SPARTA, Ky. (AP) — Whether NASCAR’s new rules create a passing fancy at Kentucky Speedway remains to be seen.
Drivers were happy to finally get track time Friday. Rain had washed out tests and practice scheduled to help them break in specifications designed to create passing on the 1.5-mile track. Qualifying was also canceled, with the rule book putting Kyle Larson (Chevy) and Brad Keselowski (Ford) on the front row for Saturday night’s 400-mile race based on practice speeds.
The limited practices likely mean frequent in-race tweaking. Cars are making the transition to track-specific rules intended to reduce downforce. The rear spoiler was shortened from 6 to 3.5 inches, the front splitter was widened by 25 inches and an overhang was shortened by 1.75 inches.
“I’m optimistic,” Kyle Busch said. “I hope it does produce the race that us drivers are hoping that it does. We certainly have been trying to push (for) lower speeds through the corners. …
“I don’t think you’ll see any difference in a race — you might even see a better race — from us averaging 195 mph versus us averaging 185 mph.”
Time will tell, but drivers agree something had to give to boost competition at a challenging track that featured little passing.
Busch and Joey Logano were the only other race leaders last June besides Keselowski, who led 199 of 267 laps for his second Kentucky victory in four starts. That trio combined for 12 lead changes.
Though the reduced downforce could translate into looser cars on the bumpy track, drivers look forward to having more control in the last 1.5-mile track before the 10-race Chase playoff.
That also might require more adjusting on the fly after the elements altered the schedule, which is not necessarily a bad thing if it adds intrigue.
“It doesn’t drive very good, but I don’t think anybody’s car drives good,” said Logano, who will start fourth in the No. 22 Ford. “I think there are just so many unknowns that you’ve just got to expect the unexpected at this point.”
Some other things to look for Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway:
BAD BRAD: Besides his two Kentucky victories, Brad Keselowski also ran seventh in his first start here and looms as the likely favorite. “This is a great track for us,” said the 2012 champion, who’s motivated to earn his first win since Fontana, California, this spring and a large vintage jukebox given to the winner. “I look at it as one of those places that we kind of circle on the calendar.”
GORDON’S GOODBYE: Four-time champion Jeff Gordon is approaching this race with some urgency in his farewell tour as he aims to conquer the last Cup venue he hasn’t won. He’s been competitive with top-10 finishes in all four starts and will start third in the No. 24 Chevy in search of his first lap led and victory at Kentucky.
DILLON MOVES ON: Though folks are still talking about Austin Dillon’s scary airborne crash and topsy-turvy landing at Daytona, the Richard Childress Racing driver is looking ahead to Kentucky with no fears about what lies ahead. He finished seventh at Daytona before his wild ride. “We’ve had a couple of good weeks here, as far as points go,” he said. “My main goal still is to win a race this year, and we’re fighting hard for that.”
BETTER SKIES: After rain delayed Sunday’s Daytona race until nearly midnight and wiped out this week’s test, drivers and fans are eager for drier weather. Saturday’s forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies with temperatures in the low 80s when the green flag drops.
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