Drivers test out NASCAR’s toughest turn at Kentucky

With a narrow entry and nothing to be gained by racing three-wide, it’s called the toughest turn in NASCAR. Now Turn 3 at Kentucky Speedway presents another dilemma — but not for drivers this time.

What nickname is worthy of such a turn, about which Kyle Busch quipped: “You try to get through each and every lap with a puckered butt?”

Kentucky Speedway general manager Mark Simendinger said Wednesday he’s looking for nickname suggestions. He’s offering up four tickets to the July 8 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race to the fan who provides a Kentucky Speedway-approved nickname for Turn 3. Fans can post suggestions on Facebook and Twitter.

On the track, Kentucky Speedway hosted a Goodyear tire test Tuesday and Wednesday to get a feel for the 1.5-mile tri-oval’s new surface. The track was repaved prior to last season’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event.

Rain canceled most of Tuesday’s session. Teams from Richard Childress Racing (Austin Dillon), Stewart-Haas Racing (Kurt Busch) and Furniture Row Racing (Erik Jones) were among those that practiced Wednesday. Drivers put in extra track time Wednesday to make up for Tuesday’s rain and were not available to the media.

“They’re trying to see how the turns are reacting and if Turn 3 is still as treacherous as it was. I think they’re finding that out,” said Steve Swift, Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s vice president of operations and development. “They were really tip-toeing around at the beginning of the day not real sure how to take that turn.”

That brought a smile to Simendinger’s face. He wants Turn 3 to be Kentucky Speedway’s trademark now that it’s lost the distinction of being the bumpiest and roughest track in NASCAR after the repave.

“You don’t want to go three-wide and that’s what was happening,” Simendinger said of last year’s race won by Brad Keselowski. “I don’t know if that’s going to work. The way the track is, going three lanes wide, it gets pretty slick.”

Additional issues Simendinger addressed on Wednesday included:

Hosting a race with first-year Cup sponsor Monster Energy and what to expect with fan engagement: “I’m quite certain we’ll have our fill of Monster Energy girls. They seem to be in great supply at the races.”

Throwing an 80th-birthday bash for Richard Petty that’s available to the public. The King turns 80 on July 2: “He said I’ll come and I’ll do it, but you’ve got to make it available for all the fans and you have to keep the price down. … I think it’s going to be one of those things years from now people will still be talking about that they were there and took part.”

The removal of 20,000 grandstand seats (10,000 on each side) closest to the entry in Turn 1 and the exit in Turn 4; the grandstand seating capacity was 106,000: “Honestly, we just had too many seats. If you look at it configuration-wise, it was something that was always in our back pocket that when we designed the towers those areas down low would be the first ones to go.”

The impact on ticket sales following Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement announcement: “We have seen more interest from fans. I think that will carry on through the race. The time my eyes were really opened up was the year Junior won the pole (in 2013). That was the only time we got rained out from a night race and had to come back Sunday during the day. I was unsure how many people were going to show up. We had a really good turnout for a Sunday make-up. You couldn’t believe the percentage of people with a No. 88 shirt or a Dale Earnhardt Jr. shirt. I think it was as simple as if Junior is going to win a race I’m going to be there.”

Who will replace Earnhardt Jr., named the most popular drive for 14 consecutive years, as NASCAR’s fan favorite: “From a talent standpoint I have no concerns. Kyle Larson is driving up front and so is Chase Elliott. Junior is not. That (change is) going to be the easy part. Who is going to be the personality that steps up? It’s not a whole lot different than the Cincinnati Reds. It’s not a matter of talent, but who is going to be that person to connect with the fans?”

About the Author