Kentucky Speedway

Kentucky Speedway to repave famously bumpy racetrack

Herald-Leader Staff Report

Austin Dillon captures the NASCAR Nationwide Kentucky 300 auto race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012.
Austin Dillon captures the NASCAR Nationwide Kentucky 300 auto race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012. AP

Kentucky Speedway, home of one of the roughest surfaces on the NASCAR circuit, has relented.

The racetrack announced plans Tuesday for a complete repaving of its 1.5 mile tri-oval. Work has begun and will be completed in time for this year’s NASCAR tripleheader weekend in July.

The track became notorious among NASCAR drivers and was the subject of annual complaints.

Before the inaugural Quaker State 400 in 2011, Jeff Gordon called for a repave in Sparta.

Brad Keselowski, a two-time winner of the track’s Sprint Cup race, said in 2013 that the Sparta surface is “like running over a freeway that truck drivers have been on and (the road crews) have tried to patch in some spots where (the trucks) made some divots. It’s a rough trip.”

Stephen Swift, the Kentucky Speedway vice president of operation and development, explained that ground water beneath the racetrack coupled with the frequent “freeze-thaw” cycles produced by the commonwealth’s ever-changing weather is the cause of the bumpy asphalt in Sparta.

The track embraced the bumps for a time, even building them into its marketing for the Quaker State 400, a TV campaign that included driver Joey Logano “training” for the race using a jackhammer and riding a mechanical bull.

The repaving is part of several improvements taking place in Sparta.

The banking in Turns 1 and 2 will be increased. Drainage improvements are in the works, along with additional SAFER barrier.

“Modifying Turns 1 and 2 will present an exciting challenge to the drivers while addressing issues of the track surface, SAFER barrier and drainage will improve safety, which is always our paramount concern,” said Mark Simendinger, Kentucky Speedway general manager.

After the 2014 Quaker State 400, Dale Earnhardt Jr. complained that the surface had become too rough in spots for driver comfort.

“We did a couple of patches after the Cup race (that) year,” Simendinger told the Herald-Leader’s Mark Story last winter. “Primarily, that was in response to Dale, but there were others (who spoke up), too. I think things just got a little bit out of hand in those two areas. I’ve always said, I don’t mind a bumpy track but we want to make it a safe one.

The track last underwent a full repaving in 2000.

Swift will coordinate the project.

“We have assembled an excellent team, all of whom are familiar with the demands of speedway construction. I am excited about the finished product as we wanted to present a unique challenge to the drivers. This design, with Turns 1 and 2 completely different than 3 and 4 accomplishes that goal. The big winner will be the race fan,” Swift said.

The 2016 season at Kentucky Speedway begins in July with the return of a NASCAR tripleheader weekend anchored by the July 9 Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400.

2016 Kentucky Speedway schedule

July 7 — NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 225

July 8 — NASCAR Xfinity Series 300

July 9 — NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400

Sept. 23 — ARCA Series Crosley Brands 150

Sept. 24 — NASCAR Xfinity Series 300