Mixed reviews, but Kentucky looks to get better with age
All the question marks leading into the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on the newly repaved Kentucky Speedway got answers in Saturday night's Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts. But the topsy-turvy event made some of the answers less clear-cut than most, with drivers' mixed reviews expressing their quibbles about the 1.5-mile track's treacherous conditions but their understanding about why the race played out the way it did. NASCAR used a reduced downforce package as a potential preview of 2017's aero rules for its top division, but did so on a freshly repaved and reconfigured layout. Competition and track officials took as many measures as possible to synthetically age the track, but the racing groove remained a narrow path for the duration of the 267-lap race, making passing a dicey proposition and contributing to 11 yellow flags, a figure that tied a track record. Tires also played a prominent role in altering the race's complexion. After some instances of blistering during a test last month, Goodyear changed course on the tire compound for the Kentucky race, trading grip and faster wear for more durable rubber. The harder compound became a lament for several drivers, though several acknowledged that safety was paramount in the decision. "It's really nobody's fault," said Tony Stewart , who secured his second top-five finish of the season in making his 600th career start Saturday night. "I mean, Goodyear's trying to do what they can to protect themselves and make sure they don't have tire problems. They didn't have to worry about that -- it was the hardest thing on the planet. NHL doesn't have anything on them on a hard puck, but like every other repave, as they get laps and more races on this track, it'll get to where they can come off the hardness of the tire and it'll be better for everybody. This is as bad as it's going to get; it'll get better from here. … "It's kind of hard when you have conditions like that, but the track's going to be fine, NASCAR did the right thing. It's easy to point the finger at Goodyear, but they had to do what they thought was right and what was conservative for them. It's just way too hard, and the wrecks kind of proved that." Dale Earnhardt Jr. , who faded to a 13th-place finish after his No. 88 Chevrolet sputtered out of fuel on the last lap, agreed. "It's a conservative tire. I understand why they did it because of the blistering they had in the test," Earnhardt said. "We can't come here and blister right-fronts (tires) and have guys pounding the fence at 190 miles an hour. And the low downforce -- I don't know if all that stuff is a great combination. … I mean, you couldn't hustle the car at all. You're just on pins and needles all the time on restarts, like 'uhhhh, I don't want to lose any ground.' Boy, if I have a big slip, I'm going to lose all kinds of track position, which happened over and over." Race winner Brad Keselowski had a more pressing issue with saving fuel over the final green-flag stretch, but acknowledged the challenges specifically posed by the track's new asymmetrical layout. With more banking in the speedier Turns 1 and 2 (17 degrees) than in Turns 3 and 4 (14 degrees), drivers required more brake and finesse on one end of the track than the other. "I'm not sure, but it took a lot discipline to run this track tonight," said Keselowski, who wrapped up his third Kentucky win in the Sprint Cup Series. "If you got into Turn 3 and 4 the least bit wrong, you wrecked. That's just the way the race was, and I think that's what we saw. There's arguments to be made good or bad for that. I think it's a good challenge. We're professional race car drivers. It shouldn't be easy. It wasn't tonight. It was very, very difficult. You had to certainly be very smart." Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition, said afterward that competition officials have no plans to try the rules package again this season as a possible prelude to 2017. He said that the aerodynamic setup performed as it should, while recognizing the challenges presented by Kentucky's new pavement. "We've known as an industry that the repaves are very, very difficult historically," Miller said. "This was no different. But really the action in all three of the events this weekend I thought for a repave, it turned out really well, and we had obviously tonight a lot of action, like Brad said, a little dicey getting down there in Turn 3 on the restarts especially. "I think the low, low downforce package, if that's what we're calling it now, helped at this race on the repave. I think the corner speeds would have been extremely high, and with the higher downforce stepping out of the groove might have even had more consequences than we had tonight." The onward march of time and weather will likely help the racing groove expand for future races. Other variables will remain moving targets, but much like the Bluegrass State's trademark bourbon, the Kentucky Speedway asphalt should only grow better with age. "I think this package will work great at some other tracks with a different tire, a different surface," Earnhardt said. "This was probably as good as they could've expected with a repave. They're always nasty races, you know."
Late miscues cost Truex, Harvick at Kentucky
RELATED: Full Kentucky race results SPARTA, Ky. -- It was the Kevin Harvick - Martin Truex Jr. show for approximately 200 laps on Saturday at Kentucky Speedway as the pair battled back-and-forth inside the top two until a couple of unrelated miscues stole their limelight. Misfortune began first for Martin Truex Jr. after Landon Cassill brought out the night's 11th and final yellow flag on Lap 195 -- matching Kentucky's caution record. During the cycle of pit stops that followed, Truex was penalized for passing on pit road entry, forcing him to line up 22nd for the Lap 200 restart. "Everybody does it," a visibly disappointed Truex said on pit road. "I've had people pass me the same way at Bristol and Martinsville. They'll drive right by you through the pit. Everybody does it, so I don't know why all of a sudden they're making an example out of me. "It's frustrating when you don't win. I feel like I've had a lot not go the right way the last couple years, especially. It is what it is. We'll move on." The Furniture Row Racing wheelman entered pit road second, behind Harvick, and won the race off pit road before receiving the infraction. Harvick's downfall came during the same restart where he lined up first and quickly fell to third as eventual race winner Brad Keselowski took first and Joe Gibbs Racing's Matt Kenseth went around him for second. At the time, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver told his crew, "I'm just trying not to wreck it's so loose." As the Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts hit its waning laps, Harvick was then forced to pit with 16 laps to go. "We just had to put left-side tires on there," the 2014 Sprint Cup champion explained. "(We) couldn't put rights on and then the car went away really bad. That was really kind of the straw that broke the camel's back. "All in all it just came down to fuel mileage and we couldn't make it till the end and some guys could and that's just part of it." Following Harvick's lead, Truex pitted -- for right-side tires and fuel -- with 10 laps to go. Truex had bounced back from 22nd to climb inside the top three before pitting. Harvick and Truex collectively led the Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts for 174 laps in the 267-lap event, but walked away ninth and 10th, respectively, with the SHR driver leading the series in points. Truex, meanwhile, is seventh in points.
Jimmie Johnson spins, wrecks early at Kentucky
Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson spun and hit the wall in Turn 4 on Lap 31 of 267 in the Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts on Saturday at Kentucky Speedway, one of multiple wrecks in the race. For Johnson it was the second time during the race weekend that the No. 48 Chevrolet SS found the wall at the 1.5-mile track. Johnson wrecked during practice on Friday and had to go to a backup car for Saturday's race. Johnson has two victories this season, but they came early at Atlanta and Auto Club Speedway. He has just one top-10 finish in the past eight Sprint Cup races. His best finish at Kentucky came in the series' inaugural race in 2011, when he finished third. After heading to the garage, Johnson returned to the race on Lap 75, 42 laps down from the leaders. He finished in 32nd place. Johnson wasn't the only driver to experience trouble, either. Joey Logano (Lap 53) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Lap 10) spent time in the garage after smacking the wall. Logano finished 39th and Stenhouse was 40th. "You're trying to slow down a lot and the brakes started going away and I don't know what happened after that, if a rotor blew up or what made the tire go down, but the right-front went flat and I was pretty much along for the ride after that," Logano said. Rookies Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney ended up in the garage as well (Lap 87) after making contact, and the caution came out again on Lap 93 for a wreck on the backstretch involving the Nos. 7, 10, 34, 42, 44, 47, 95 and 98. Elliott finished in 31st place, and Blaney was 35th. Cautions also came out for wrecks involving the Nos. 83, 7, 10, 15, 47 and 38 cars. After his hard crash on Lap 170, AJ Allmendinger, driver of the JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet SS, emerged from the infield care center with a wrap on his left forearm/wrist. Allmendinger finished in 36th place.
