It Turned Out To Be A Groovy Day At Kansas
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Some leftovers for an, um, interesting weekend at Kansas Speedway:
Determining the number of racing grooves which a race track supports is, it appears, in the eye of the beholder. Or, probably, more accurately, on how a driver finishes on the track in question.
Hopes for multi-groove racing were not universally high for the new racing surface at Kansas when NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide teams arrived on Wednesday. The asphalt was just too new. So, sight unseen, most teams and drivers figured the cars would go into catfish mode and hug the bottom all weekend.
Testing and practice did very little to alter those opinions once the cars fired. Nor did Saturday’s Nationwide race.
On Sunday, the Cup race started as a bottom-feeding affair. But after that?
Depends on who you talk to.
Kyle Busch got out of his car and said it would be years before the track produced multiple grooves. Of course Busch had just taken a major high-speed excursion through the infield grass when he said that.
But then there was Paul Menard. He offered this assessment of the new surface:
“I was pleasantly surprised with it. Anytime you repave a track, you expect the worst, single groove, hard to pass. We’ve been breaking a lot of track records with all the repaves this year. Going into the Nationwide race yesterday, I thought it was going to be a single file, right around the bottom, get out of line, be real treacherous. It wasn’t. The second groove burned in. The third groove came in today. For a first race on a repaved track, I thought the
track came in really well.”
Menard had just finished third.
But, he was correct. At times, the field was going two- and three-wide. Four-wideif you consider the apron – which, as with Phoenix International Raceway after its repave and reconfiguration, got heavy usage during the race – to be part of the track.
Several drivers said before the race that in the future, Kansas will be a terrific place for racing again. The future, some said after the race, is now.
In the first race after the repave and reconfiguring of the track to steeper, progressive banking, Kansas featured a record number of cautions – 14 in all. (The previous record was set in 2001, at the first race the track hosted.)
But, as Regan Smith reminded people after Sunday’s race: Tracks do not cause wrecks. Drivers do.
“I think a lot of it was just over done by guys maybe not being smart on restarts from what I saw,” Smith, substituting for injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, said. “Everybody was fighting for the bottom you didn’t want to lose positions on the top side, but then the top side would come in as runs would go on so that was kind of weird.”
The Cup series heads to the Martinsville short track at an interesting time. It heads to that King of Payback Tracks one week after a very contemptuous day at Kansas.
Among those expressing contempt were – big surprise here – Danica Patrick and Kyle Busch.
Patrick’s was aimed at Landon Cassill. In attempting to purposely wreck Cassill, Patrick only succeeded in wrecking herself. And hard. All Cassill’s fault, she ranted afterward. Her team’s competition director and mentor, Greg Zippadelli, disagreed, scolding her on the radio and saying she knows batter than to do what she did.
Fortunately – or, perhaps, unfortunately, depending on how your taste runs on things like paybacks – Patrick is not scheduled to race in Cup at Martinsville.
But Busch and Ryan Newman are. And it was those two who produced some fairly bright sparks on Sunday at Kansas.
Newman appeared to provide the push that sent Busch for a ride. Afterward, Newman said, “He just got loose in front of me and it’s so fast here it’s hard to check up when he is getting sideways.”
Busch, however, didn’t see it that way. And, when asked his thoughts about what happened, he gave ticket sales at Martinsville a boost by saying, “Newman just ran up on the back of me and got me loose – I’ve been loose all day – and then he ran into the back of me and spun me out, so just impatience. There’s still 80-something laps to go. I don’t know what that was for or why or whatever, but I’m glad he’s wrecked along with me and he’ll get another one here before the year is out.”
That, sir, sounded like a threat.
It appears that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will indeed be back in the No. 88 Hendrick Cup car at Martinsville. Team owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday, “There is a closed test Monday that Dr. Petty will attend. Dale will be back in the car (for that test) and he’ll (Dr. Petty) make the decision with a final test on Tuesday.”
Hendrick, who just before the start of Sunday’s race told a group of reporters on pit road that Earnhardt had already been cleared by NASCAR, made the second announcement in the media center during the race.
“I will be shocked if he’s not in the car,” Hendrick said after apologizing for the erroneous earlier report. “Everything looks good. His attitude and the way he feels; he’s had no headaches since Thursday or Friday of Charlotte; and the tests have gone real well. I think Dr. Petty is just being super-cautious and I applaud him for that. I think the sequence is that he (Dr. Petty) will be with him at the test Monday; they will evaluate him in his office Tuesday, and then he will notify NASCAR if he’s OK. Maybe I just heard what I wanted to hear when I talked to (Dr.) Petty because everything in Pittsburg was good.”
Got to seay, it was great to see full grandstands at a Sprint Cup race again.
Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 was deemed nearly a sellout by track officials and judging from the look of things, it was refeshingly close to being one. The track has grandstand seating for about 74,000 and the announced attendance was 78,000, which also takes into account infield and suites.
The weather was perfect (especially for late October in Kansas City), the new pavement produced anticipation and the race was moved closer to the end of the Chase.
Whatever the reason, Kansas fans spun the turnstiles.
Crowds for Saturday’s Nationwide Series race were also strong.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment