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Kansas Speedway May Soon Be In For A Repave

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 5 2010

Greg Biffle took the checkered flag at the end of Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway. Officials say the track may be due for a repave. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Kansas City, Kan. – It looks like very soon it will be good-bye “tar of death” at Kansas Speedway and hello progressive banking.

Darren Cook, vice president of operations at the speedway, told RacinToday Tuesday that the surface of the 1.5-mile Kansas track has aged to the point where it is just a matter of time before it will need to be replaced and that that time is drawing near.

And when it is replaced, Cook said, the current banking of 15 degrees in the corners, 10.4 degrees in the front stretch and five degrees in the back stretch will likely give way to the type of graduated banking that has been so successful at places like Homestead-Miami Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Kansas Speedway was completed in time for the 2001 season of racing. The surface at the track was pronounced back then to be high tech and state of the art.

Since then, it has hosted 10 seasons of Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Camping World Trucks, ARCA and Indy Racing League events.

And it has also undergone something which few other tracks hosting major events have undergone – brutal Heartland weather conditions that aggressively attack asphalt surfaces.

Cook said that the freeze-and-thaw cycle in the Heartland has issued a beating to the Kansas Speedway surface. He also said that low quality materials and a “less than ideal job” during construction may have contributed to a deterioration of joints in the asphalt.

“The fact of the matter is, the asphalt these days is just not as good of a quality than it was,” Cook said. “You see 35-year-old asphalt roads that hold up well but they were constructed at a time with all the asphalt cement that’s in there still contains some extremely good materials that are taken out of asphalt today.”

Cook said that the quality materials in asphalt, things that are generated during the refining of petroleum, have been diverted elsewhere in recent years.

With the joints in the surface breaking down, water gets down in to the surface.

“Once the water gets into the joints, then it typically likes to find its way in between lifts or layers of asphalt and it will start doing the same thing there. It will start eating on that bond and loosen that up and create a loose spot. That’s when you get delamination.”

To deal with the joint problems, the track used a tar like substance on the seems and joints to keep the track water proof.

Last year, several drivers complained that the tar strips played havoc with the handling of their cars.

Driver Kurt Busch dubbed the strips the “tar of death” during a press conference.

Cook said he did not hear any similar comments from drivers during or after last weekend’s Nationwide or Sprint Cup events.

But, he said, talks have begun among Kansas Speedway officials about a repave.

Some drivers hate it when tracks repave. They say the racing is better on worn surfaces because there is less grip in the tracks and that forces cars off the bottom of the track and into successively higher racing grooves.

To keep events racy, other tracks have gone to progressive banking – that is, banking which increases slightly in the higher grooves.

Cook said Kansas will likely do the same thing.

“Everybody has saw (how the racing has improved at Kansas over the years) and we don’t want to take that away,” Cook said. “You don’t want to get to antsy with a repair and resurface, and you don’t to go back to single-file racing. There is a good chance if we go back (and repave), the thing that we would want to create is a surface that would immediately encourage side-by-side racing and not single-file racing.

“Nobody wants that (single-file racing). Fans don’t want to see that. They want to see an exciting race. It’s our job and our challenge to create a surface whether that is through different banking or whatever we need to do with the track to create a track which encourages that side-by-side racing.

“We’d look at a variable-banking surface because it would create side-by-side racing quicker than waiting for a second groove to come in at a track that is not as banked. You could go up there high because you got greater banking than the guy below you. You got to create a reason to be up above.”

Both Homestead and Las Vegas now top out at 20 degrees of banking in the turns. Speeds have gone up at those places and the racing has improved.

Progressive banking could be accomplished without a massive re-excavation of the facility.

That is a must, Cook said. Speedway officials would not want to institute a fix that would necessitate a reworked apron and infield on the bottom of the track and new walls – and big grandstand reconfigurations – at the top of the track. And, he said, the track will remain a 1.5-miler.

“It’s a little bit tricky,” he said of the actual work.

Also tricky at Kansas will be the actual construction.

In the track’s area of the country, work can stop for long periods in the winter months.

And beginning next season, the track will host two NASCAR weekends – one in June, the other in early October.

Cook said studies will have to be done on which would be the best construction window – after the October race and hope it can be completed for the June race, or after the June race and hope to complete it by the October race.

Cook said the talks have just begun on the matter and no timetable has been set for the repave.

Construction is currently under way on the Hollywood Casino above Turn 2 of the track. Construction of the casino delayed construction of a planned infield road course at Kansas.

Cook said that redoing the surface and construction of the road course at the same time would seem to make the most sense.

When that would all be is up in the air.

Cook did say, however, that resurfacing Kansas Speedway is a matter of when and not if.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 5 2010
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