Defending iRacing champ Humpe claims Kentucky triumph
Kenny Humpe ( The TEAM ) kept his hot streak going at Kentucky Speedway by winning his third NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series race of the 2016 season. The defending series champion led 50 of 167 laps, the most of any driver, in what turned out to be one of the most competitive events of the season thus far. Humpe closed the deal on a three-lap shootout that was punctuated by a caution on the penultimate lap with Humpe well in the clear. Michael Conti ( Team Conti ) finished second for his first top-five finish of the season. Conti was strong from the drop of the green and led 10 laps, flashing some of the speed that made him NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series champion in 2014. Dylan Duval followed Conti across the line in third, just in front of point leaders Ray Alfalla ( Slip Angle Motorsports ) and PJ Stergios ( ineX Racing ). Duval looked to have a car capable of winning the race the last 50 laps, but cautions held him back from challenging for the win; he started 34th. Alfalla looked poised to battle Humpe for the win but contact with Conti under caution with a handful of laps to go damaged the rear of Alfalla's car and dashed any chance he had of keeping up with Humpe on the last restart. The race was one of the more unpredictable of the season, as several drivers looked like they had a legitimate shot to win. Alfalla started on pole and led until pitting under green on Lap 35, where he lost the lead to Conti after the cycle of stops due to Conti pitting a lap earlier for tires. Alfalla methodically reeled him in, using his superior speed on the long run to take the lead back on Lap 55. Alfalla pitted for the second time on Lap 68 and again lost the lead on the exchange -- this time to Justin Bolton and Humpe, along with Conti for a second time. Humpe went to the point on Lap 81 with Alfalla looking to keep pace, but Conti held Alfalla at bay, using the outside lane to keep his momentum off the corners. Alfalla was persistent though, and after four laps of working the bottom lane he cleared Conti, but could not run down Humpe before the leaders hit pit road for a third time. Humpe maintained his lead after stops but a caution shortly after the round of stops changed the outlook of the race. While most of the leaders pitted for fresh tires, nine drivers decided to stay out with their slightly worn tires in hopes that track position would make a difference. Tyler Hudson ( One Up Motorsports ) inherited the race lead as the field took the green flag on Lap 109. Hudson held the lead for the next eight laps before another caution bunched the field and drew everyone to pit road for fresh rubber. Humpe went from 12th to seventh on the run, but now did not have a tire advantage. After a crash on the restart, the race restarted on Lap 126 and Humpe started to make his move back to the front. In 10 laps, Humpe was in third and had his sights set on Hudson in the lead. On Lap 140, Humpe drew alongside Hudson and completed the pass on the outside off Turn 4. Another caution with 17 laps to go could have derailed Humpe's chances, but a solid final pit stop and two stellar restarts let him hold the lead uncontested to the checkered flag. Alfalla's fourth-place result combined with Stergios' fifth-place effort saw Alfalla build his championship lead slightly. His margin over Stergios is 13 points, with Humpe a distant third, 78 points back. Teammates Jake Stergios and Chris Overland hold fourth and fifth, 91 and 96 points adrift, respectively. After four-straight races on 1.5 mile tracks, the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series shifts gears for Week 11 as the SIM racing series visits the Indianapolis Motor Speedway . Overtaking at the one-groove IMS is notoriously difficult; thus, qualifying is more important than usual. Alfalla's average start of seventh makes him the clear favorite, but a dark horse could be Cody Byus, whose eighth-place average starting position is second-best in the series. Can Humpe or Stergios topple Alfalla, or will the two-time champ cross the yard of bricks for his second victory of 2016? Find out in two weeks on iRacingLive !
Race Rewind: Kentucky in 15
Relive all of the highlights and key moments of the Quaker State 400 as Brad Keselowski earned his fourth win of the season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Kentucky Speedway.
Scott Miller comments on Kentucky repave, lower downforce package
NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition, Scott Miller, comments on the effectiveness of the lower downforce rules package used at Kentucky Speedway and how the track raced after the repave.
RECAP: Kes saves on fuel, wins at caution-filled Kentucky
NASCAR.com's Jonathan Merryman recaps the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway as some big names went spinning and Brad Keselowski saved just enough fuel to cross the line in first place.
NASCAR penalizes No. 86 team in Truck Series
RELATED: Current series standings NASCAR handed down penalties Wednesday to the Brandonbilt Motorsports team in the Camping World Truck Series for a lug-nut infraction incurred during last weekend's race at Kentucky Speedway . NASCAR assessed a P3-grade penalty to the No. 86 Chevrolet operation for improper lug nut installation. NASCAR officials suspended crew chief Adam Brenner through July 27, which makes him ineligible for the series' next race, July 20 at Eldora Speedway . Brenner was also fined $5,000 and placed on probation through the end of the year. Brandon Brown finished 20th in the No. 86 Chevy during last Thursday's Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 . Brown -- who has competed in all but one event this season -- ranks 20th in the drivers' standings ahead of the series' lone race on a dirt track, next Wednesday's Aspen Dental Eldora Dirt Derby (9 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM).
Fuming in Kentucky !
NASCAR.com's Costner Merrifield takes a look back at some of the best moments from the races at Kentucky Speedway, including Brad Keselowski earning his second consecutive win on fumes.
Toyota Camry On Track: Kentucky
Watch as Jeff Burton gives Dhani Jones a ride around the newly reconfigured Kentucky Speedway.