Keselowski, McMurray, Vickers Expect Competitive Quaker State 400
SPARTA, Ky. - When NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) 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 during two days of testing tire manufacturer Goodyear utilized to research the durability of compounds drivers will race on the speedway's three-event June 26-28 Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts weekend.
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.
"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 dream boat.
"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.
Later in the day, Vickers set Twitter abuzz when one his cars connected with the Turn 3 wall before coming to rest in Turn 4. He emerged from the car uninjured and rebounded by driving another test segment.
"Thank you to everyone for your thoughts and concern. Really hard hit. Sore but ok. Looks like the RF (right front) wheel camp apart going into 3," he messaged to concerned followers through @BrianLVickers.
Despite his test-day setback, Vickers, who ranks 10th in the NSCS championship with two top-five and four top-10 finishes through 11 races, knows the unique track surface will add a strategic element to the series fourth NSCS race in the commonwealth.
"On a track that's really rough, the box is a lot bigger and you're really chasing the mechanical grip more. You're going to see guys that have really good cars and guys that don't.
"I don't know that any one of the top 20 drivers can necessarily drive through a bump faster than the other one. Every driver is good at certain tracks and tends to find lines that suit their driving style, but I think it opens it up for the teams as well. Their sandbox is a lot bigger with what they can do with a car, how they can get it through the bumps and how they can get it around the racetrack. I think that's good because you'll see a lot more passing," Vickers said.
Keselowski is one driver who has successfully solved the Kentucky Speedway tri-oval puzzle.
The Team Penske competitor, currently 11th in the series standings after collecting a Las Vegas Motor Speedway victory and a combined four top-five finishes this season, scored a 2012 Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts victory and is one of three drivers who have captured two NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) victories in Kentucky after taking the checkers last season and in 2011.
"Kentucky's always been a really good racetrack for me personally. 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," Keselowski said.
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.
"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.
"The clearest indicator of that is whenever we get back in the Nationwide car and it's on the old rules packages and less evolved than the Cup cars, it goes back to feeling very, very rough here.
"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. 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.
"I think the (track) surface itself makes it better than other places. It hasn't been paved in a long time.
"There's nothing more frustrating than to go to a track and qualify on 20-lap-old tires because they're faster than brand new tires. 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. It really doesn't matter what we've put on today. Sticker tires have been better than older tires.
"In this race last year, I restarted eighth with 20 or 25 laps to go and could've won in about two more laps with Matt Kenseth, who had stayed out at that point. That's ultimately what you want, a track that you have a little bit of strategy with the guys that stay out and take that risk.
"Some of the guys can hang on and some of them can't. It's fun when guys pull out, they're 10 cars back and they have (new) tires. That's when you see good passing," McMurray said.
He will enter Sunday's NSCS Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway ranked 24th in the championship standings, but coming off a Sprint All-Star Race victory at the track.
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.
Tickets, ticket packages, Kroger Fan Zone passes that provide a stage-side view of Thomas Rhett's Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts race-day concert, and campsites can be reserved through the respective pages of this website, by calling (859) 578-2300 or visiting the speedway ticket office at 1 Speedway Drive, Sparta, Ky., 41086 just off Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 N.
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