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SPARTA, Ky. - When NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Brian Vickers learned Kentucky Speedway’s 1.5-mile tri-oval is being billed as the roughest track on the circuit, he quickly replied with an affirmative, “mission accomplished. It’s extremely rough, extraordinarily rough.”
The Michael Waltrip Racing driver turned laps along with fellow NSCS competitors Jamie McMurray and Brad Keselowski last month during two days of testing tire manufacturer Goodyear utilized to research the durability of compounds drivers will race on during this weekend’s three-event NASCAR event.
Vickers explained he was experiencing the best of both worlds while attempting to take advantage of the series new ride-height rule that provides teams more flexibility to create setups that can help cars tame the speedway’s challenging bumps.
“Having bump stops now versus coil-bind springs and some of the changes have definitely helped, but still, a lot of it comes down to how the car is set up,” he said. “I’m driving back and forth between two different cars that are set up completely differently. It’s still a rough track, but one of them drives like a dreamboat. The other one, I’m afraid I’m going to hit the wall. It’s so rough, I can hardly see the wall going through the frontstretch because my head is bouncing back and forth in the headrest so violently. The other car, I go through them, it’s bumpy, but it just kind of floats through them,” Vickers said.
Keselowski is one driver who has successfully solved the Kentucky Speedway tri-oval puzzle.
The Team Penske competitor scored a 2012 Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts victory.
“Kentucky’s always been a really good racetrack for me personally,” Keselowski said. “I just feel that the car at tracks like this is more in the driver’s hands. As a team, we’ve never come here and run poorly, even back in the (full-time) Nationwide days. I think we have good speed, which is where you start. Hopefully, we can keep that speed when it counts.”
He noted the NSCS ride-height rule can help teams create an advantage on the rough tri-oval.
“It’s a unique track, it has unique transitions, unique bumps. I can appreciate that about it,” he said. “The car has evolved, advanced and the ride-height rule is kind of that next evolution. I think right now the cars are as smooth, if not smoother, than I can ever remember them being at the bumpy tracks. For the Cup level, it seems to be a natural progression with the cars that have the bumps being impactful, but not ridiculous,” he analyzed.
McMurray, who placed second in last season’s Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts in the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 machine, said the combination of solid Goodyear tire construction and a rough surface should produce competitive race conditions.
“This has really been a successful test for Goodyear because wear doesn’t seem to be an issue,” he said. “There is some give up, and some of the sets give up more than others, but overall, it seems like they’re buying a little bit of insurance because the cars this year make so much more downforce. It’s a great feeling to be able to come in, put new tires on and know you’re going to go faster. The track surface allows you to do that.”
The Quaker State 400 will provide an entertaining finale to a June 26-28 event weekend that also features the NNS John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 presented by Drive Sober or Get Pulled over and Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225.