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Cup Drivers Ready For Bumpy Ride At Kentucky

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 26 2014

Matt Kenseth says he ready for some bumps in the road this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Tami Kelly Pope)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Matt Kenseth spent a sizable chunk of this week’s Sprint Cup media teleconference talking about the bumps at Kentucky Speedway. Lots of tracks have bumps, Kenseth said, but Kentucky is “really, really bumpy”. Two “reallys”, which for low-key Kenseth is like five “reallys” for drivers with more effervescent personalities.

Drivers like Clint Bowyer, who said this week, “The first thing you do as a driver to go around Kentucky is put a mouth piece in because you don’t want to chip a tooth while you’re going around there.”

Bump talk didn’t stop there for Cup drivers and teams this week. It’s topic No. 1 as the series heads to the 1.5-mile Kentucky oval for a race that signals 10 races to go before the 10-race Chase.

But, interestingly, the bump talk wasn’t trash talk. There was little if any criticism of the Kentucky surface. Certainly, the “R word” passed through no thinking driver’s lips.

When the word “repave” was used in his presence Thursday, driver Elliott Sadler said, “Please don’t bring up that word — that’s a bad word in racing.”

It seems that bumps are much more palatable for Sprint Cup drivers than are the repaves. Desirable, even.

A couple years back, mouths went agape when drivers were first told that Kansas Speedway was going to be repaved.

Greg Biffle, at Kansas for a media schmooze before it was officially announced that the track was going to get resurfaced, went kind of dark when told. He couldn’t understand it. Big mistake he said. Jeff Gordon, among others, said about the same thing.

Drivers had waited six years for the Kansas surface, which had debuted in 2001, to come in and when it finally did, when it finally started producing wonderfully exciting races, the decision was made to tear it up. The opinions of the people who had to drive the track were fairly unanimous in their disapproval.

News that Kansas would introduce progressive banking – so popular at Homestead-Miami – failed to stem the criticism. Assurances by track officials and engineers that the old surface was being dangerously undermined by sub-surface flaws also failed to change drivers’ minds.

Even when large chunks of the old surface began coming up during the final pre-repave race, drivers still quietly lobbied for reversal of the repave decision.

Yep, drivers hate smooth, grippy asphalt.

But bumps? Even the kind that require tooth protection are, ironically, A-OK.

Tony Stewart was asked about the bumps  at Kentucky this week.

“It’s bumpier than anywhere that we go as far as mile-and-a-halves are concerned,” the three-time champ said. “But that’s what’s fun about it too is that it’s got character and makes us have to work on making it go through the bumps better.”

“It’s definitely a challenge. It’s an added element that you have every week, but it’s more exaggerated at Kentucky than anywhere else we’ve been.”

Asked where at Kentucky bumps are the worst, Stewart said,  “I don’t know. I haven’t found a spot where there weren’t any bumps. You aren’t going to go around the bumps. They’re everywhere.”

Bowyer said to bring on the loosened teeth.

“It’s kind of neat because it’s an obstacle and it’s something you have to overcome and get your car to ride those bumps good and keep those tires on the ground,” Bowyer, still looking for his first victory of the season, said. “So much of what we do anymore is focused on aero and a lot of that means you really have to have a pretty stiff setup underneath of it and those tires don’t like that. They bounce up and down on that rough stuff so you have to go back to some mechanical grip and get some suspension back underneath of it and get you some grip.”

Seems that for racers, no pain means no gain.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 26 2014
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