SPARTA — After the 2014 Quaker State 400 last June, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took to Twitter to complain about the famously bumpy Kentucky Speedway racing surface.
After Sprint Cup rival David Ragan tweeted back in agreement, Earnhardt Jr. replied, "I've never experienced anything like that in my life. Did you close your eyes on the frontstretch for fear they may pop out?"
On Wednesday, Earnhardt Jr. returned to Sparta to participate in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series open test. In a midday interview session with local media, the first question the Hendrick Motorsports driver was asked was whether efforts to alleviate the bumps in the front straightaway at Kentucky Speedway since last year's Cup race earned the Junior seal of approval.
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"I feel like they've made several efforts to grind it. I'm sure they've improved it somewhat," Earnhardt Jr. said. "But it's still pretty severe down the front straightaway. The (Kentucky Speedway) corners are rough, but that kind of adds character. There's no real severe, bad bumps in the corners. It's just in that front straightaway, there are a couple (severe bumps)."
Earnhardt Jr. followed up his visit Wednesday with another turn on Twitter, posting photos of a bumpy road and a bottle of headache relief medicine.
Earnhardt Jr. was among at least eight Sprint Cup regulars whose teams turned test laps at Kentucky Speedway on Wednesday. Included were two-time and defending Quaker State 400 champion Brad Keselowski (actually driving the No. 22 car of Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano), Matt Kenseth, winner of the 2013 Sprint Cup race here, and fan favorite Danica Patrick.
Going into this weekend's visit to Bristol Motor Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. sits seventh in the Sprint Cup points standings. In the first season with new crew chief Greg Ives atop the No. 88 pit box, Earnhardt Jr. has finished sixth or better in five of seven races.
However, a crash at Phoenix led to a 43rd-place finish. A broken gear shifter at Martinsville led to a wreck that resulted in Earnhardt Jr. finishing 36th, 47 laps off the pace.
"There's a couple of races I'd like to have back," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I felt like we had a fast car at Martinsville, we just never really got the opportunity to show what we could accomplish there. I felt like we could have been in the top five. So we've had a couple of results we weren't real proud of. I do think our cars have been faster, I feel like our cars have more speed than they did last year."
After being run in late June the past three years, this year's Quaker State 400 will be July 11.
For a driver, Earnhardt Jr. said racing at Kentucky Speedway feels like "driving over the railroad tracks repeatedly. It gives you headaches and vision problems."
He may not enjoy the bump-fest that is racing at Kentucky, but Earnhardt Jr. has logged two top-fives at the track. He finished fourth in 2012 and was fifth last year.
Until proven otherwise, Earnhardt Jr. said Keselowski — who led 199 laps in a dominating performance last year — is the driver to beat at Kentucky.
"We definitely all got spanked last year by Keselowski," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I thought we had a top-10 car, but we definitely need to be a little quicker."