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Kentucky Speedway gearing up for 2016 season with new racing surface, challenges for drivers

A new racing surface and a full slate of sponsors for the season’s races were the highlights of the Kentucky Speedway 2016 Media Luncheon Tuesday.

Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said the run-up to the Feb. 21, Daytona 500, always gets the juices flowing for race fans.

“It’s a great time for us to talk, not only about what’s going to happen in the industry…but especially this year, to talk about Kentucky Speedway,” Simendinger said. “We’re coming off of one of the best years we ever had last year, the racing was phenomena.”

Kyle Bush rebounded from a major injury at Daytona early in the 2015 season to capture the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 race at the Speedway in July.

Kyle Bush rebounded from a major injury at Daytona early in the 2015 season to capture the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 race at the Speedway in July (Photo Provided)

Kyle Bush rebounded from a major injury at Daytona early in the 2015 season to capture the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 race at the Speedway in July (Photo Provided)

Bush went on to win his first Sprint Cup Championship later in the year.

In doing so, he became the second driver in the five years Kentucky Speedway has had a Sprint Cup race, to capture both the Kentucky Speedway race and the Sprint Cup Championship. Brad Keselowski accomplished the feat in 2012.

The Speedway’s signature race, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400, presented by Advance Auto Parts, takes place Sunday, July 9, culminating a NASCAR tripleheader weekend.

John Cox, vice president of sales and marketing provided an update on all of the races and sponsorships.

“We are very fortunate, we’ve got the Quaker State 400, presented by Advance Auto Parts, two great, phenomenal sponsors,” Cox said. “They have choice, as all of our partners do, to really spend and invest in sports marketing wherever they want to, and they choose Kentucky.”

The July 8, XFINITY Series Alsco 300 race will be sponsored by the Utah-based linen, uniform and healthcare rental company. The July 7, Camping World Truck Buckle Up Your Truck 225, which is also part of Kentucky Speedway’s NASCAR tripleheader weekend is sponsored by Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

Kentucky Highway Safety Executive Director Bill Bell said the race provides an opportunity to promote safety among truck drivers.

“With our seat belt use percentage going up…the fatalities and crashes come down, but now we have to be targeted,” Bell said. “Of the people that are not wearing seat belts, most of them are driving trucks, so we had a perfect opportunity here to have a truck race sponsorship.”

The Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce will once again sponsor the Sept. 24, Visit Myrtle Beach.com 300 XFINITY race. The Louisville-based jukebox company Crosley Brands also renews as sponsor of the ARCA Racing Series Crosley 150.

The decision to replace the racing surface was not easy, but Simendinger said at some point a track wears out and driver safety is always the first priority.

Kentucky Speedway developed a reputation as a challenging track because the worn surface that is being replaced rewarded drivers who could negotiate it and punished those who could not.

“What we found is that the more variables that are thrown at the drivers, the more interesting the race,” Simendinger said. “NASCAR.com voted the Sprint Cup race the best mile-and-a-half race all year long and I don’t think many people in the industry would argue with that.”

While the new surface will not have the character of its predecessor, the Kentucky Speedway design team has included some new variables.

Increased banking in Turns 1 and 2, about $1 million in drainage improvements and an additional SAFER barrier and repaving of the entire 1.5-mile tri-oval, will all be completed before the tripleheader weekend in July.

“Five-hundred feet past the start-finish line we start a transition and (increase to a) 17-degrees bank instead of a 14-degrees bank and maintain that through the turn,” Simendinger said. What’s going to happen is, you’re going to maintain a lot more speed coming out of Turn 1 and 2 because the grips better on the asphalt and the banking is steeper.”

The increased speed going into Turns 3 and 4, which is already one of the more challenging to negotiate in NASCAR, will require more skill of drivers wanting to maintain speed and get through the turn safely.

Kentucky Speedway will be the only 1.5 mile oval that is not symmetrical in its turns.

“We like being different, that’s a good thing for us,” Simendinger said. “We embraced it when we were the roughest track in NASCAR, we embrace it now. That’s really why we are doing it.”

The event at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse also included an appearance by a Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer.

Cincinnati Red’s announcer Marty Brennaman, whose daughter, Ashley Shirley, is the Kentucky Speedway communications manager, said the sport has grown on him.

“I’m certainly not at the point now where I’m conversant enough to talk intelligently about it, but I watch as many races as I can,” Brennaman said. “I really enjoy it.”

Season tickets and camping, July weekend packages or individual race tickets are all on sale now.

For more information, click here, call (859) 578-2300, or stop by the Kentucky Speedway ticket office at 1 Speedway Drive in Sparta.

Ticket office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

From Kentucky Speedway Communications

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