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Drivers Hope Test Will Put Them In Right ‘Zone”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 3 2013

The Kansas Speedway weekend of racing will kick off a day early as NASCAR has scheduled an open test at the track for Thursday afternoon. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Engines will turn a day early in advance of this week’s Sprint Cup race in hopes that the Sprint Cup cars will race better during Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. Those engines will turn during a four-hour open test session scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

The Kansas 1.5-mile oval has been a newsmaker in recent years. Opened in 2001, it took several years to age and produce fan-friendly side-by-side racing.

About the same time that Kansas “come in”, problems with lower layers of the track and the subsoil below that, began to open wide seams in the asphalt surface. The asphalt also began to crumble in spots.

In 2012 – between the spring and fall NASCAR race weekends (and to the chagrin of drivers) – the track was reconfigured with steeper, graduated banking and new asphalt.

In the two races since, teams and drivers have had varying amounts of success in dealing with the new surface.

Last spring, driver Sam Hornish Jr. said the track felt very “narrow”, meaning passing was tough.

After winning the spring race, Matt Kenseth described the race thusly: “It was kind of like musical chairs. You had to be out front when the music stopped. Our car was very fast in clean air. It was reasonable in dirty air, but it wasn’t quite good enough to catch all them guys and pass ’em (in traffic).”

Much of the attention in the aftermath of that race turned to tires.

Kasey Kahne, who finished second to Kenseth, said post race, “If I over drove the entry it was super easy to get loose and the same on exit of the corner and the center of the corner depending on how hard you were pushing the pedals, and as the race went it rubbered in and you got more grip, but it was still slippery, and I think that’s just the tire.”

Goodyear scheduled a test at the track over the summer. NASCAR has also decided to hold an open test at Kansas this afternoon. On the cars will be the “multi-zone” tires that debuted at Atlanta a month ago but have not been used since.

Goodyear director of race tires Greg Stucker explained the multi-zone concept, which utilizes two different compounds of rubber on the same tire.

“At Kansas,” Stucker said, “this will be the third race after the repave and we’ve recognized that the track seems to have lost some grip, but has not yet begun to wear tires. To address that, we increased the grip on the left side of the car with a more tractive compound. With additional grip on the left, the cars will be much faster, again putting more stress on the right-side tire. So, we’ve utilized multi-zone tread technology to have the same compound that we’ve run there since the repave on the outside of the right-side tire to keep that level of traction, and paired it with a tougher, more heat resistant compound on the inboard three inches for endurance.”

Driver reviews of the multi-zoned tires were positive after Atlanta.

During a teleconference with the media this week, Kahne said he had high hopes for improvement in racing at Kansas.

“It will be interesting,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “I thought it worked fine at Atlanta. Hopefully here it will work good, too.

“That tire we were on at the start of the year was just really hard and didn’t wear out a lot. There were a lot of two-tire stops you would do. I would imagine this would be similar just with the fresh surface, a lot of load in the tires. You know the right side is going to be really hard.

“I would think it would be pretty close to what we raced. Hopefully it wears out more. We’ll have to slow down on runs, like what they’re trying to shoot for. I don’t know if it will or not. I would think it will be real similar to what we had.”

Kahne was then asked the big question: Will racing be improved at Kansas on Sunday.

“Kansas City is a pretty tough area, part of the country,” he said. “The weather is cold and hot, things like that. A lot of heat and real cold. If not this one, it (a better race) will definitely be the next one, I would think.

“The temperatures are going to be really cool on Sunday, so there probably won’t be quite as much falloff. You’ll still have a lot of heat in the tires, you’ll start slowing down some. If you have a good handle on the car, you’ll be able to drive by the other guys. The track is really wide. I think Kansas is a great racetrack. Hopefully this weekend we’ll put on a great show.

“Hopefully it will clear out with the sun and we’ll be able to move around quite a bit.”

The Thursday test is scheduled to begin at noon local time and last until 4 p.m. However, rain is in the forecast and could affect the schedule.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 3 2013
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