KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A lot has changed around Kansas Speedway over the 11 years since it opened. Instead of farmland surrounding the track on the outskirts of Kansas City, there are now hotels, shopping centers, a soccer stadium, a minor league baseball park and a newly built casino peaking over Turn 2.
Now the track’s surface joins the list of new stuff at Kansas. And all that fresh asphalt is sure to play a big role in the outcome of Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 (that’s right, the casino is sponsoring the race).
The repaved track sure had an impact during Friday qualifying, when all 46 contestants for Sunday’s 43-car field went faster than the record of 180.856 mph, set by Matt Kenseth in 2005. Leading the way in the cool conditions was Chevy-driving Kasey Kahne (191.360), who will start on the front row with Toyota’s Mark Martin (191.238).
Even little-known Josh Wise, who didn’t qualify for the race and had the slowest lap of the day at 182.500, was much faster than Kenseth’s mark.
Hours after Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag at Kansas last April, work began on repaving the 1.5-mile track. Six months later, it’s finished.
“It’s smoother than most highways you go down,” Tony Stewart said.
Smooth, yes. With chilly, cloudy weather Friday, there was also plenty of grip. And that equaled a lot of speed.
Drivers first spent two test sessions earlier this week familiarizing themselves with the new surface. It didn’t always go smoothly: Hamlin crashed Thursday and said he felt “dizzy” afterward. He was later cleared by NASCAR for Sunday’s race. Then came Friday’s two practices and qualifying.
Only one groove on the track was established, which means passing on Sunday might be challenging. But an Automobile Racing Club of America race later Friday and Saturday’s Nationwide race might help.
“I think that it’s going to get wider as the races go through the weekend,” said Jeff Gordon, who qualified 19th. “But I still think the preferred lane is going to be around the bottom.”
It was Kahne’s fourth pole of the season and his third in 11 races at Kansas.
“It’s going to be tough this weekend, but from here on out it’s going to one of best tracks we go to,” Kahne said. “You can look at it and see the lines and grooves come into it. I like to run a lot of different lines and I feel it will get that way eventually. With age, it will be one of the funnest tracks we run on.”
It might be fun eventually. For now, Kansas is unpredictable.
“It’s a new track now,” Martin said. “We’re going to have to learn as we go.”
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