SPARTA, Ky. - Ten NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) teams began researching the multi-faceted set-up their cars will need to conquer one of the circuit's most challenging race surfaces and contend for Kentucky Speedway's July 11 Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts title during today's open test.

A trio among the group, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski, experienced previous series success at the venue and each cited unique performance elements that helped them achieve on the rugged 1.5-mile tri-oval.  

Team Penske's Brad Keselowski, who became the track's first two-time NSCS winner in 2014, was a late addition to the test lineup due to teammate Joey Logano's late schedule change.

Despite the unusual circumstance, Keselowski said he was happy to be back at one of his best statistical tracks. He attributes his Kentucky success to confidence he began developing during his series track debut.

"This particular track entered the Sprint Cup Series in 2011. The timing was almost perfect for me from a career perspective because it felt like it was the first track, really, the only track I was able to go to where I was starting kind of even to the competition," Keselowski said.

"You go to tracks like Dover, Martinsville and Bristol. Those racetracks, when you're first getting started in Cup, can be a daunting challenge because they change as the race progresses and they're naturally demanding tracks as it is. So, benefit of experience can be very substantial at those tracks.

"When you come to a new track and everybody's kind of even keel, that lack of experience across the field really benefits someone who's just getting started and kind of has an open mind, an open approach.  In that sense, Kentucky kind of fit perfect within my career and how it got started in NASCAR at the Sprint Cup level." 

He placed seventh in the inaugural Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts and earned his first event victory the next year. His average finish through four NSCS Kentucky starts is 10.5. That stretch includes a 33rd-place showing in 2013 after his No. 2 machine was involved in a dramatic seven-car incident in Turn 1 on Lap 49 of 267.

Keselowski's Kentucky confidence grows as he sharpens his skill at navigating the speedway's unique surface.

"I like the fact it's really rough in the corners.  I think a track that's very rough in the corners requires something different out of the driver and requires something a little different out of the set-up-up of the car as well.  That seems to really fit my style," he said.

"As a driver, some tracks you pick up on a lot different than others. What really helps you pick a track up is when you have a good car there. You say, 'Alright, I remember the last time I was here the car was really good and it did this, this and this.'  The next time you come back and your car's not doing that, you say, 'I don't know, we've got to work on this,' and get it back to doing what was successful for me in previous years. 

"It's becoming very easy for me to give the feedback needed to take us on weekends where we're not exactly where we want to be when as get started and get us to where we want to be by the end.  I think we're at a very good spot as a team because of that and it's one of our strengths."

Joe Gibbs Racing's Kenseth, the 2013 Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts winner, posted an average finish of 4.5 in his four Kentucky NSCS starts and is tied with inaugural event winner Kyle Busch for the best average series finish at the track.

That tandem, along with Hendrick Motorsports' drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, are the only drivers to finish in the top 10 in each Kentucky NSCS event.

Kenseth's key to Kentucky success is working with crew chief Jason Ratcliff to develop a balanced set-up that will help the No. 20 car gain an advantage in an ideal groove on the track.  

"The track is really rough. The bottom lane has a little less banking than the next lane up and it's rougher," Kenseth analyzed.  

"There's that one lane that's pretty smooth and has a lot of grip.  For some reason, it never widens out wider than that on the top, so you've got to make your passes on the bottom. It's real rough down there and it's hard to get a good balance for both of those grooves.

"It's pretty line-sensitive, it's easy to overdrive. It's easy to miss your marks and get into some bumps instead of getting around them.

"It's a track that has a lot of character, you always have to be paying attention." 

Earnhardt Jr., raced to Hendrick Motorsports' second Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts pole award in 2013 before notching his second top-five finish at the track last season with a fifth-place effort.

He asserts that persistence and strong mental resolve can translate to solid NSCS performances in the Bluegrass State.

"I think we can get better here. We definitely all got spanked last year by Keselowski, so we look forward to the opportunity to get some laps here and try to find out how we can get faster," he said.

"We've never been here with Greg Ives, my crew chief, so he's learning a lot. He's got a lot of things on his list he wants to go over with the other engineers.  I can help if I mentally plug in to what they're doing.  I've got to try to give him the information he's looking for after every run. He's making a lot of small, minute changes on the car and he wants the feedback on what that's doing."

Thorough feedback might be the secret weapon that will help Ives solve the complicated set-up puzzle when he calls his first NSCS Kentucky race for the No. 88 team in a short 87 days.

"The bumps in the corner give the track character. I don't think the drivers really mind them that much. The bumps on the front straightaway are really, really severe. They've made a lot of steps to try to improve them. It's a real challenge," Earnhardt Jr., said.

"How we set up the cars up is what created the bumps in the first place. We run around with over 3,000 pounds of force through the tire. When you start with a small bump and you just keep pecking at it, lap after lap after lap with car after car after car, it continues to make that more severe and you end up with what you have now.

"If you run a harder bump stop or a certain type of front set-up, it's going to make that ride quality even worse, but sometimes that seems to be the fastest way to get around the track."

He'll have extra opportunities to gain track knowledge during the practice and qualifying sessions that will precede his July 10 NASCAR XFINITY Series track debut.

Roush Fenway Racing's Greg Biffle, Wood Bros. Racing's Ryan Blaney, Chip Ganassi Racing's Jamie McMurray, Michael Waltrip Racing's Brett Moffitt, Richard Childress Racing's Ryan Newman, Stewart-Haas Racing's Danica Patrick and Richard Petty Motorsports' Sam Hornish Jr., rounded out the test lineup.

Biffle, McMurray, Moffitt and Newman completed a third day of testing following their participation in a Goodyear tire test at the track April 13-14.

Kentucky Speedway's first of two 2015 race weekend opens July 9 with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225.

Weekend ticket and camping packages, single-race tickets and infield Fan Zone passes can be purchased through the Get Tickets pages of this website, by calling (859) 578-2300 or visiting the Kentucky Speedway ticket office off of Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 N.

- Kentucky Speedway -