Opinions differ on upcoming Kansas repave
Most understand it as part of the business, but Johnson looking for challenge
By Dave Rodman, NASCAR.COM
April 20, 2012 4:51 PM, EDT
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- It figures, with the level of success he's enjoyed in his Cup Series career at race tracks in a variety of conditions and configurations, Jimmie Johnson would crave the challenge the repaving/reconfiguration of Kansas Speedway after Sunday's STP 400 will present.
The process is scheduled to begin Sunday immediately following the checkered flag. It includes a complete repave of the 1.5-mile oval, increasing the 15-degree banking in the turns to 17-to-20-degree "progressive banking" and adding a road course.
I'm never a fan of repaves. I think when you repave something it takes years for the racing to get back to the point of where things are.
-- KEVIN HARVICK
"[Frustration] might be the mindset for some drivers, but for me I look at it as an opportunity," Johnson, a two-time Kansas winner, said Friday morning. "The tracks are going to change, and it's going to be different. Whoever figures it out first will have the advantage and win."
And if nothing else -- even though it's been since this race last October since Johnson, or anyone else from Hendrick Motorsports, has won -- the five-time Cup Series champion is all about winning.
"I'm excited about the new surfaces that go down," Johnson said. "Some of them are very challenging, and I hope people pay attention to the tracks that have instant success and the others that take a long time to come around -- and we can learn from that as well."
With repaves also comes additional testing, as was the case recently at Michigan and coming up at Pocono -- the two most recent repaves. That's also got Johnson fired up.
"I'm excited for the opportunity, and I love to test," Johnson said. "I love to be at the race track learning, and am excited to have testing at tracks we race at. We can really get data files on tracks other than Milwaukee or Nashville, and these tracks that we don't race at anymore. I'm happy we have some testing at the real tracks on the correct tire."
If an argument could be made that Johnson's adventurous spirit made for five years of success, most of his fellow Sprint Cup competitors, asked over the past two weekends, are ruing the change here, or anywhere else for that matter.
"I'm never a fan of repaves," Kevin Harvick said. "I think when you repave something it takes years for the racing to get back to the point of where things are. My understanding [is] they have some issues -- they hadn't told me what they are -- with the track."
"When you don't repave a race track and there's tire wear, the driver shows up a lot more," Hamlin said. "On a brand-new paved race track it's all about track position. That might cut the driver's impact in half, I think."
"From a driver's standpoint, it's always fun when they're wore out and slick," Kenseth said. "I think the racing is better. I think there are more lanes on the race track, but you have to pave them sooner or later."
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Despite being Johnson's teammate, Gordon made a strong point.
"I don't know anybody that's a real fan of a repave," said Gordon, another two-time Kansas winner. "The tracks don't want to incur the cost, but they know that it's necessary because of the structure of the pavement or the foundation underneath or whatever it may be that puts them into that box.
"They know that they're going to suffer on some of the racing because of the tires being harder, more durable for those types of new surfaces. This has not been one of my favorite tracks [but] right now I love this surface, I love Atlanta and I love these worn-out race tracks. I think those are the race tracks that put on the best shows."
But Gordon acknowledged repaves are inevitable.
"It's just part of racing and it's part of the evolution of pavement of how it's changed," Gordon said. "That's just technology. It's no different than what you're riding on down the highways, smoother than it's ever been and lasts longer than it ever has before. That's what we use for race tracks."
The Kansas track surface, which hosted its first race in 2001, has deteriorated due to weather exposure over that time, necessitating the repave. Progressive banking has become a pet project for a number of tracks since Homestead-Miami Speedway enjoyed a tremendously successful transformation to it when it was rebuilt using the technology in 2003.
"I think a lot of tracks I can look at, and think about ones they reconfigured and I don't think they made better, but if you want to use Homestead for an example, that's just about a perfect race track," Kenseth said. "They did the variable banking and it used to be so flat. It's got the most banking on the top, but not very much more and it's pretty darn competitive."
"I agree with that," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said of Kenseth's opinion. "I think that unfortunately, progressive banking is a great idea when you're using asphalt. Even though when you pave a race track, it typically doesn't put on the best races after a few years of weather and wear on the surface, it tends to work out okay and the track really comes into its own again.
"As much as we'd like to have a lot of the tracks stay with the older asphalt, it's just some of them are deteriorating so bad that it's just not an option. I think progressive banking has done wonders at a lot of race tracks and been a real plus at a lot of places."
That's why Greg Biffle, a two-time Kansas winner who is also the series' most recent winner, understands both sides of the issue.
"Yeah, I am [disappointed about the repave], but I heard it's coming up in some spots and we have to keep the race track in good condition where it's not coming apart during a race," Biffle said. "I am not a huge fan of repaves because it takes a little bit for the track to get its character back.
"But, other than that, I think the race track has a lot of character. It gets slick, it gets slow, it takes a lot of strategy."
But Biffle and Hamlin said all the information they had would be out the window after this weekend and useless for Kansas' race during the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
"No [you can't do a scouting report this weekend for the fall] -- this is just for fun," Biffle said. "This is just for the trophy."