of car parts and pieces, all labeled and organized. Stunned, I commented jokingly, “So basically you’ve got spare parts to build a whole other car here.”

Sliding back a portion of the ceiling, he responded, “Well, there’s actually that too.” Above our heads was a whole car, the backup that the team brings along to each track in case something goes awry with the main one prior to the pre-race inspection.

One of the more interesting pieces I learned of was the shock dyno. The team could build and test out the suspension components right there in the trailer, on a fairly small, innocuous-looking piece of machinery. I was told they had a spare engine tucked away somewhere too, and up around the corner was a lounge equipped with TVs and computers so the crew chief and engineers could strategize together.

The team’s public relations lady – who was a little busy since the news was just breaking about team owner Richard Childress punching driver Kyle Busch – summed nicely the whole setup.

“It’s basically like the office on wheels,” she said. “Anything the guys need to fix the car, replace parts on the car, there’s everything on here.”

 

Fuel conservation becomes recurring strategy for NASCAR teams

5 Jun

Jamie Squire/Getty Images for NASCAR

A NASCAR team takes many variables into account when choosing when its driver will come in for pit stops. But while a team can plan for different situations to the best of its ability, when you throw in 42 other cars and the cautions that go along with the interactions between those, everything gets much more interesting.

Gas – or rather a lack thereof – played a pivotal role in last week’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. led on the last lap but then ended up seventh because he ran out of fuel in the final stretch. Fuel also proved relevant on Sunday at Kansas Speedway. This time it worked more toward Earnhardt Jr.’s favor, as he finished second behind Brad Keselowski, who got his first win in 61 races.

Earnhardt Jr. qualified 28th for the STP 400, so even running 13th – his position on lap 134 – had required making up some serious ground, and Kansas is a track on which it is hard to get around other cars anyway. Midway through the race, Earnhardt Jr. spun out between turns three and four, which created a caution for laps 154-157.

“Starting where we did, it just wasn’t easy,” the popular No. 88 driver said. “And we finally got to right outside that top 10 and was looking good for the last 100 laps. And I went to searching for more speed and busted my butt up there on 3 and 4. And tossed us in all the spots we worked for all day.”

However, there was a silver lining to that incident; it put into use the savvy of Earnhardt’s crew chief Steve Letarte.

“[It] gave Steve the chance to play the strategy game … when that caution came out that we came and got fuel. We put ourselves in a one-stop scenario where everybody else didn’t pit. They can’t give up the track position because it’s so hard to pass,” Earnhardt Jr. explained. “So they stayed out there knowing they’d have to come down to pit road twice. And that was the game that we took, and the race  … could have had a caution and changed everybody’s strategy, but it worked out for us and right to the end.”

After the race, Earnhardt Jr. seemed less than enthusiastic about the finish. Although second place in the STP 400 puts him third in the overall Sprint Cup Series points standings, it was clear he viewed the runner-up spot as a bit of a letdown. He explained his frustration of having to slow down in order to have enough fuel to finish the race … even though he felt his car was fast enough to overtake Keselowski’s. Earnhardt Jr. recalled his conversation with Letarte.

“Man, he was telling me that whole run: ‘We’re good. Let Mike be short, we’re good, we’re fine.’ Then we got within 10 to go, and he said, ‘Back it down, back it down.'”

“I can catch the 2, he’s real slow,” Earnhardt Jr. indicated his response.

“And he’s like: Back it down, back it down, back it up to the 11.”

Letarte told Earnhardt Jr. the fuel would run out at the flag pole, and the driver followed his crew chief’s instructions. At the press conference, he confirmed that Letarte was right; the gauge was red and the No. 88’s tank was indeed empty coming down the back straightaway.

Fuel-influenced finishes generally aren’t preferable, but they are certainly part of the sport. As Keselowski’s crew chief Paul Wolfe pointed out, the fastest car doesn’t always win.

