NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth has had some pretty good runs at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky but agrees with many others that the track is one of the roughest places to race. Kenseth won the 2013 race at the speedway, which opened in 2000. Since then the track has gained a reputation for having the roughest racing surface in all of NASCAR.
Kenseth has made only three Sprint Cup Series career starts at Kentucky Speedway but he has completed all 801 of the laps that he has raced. If you dig deeper into the numbers you’ll see how Kenseth has managed the track over his handful of races at the facility. He’s had an average starting spot of 16.3 but finished up with an average finish of 4.7. The number puts him at the top of the list among all active series drivers at the 1.5-mile speedway.
Now that Kenseth is the defending winner of the Quaker State 400, he’s looking at this weekend’s race as a great opportunity to capture his first checkered flag of the 2014 season. He’ll be behind the wheel of his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota.
“Kentucky is by far the roughest track surface that we go to; it’s extremely rough. We’ve only raced there a couple times with the Cup series, but it is fun to go there,” Kenseth said.
“It’s a neat track and we had a great race there last year being able to grab the win thanks to a gutsy call by Jason (Ratcliff). We had struggled in practice last year, but the guys had the car really good for the race, and we were able to get out front and pull that one out there at the end.”
The main reason for the rough racing at Kentucky is the age of the tracks asphalt surface. Over the years the surface has aged in a way that has given it a very distinct feel as opposed to other race tracks in the series. When talk about paving the track came up prior to the 2014 season many drivers expressed concerns that the place would lose its trademark feel which had grown into a challenge for drivers, teams, and crew chiefs.
Jason Ratcliff, crew chief for Kenseth, says that in a way Kentucky can be compared to having to get ready for a race at preparing a car for a race at Las Vegas. Both facilities, and their rough surfaces, offer up some obvious challenges to teams. It’s a challenge that Ratcliff thinks cars from Joe Gibbs Racing (JRG) are capable of meeting.
“Kentucky is one of my favorite tracks from my days being on the Nationwide Series side, and obviously our No. 20 team ended up having a great finish there last year,” Ratcliff said. “I just always liked going to Kentucky because I felt JGR cars were fast and competitive there, so it is one of those tracks that I really enjoy going to. I also lived not too far from that area for several years when I was first starting out in this sport, so I’m also just very familiar with the track and the area. Kentucky is similar to Las Vegas in the sense that the track just gets rougher and rougher every year. That change in the surface gives the track a lot of character and makes it a lot different even though it’s the same shape as several other tracks that we visit. Kentucky always puts on a pretty good race and I’m looking forward to this weekend.”
Kenseth, who will be driving in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Kentucky Speedway, says the roughness adds to the facilities likability. It will be the first time the Sprint Cup Series driver has appeared at the track in a Nationwide Series event. Kenseth will be driving the No. 20 Reser’s Fine Foods Toyota in Friday’s John R. Elliott Hero Campaign 300.
“Kentucky is a cool place and a very unique track, but it’s really rough and it has a lot of character.”