The Kansas Speedway promises a newly repaved track with better, faster racing. NASCAR drivers don't like alterations to their tracks, explains Pat Warren, Kansas Speedway president, while cruising around the newly paved 1.5-mile track in a Toyota Sequoia.
"They hate change," Warren says, leaning the SUV into a banked turn as construction crews work on the infield under an overcast sky. "It doesn't matter what you do."
When the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Tour return to Kansas in October, drivers better be ready for a different track. Some of NASCAR's biggest stars were skeptical when the repavement project was announced in April.
Brad Keselowski, who took a checkered flag at Kansas Speedway in 2011, told ESPN that he was sorry to see the old pavement go. "I've got a really good feel for what I want out of my car at this track, and I'm ... really sad to see it go," he told the network.
Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon echoed the sentiment. "This place is awesome," he told USA Today. "I wish they wouldn't touch it." "I would not resurface this track ever," Columbia, Missouri, native Carl Edwards told ESPN.The Kansas Speedway went ahead with the five-layer resurfacing (totaling 7 inches of asphalt). Now complete, the project includes what Warren calls the most important part of the repave: a steeper bank. The Speedway spent about eight months repaving and reconfiguring the tri-oval and increasing the bank to create more competitive racing. The course's bank now varies from 15 degrees in the "low groove" inside lane to 18.5 degrees in the middle and 20 degrees on the high end. Warren's response to what this will do to races at the track is one word: "faster."
The increased bank will also allow drivers more opportunities to pass one another and race side by side. Cars on the higher banks will travel a slightly longer distance, but they'll do so faster than the low lines.
"I can race another car side by side and carry more speed through the corner at 18.5 and even more at 20 degrees, traveling a further distance but creating side-by-side racing," Warren explains.
The repaving was necessary due to weather fluctuations at the Speedway, which Warren says are more severe than any other NASCAR track. Warren pulls off the track and takes out his iPhone. He scrolls through photos until he finds a picture of a fist-sized chunk of track that popped out of the start-finish line during the last NASCAR race in April.
"That's a big piece of the track, and we never found the piece," he says. "Had it been seen from race control, the race would have stopped, and we would have had to patch it."
Crews repairing the track found 11 years of problems throughout the course caused by racing. "Once you started peeling back the problem, you could never stop," Warren says.
While drivers might initially complain, the project will provide a faster and safer track, Warren says. "We now don't have to worry this fall 'what if?' "