“Everything has to be perfect to win one of these races.So when I say the fastest car doesn’t always win, I mean you can have the fastest car, but if you don’t have good pit strategy or you don’t keep yourself out of trouble or put yourself in situations, it really doesn’t matter,” Wolfe said. “So what I’ve seen is if you can put yourself in the top 10, you give yourself a chance, at least. And we feel like that’s what we did today.”

Finishing behind Keselowski and Earnheardt Jr. were Denny Hamlin in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth and Carl Edwards in fifth. Keselowski’s teammate Kurt Busch finished ninth after leading 152 laps – over 120 more than any other driver – in the 267-lap race.

On Track: Pit road

5 Jun

Everyone looked a little toasty Saturday morning, as the sun beat down to the tune of 95-plus degrees at Kansas Speedway. Today, for the Sprint Cup Series race, figures to be just as steamy. Taking the brunt of the heat (outside of the fans, of course) are the members of pit crews. I’ve got to hand it to them for their efforts.

Yesterday I stood behind the pit stalls, about 10 feet removed from the guys preparing tires, testing impact wrenches, readying 11.5 gallon, 91-pound gas cans, and surveying other equipment, including several computers that were set up on top of the massive “toolbox” – understatement of the year – that each team worked out of. The soundtrack to this was “Ain’t Goin’ Down Til the Sun Comes Up.”

Before yesterday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 250, it felt relaxed on pit road. I couldn’t wait to see the crews in action once the race started, and they did not disappoint. It was cool to be able to tell when a certain car was about to pit, because the team would suddenly begin moving about, all the members moving around at the same time, but somehow not in the way of each other.

When a team’s car got ready to come into the pits, crew members clad in firesuits, gloves, kneepads and helmets stood on the wall and got in a ready stance – almost like a defender on a basketball court, except these guys held massive tires, equally large gas tanks, jacks or impact wrenches.

As the team’s car decelerated impossibly quickly to 45 miles per hour, the driver’s crew members leaped over the wall, and the truck squealed to a stop. Every time, it looked like it would run right over the guys waiting to fill it with gas or change its tires.

Jeff Gordon talks Kansas, points

5 Jun

On Saturday Jeff Gordon talked to reporters outside his #24 hauler. Gordon has one win this season, at Phoenix, and he currently sits 16th in the points. Here’s a Q&A snippet of what he had to say.

Q: How has Kansas Speedway changed since you began racing here?

A: To me this track has just gotten better and better every single year. I loved it from the beginning obviously, but like all tracks do, over time as they settle in, you get some different characteristics that come into play, some different bumps, you see the pavement start to wear a little bit. But here in Kansas I think those things really only made the track better because the wear, the way it wears the tires, the grip level, just makes for multiple groups. We already saw yesterday in practice, cars up against the wall, cars on the bottom, cars in the middle. That’s going to make for a great race here.

Q: Having raced here before, how much use do you get out of the notes that your team brings in?

A: Things change so quickly in this sport, especially over the off-season when you get the teams that … in the Chase, gave everything that they had to have fast racecars and then they go in the offseason with that knowledge, and some go in the offseason knowing that what they had wasn’t working and they just go to work.

So it’s amazing how much can change over the offseason. Not to mention Goodyear constantly trying to improve the tires for this racecar, for these racetracks. For some of those teams, definitely make you have to stay on top of things in a big way. So those [notes] from last year, they definitely help us a little bit here, but a lot of things have changed so we can’t go off of that too much, but this race, until the second race, it’ll be interesting to see how accurate [those notes are]. I think they’ll be fairly accurate.

Q: With your position in the points, although you have a win, are you kind of in a nervous area right now?

A: I’m certainly not comfortable with it. It’s not a good place to be. To me, I guess I look at it a little bit different. It’s not just about being in the top 10 in points; it’s about being a threat for the championship. And yeah, you have to be in the top 10 or 12, but in order to do that, and you can improve your program by the time the Chase comes around, and be in there for the championship, so that’s why we can’t give up. We’ve got to work hard to improve all the time.

