By Eric Young
SPARTA, Ky. — The past couple years, Speedway Motorsports Inc. could have named Kentucky Speedway Martin Truex Jr. Speedway.
Truex has led 326 of 541 laps of the 2017 and 2018 editions of the Quaker State 400 en route to the victory in both races. He had the fourth-best average finish of 10.1 of active drivers at the track, having competed in all eight races at the speedway.
And while Truex is certainly a favorite Saturday night at Kentucky, this isn’t the same Kentucky Speedway that we’ve seen in recent years. Combined with a new aero package this season and reduced horsepower, NASCAR has also applied traction compound to the outer grooves in the turns in an attempt to widen out the racing area.
Truex qualified eighth for Saturday’s race. He said the changes have definitely made the team have to change directions a bit.
“Definitely a lot on our mind coming here just because of this year and what it’s been all about,” Truex said. “It’s so different. I think back to the last couple of years and we’ve really been able to kind of come in here with the same strategy, mindset, setup and look for the same things throughout the weekend. Now, with the new cars this year and PJ1 on the track, all those things, different tires, it’s quite a bit different. We didn’t have a great day of practice. Hopefully we’ll make some good changes for the race. It’s tough these days when you come with a new package you don’t get a lot of practice, so we were off quite a bit to start and playing a little bit of catchup now.”
But Truex said he always welcomes new challenges.
“I think that’s one of the most unique parts about our sport and what we do as drivers and teams,” he said. “This stuff is always changing. You could win four or five races in a row or whatever, and you go to a different race track and you’ve got a new challenge. They change the tires all the time. The rules of the cars are changing all the time. I would say that all the top drivers are consistently working on how they drive the cars and how do they do better? How can you be better because everybody is doing that? It’s a huge challenge to try to stay near the top of this sport and that’s part of what makes it fun.”
He said Friday that the verdict was still out on what the traction compound would do for tonight’s race. NASCAR threw another loop to teams early Saturday by reapplying the compound to the turns.
“Based on watching the truck race, it looked like in three and four there were some options,” Truex said. “One and two, I think it’s just you’ve got so much banking and so much more speed that running higher is just the longer way around and we’re already using so much throttle through the corners that you just lose time. It kind of felt that way again today for us.”
“It’ll be interesting to see how much it changes at nighttime,” Truex said. “Is it going to grip up a lot or what’s going to happen there Is the bottom going to be better than it was today? Still a lot of questions. I would say in general, I didn’t think the PJ1 felt as sticky as I expected it to be. I expected it would be really no chance at all in running the bottom and everybody would be in the sticky stuff. But it seemed like there was a mixed bag, so that’s always a good thing I think.”