Saturday night was the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway since it was repaved and reconfigured, and that showed during the race. In a very interesting race, Brad Keselowski won for the second weekend in a row despite running out of gas on the final lap after having an eight second lead turn into a .175 second victory over the final few laps. Keselowski was able to squeeze enough gas out to restart the engine on the final lap and barely finish in front of Carl Edwards. Keselowski’s tank was so empty, he had to get pushed to victory lane by one of the track tow trucks.
What ended up a gas mileage race at the end saw 11 cautions over the first 200 laps. Eight cars were unable to finish the race. While there was one, eight car wreck on lap 93, many of the cautions were due to one car getting loose, spinning out, and getting into the wall.
With the low down force package and the slick new track, many cars were having traction issues. The majority of the issues occurred in turns 3 and 4. However, turns 2 and 4 were untouched during the reconfiguration. The reconfiguration increased the banking on turns 1 and 2 from 14 degrees to 17 degrees and left the banking in turns 3 and 4 at 14 degrees. So if turns 3 and 4 were the same as before, why were there so many issues?
One possibility is that the new pavement was still rather slick. Newly repaved tracks are known to have this issue. Another possibility is that the because turns 1 and 2 and banked more, they can be driven through harder. If a driver tries to drive the same way through the flatter turns 3 and 4, they are more likely to get loose. A third option is because of the new down force packages. When riding side by side, the cars take the air of the back of the other car. This reduction in air creates even less down force and reduces the traction even more increasing the likelihood of an incident. A fourth option, and the option I think is most likely, is a combination of the first three.
The new Kentucky track produced a very interested and exciting race on Saturday night. A caution filled race early on turned into an intense fuel mileage race for the final 68 laps. Pit windows were project to be between 64 and 67 laps at the beginning of the race. Martin Truex Jr. was expected to have enough fuel to get by after filling up the tank completely when he has to come back through pit road for a penalty on what ended up being his penultimate pit stop. Truex was forced to come back in after Carl Edwards was able to save enough fuel to make it all the way to the end. If the race had been another 100 feet, Edwards would have likely been able to overcome Keselowski for his third win of the season. Instead, Keselowski was able to hold on and secure his series leading fourth win of the year.
After a very exciting race as the first race at the new Kentucky track, I look forward to seeing many more down the road.