But I think from a points standpoint right now, what we have to focus on is winning races because if we can win another one or two races, to me that locks us in … Not only locks us in, but gives us momentum to actually be a threat for the championship. And we’ve gotten ourselves behind, and that’s obvious. It shows, where we’re at in the points. We’ve been inconsistent and we haven’t performed the way we need to.

So to me it’s not just about being in the top 12, it’s about being in the top 12 and being a real threat for the championship. And so we definitely have work to do. But I’m excited. This weekend, things have gone really well.

10 years at Kansas Speedway: Time to Repave?

4 Jun

Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR

After 10 years of hosting NASCAR races, officials at Kansas Speedway say it’s only a matter of time before the track surface needs to be revamped. (For a comprehensive article on this, check out this link.) Drivers, however, don’t necessarily agree. One reporter asked racers about this on Saturday after the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250, and Todd Bodine, Johnny Sauter and Joey Coulter all said that if they got to vote, the track would not be repaved.

“This place has got so much character now,” Bodine said. “When it was first built and we came here … it was smooth, and lots of grip, and now, even in trucks we’re out there sliding around and we’re driving the heck out of them every lap. That’s why you see great racing here. It’s got a lot of character. It’s a neat place.”

The reporter remarked half-jokingly that the track would most likely be repaved anyway, and Bodine in particular gave a passionate defense of Kansas Speedway’s current state.

“Why would they repave it?” Bodine began. “Yeah it’s got a couple of bumps and it’s wore-out, but that’s what makes it fun. It separates good trucks from bad ones and good cars from bad ones, good drivers. That’s what makes it fun. Anybody can go fast on dry pavement.”

Coulter’s statement was short and sweet but seemed to summarize what the general feeling was.

“I don’t think I’d repave it either,” the rookie said. “It’s pretty fun the way it is.”

Clint Bowyer Gets a Happy Homecoming

4 Jun

Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR

Today Clint Bowyer found that there truly is no place like home. With his Saturday afternoon victory in the 400th race of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the Emporia native became the first Kansan to win a NASCAR national series race at Kansas Speedway, which is in its 10th season.

Bowyer had been a runner-up twice at races on his home track, once in the Sprint Cup Series and once in the Nationwide Series, but as fellow racers Johnny Sauter and Todd Bodine (who finished second and third, respectively, in today’s race) pointed out, coming in second place or third place is simply means a driver is the first or second loser. This time would be different for Bowyer.

“We’ve gotten close here, we’ve had good runs here, we’ve just never been able to seal the deal,” Bowyer said. “To finally be able to do a burnout in the homestretch in front of this crowd, this is big, man. That’s a good feeling.”

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR

Though the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 technically had 10 leaders and 15 lead changes, Bowyer’s performance can hardly be described as less than domination. He led 124 of 167 laps, and much of that time it did not even appear to be a close contest for first place. Bowyer did not necessarily feel secure throughout, however, and said getting into position out of the pits during restarts was key to the team’s success today. In a race that had seven cautions, that’s likely a pretty accurate statement.

“There were some nerve-wracking times,” the No. 2 driver said. “Right there at that last pit stop we took four tires. I knew four tires was the right thing to do, but I really thought a lot more people would take four tires, and they just didn’t. It was having to get through a lot of them right in that first corner, and I thought that was key, getting in position.”

Now, Bowyer is in position to be able to sweep the weekend at Kansas Speedway, as he competes in the Sprint Cup Series race tomorrow. He would be the first to do so. Having qualified 27th for Sunday’s STP 400, he will begin the race in the 14th row of drivers.

As previously mentioned, Johnny Sauter and Todd Bodine came in second and third, respectively. James Buescher finished fourth, and Rookie of the Year candidate Joey Coulter crossed the line fifth.