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Drivers, Kansas Officials Clash Over Repave

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 21 2012

The field of the Camping World Truck Series tests the pavement at Kansas Speedway. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – It’s tough to find a consensus among race car drivers on anything. But this weekend there does seem to be massive agreement among Sprint Cup drivers on the subject of the soon-to-commence repaving of Kansas Speedway.

They are against it.

And the insistence by track and International Speedway Corp. officials that the 11-year-old track absolutely needs to be repaved because it is coming apart?

The drivers don’t seem to be buying it.

Jeff Gordon, a two-time winner at Kansas, said, “I don’t really understand why they are paving this race track. It looks great out there. This place is awesome. I wish they wouldn’t touch it.”

Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards provided echo effect. “I would not resurface this track ever. I wouldn’t resurface tracks ever if it were up to me. I’d patch the holes and keep on running.”

And so it went Friday and Saturday as driver after driver lamented the decision to tear up the original asphalt surface at Kansas and replace it between the end of Sunday’s STP 400 and October’s Hollywood Casino 400 Cup weekend.

Their opposition stems from the fact that the surface at Kansas has finally “come in”. That is, it has matured and weathered to point where the side-by-side racing has become some of the best in the series.

“When you don’t pave race tracks and there’s tire wear,” Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin said. “The

Aric Almirola in the Richard Petty Motorsports car at Kanas Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

driver shows up a lot more than what it does when you pave a race track, it becomes all about track position and how good your car is. Us drivers, it takes our skill level of a new race track versus old race track – I would say the driver is probably 65 percent of how you run.

“On a brand new paved race track, I would say our numbers are probably down to 30 (percent). It cuts really half of it off, in my opinion. You see it at Rockingham, Atlanta – tracks like this where tires wear out. A driver can really, honestly make a difference. When you’re running nearly wide open every single corner on new paved race tracks, there’s not much us drivers can do. It’s like speedway racing basically.”

But repaved Kansas will be. Crews will begin tearing up the surface shortly after the finish of Sunday’s race.

Kansas and ISC officials have spent large chunks of time this weekend attempting to present their case for the repave to teams, drivers and the media.

It’s a case which revolves around their insistence that they do not want to repave, but that they have to – need to – because the surface is coming apart and could suffer what speedway president Pat Warren called a catastrophic failure during a race weekend.

On Saturday, Martin Flugger, the director of engineering for ISC’s design and development department, sat down with media members and gave a state of the asphalt address.

“It’s very bad,” Flugger said of the current surface. “The asphalt is starting to get pretty brittle. There’s not much elasticity left in it so the cracking is getting worse. The cracks allow the water to get into the track which with your freeze/thaw cycles don’t help things much so we chase that by puting crack-fill in the seams…but water can still get in, still starts to work on the asphalt layers. So we’re constantly out there fighting and battling pieces of the track coming out.”

Asked his reaction to driver criticism of the repave decision, Flugger said that they just don’t have all the facts.

“Visually, looking at the surface, the asphalt mix itself, if you go take a look at it, it doesn’t look bad. But the problem isn’t so much on the top layer, its the bond between the layers and then the cracking itself,” Flugger said. “There’s the real possibility that a section of the track, a layer of the top surface, could actually pull off.”

Much the way one did Saturday in the apex of the track between turns 1 and 2.

Much the way it did during the 2010 Daytona 500 when a large hole appeared in the track; a hole which occurred during the race and took over two hours to fix.

“Everybody thought Daytona look great until that hole opened up in the middle of turns 1 and 2 (at Daytona) because of problems that weren’t necessarily right at the top but were down into the asphalt,” Flugger said. “We’re trying to basically make sure that we wind up without a race-stopping event.”

Flugger also said that a policy of continually patching the surface is not acceptable.

While the consensus among drivers is that a repave is a bad idea, there were also those who understood that there may be problems that don’t meet the eye.

Brad Keselowski of Penske Racing said he loves the current surface at Kansas; says he is very comfortable on it, but…

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said of repaving. “We have to make sure that we don’t have a track that falls apart in the middle of the race so I can understand that the logic behind it. That’s racing.”

Keselowski was told that Gordon had said that he didn’t think that Kansas should be repaved.

“I think you should ask Jeff if he thought it was worth the risk at Martinsville that year when that chunk (of concrete) came through (his front grill) and cost him the race,” Keselowski said. “I think then he would answer it a little bit differently.”

In addition to receiving a new surface, Kansas will also be reconfigured. Gone will be the current 15-degree banking in the turns, and installed will be banking which varies from 17 to 20 degrees.

Flugger said that the hope is that the progressive banking will immediately facilitate good racing. Much the way things went when Homestead-Miami was reconfigured to progressive banking in 2003.

“Our goal is to have three competitive lanes from Day 1,” Flugger said. “In the old version of Kansas, you’d have to wear it in to get a second line or a third line. With the way it’s going back in now, you’ll have that second and third line from Day 1.”

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 21 2012
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