KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Pat Warren brought a chunk of asphalt into the media center at Kansas Speedway last year and dropped it onto a table with a thud that seemed to reverberate throughout the room.
It was compelling evidence of the need to repave the racetrack.
The speedway president understood that the side-by-side, multigroove racing that had made Kansas a favorite among drivers would be jeopardized by replacing the decade-old asphalt with fresh stuff. But he also knew that the risk of having another softball-sized chunk of pavement coming up during a race, and maybe smashing into a car at 200 mph, wasn’t worth it.
“The general perception of drivers is not positive about repaves,” Warren said. “They worry about what the track is going to be like when they come back.”
It’s a worry that proved valid in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race.
Race winner Kevin Harvick said it was like driving on a “razor blade.” Runner-up Kurt Busch and third-place driver Jimmie Johnson called it “treacherous.” Chase contender Kyle Busch, who has crashed out of each Sprint Cup race at Kansas since last year’s repave, may have been most harsh.
“The racetrack,” he said, “is the worst racetrack I’ve ever driven on.”
Roughly a dozen tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit have undergone repaves in the last decade, most out of necessity. Pavement tends to slip down the grade over time, resulting in seams in the corners, and big chunks like the one found at Kansas create safety hazards.
One of the most infamous issues was the gaping pothole that developed during the 2010 running of the Daytona 500, causing a delay in NASCAR’s signature race.
The new surfaces solve that problem, but it also creates new ones.
There isn’t enough abrasiveness on the new asphalt to lay down rubber, and that keeps cars from sticking in the corners. The result is a single-file parade rather than the passing that makes races exciting. The repaves also have produced higher speeds, and more heat in tires, and that’s led to concerns about blistering and overall durability.
Goodyear has developed a “multizone” tread in part to deal with repaves. It has two distinct sections, one intended to provide grip and the other to provide durability. But finding that happy medium between traction and tire wear is proving to be a challenge.