By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
SPARTA, Ky. -- Last year, a repaved, reconfigured racing surface at Kentucky Speedway greeted drivers for the July tripleheader weekend at the 1.5-mile track.
This year, drivers will have to contend with another two-inch overlay of asphalt, which was added last October to prolong the life of a repaving job from the previous spring.
Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones and Jamie McMurray tested tires for Goodyear at Kentucky on May 9-10. With the NASCAR Camping World Truck and XFINITY Series also scheduled to race this weekend, Jones hopes the track will be broken in for Saturday's Quaker State 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
Toward that end, the speedway also has made extensive use of the tire dragon to lay rubber on the asphalt prior to this weekend.
"It's back to a full repave again, essentially," Jones said on Thursday at Kentucky. "They came and they did the tire dragon before we got on track (for the test in May), but it rained the entire first day so it washed it all off and then had to kind of run it back in, so it felt like Texas really -- just a full repave.
"Hopefully, with the trucks being out there all day (Wednesday), the truck race (Thursday night), XFINITY practice today, it'll be pretty worked in for the Cup cars here (for Friday practice). But it's still a whole new repave, a whole new deal again."
So is the right-side tire Goodyear has supplied for the Quaker State 400. It features a softer compound that should provide more grip but will wear more quickly than last year's right sides.
BLANEY AT THE VANGUARD OF NASCAR'S NEW GENERATION
The demographic in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage is clearly getting younger.
Forty-somethings Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have retired from full-time driving. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will follow suit after this season. But as current superstars step away, younger counterparts already are making a significant mark in the sport.
Kyle Larson, 24, has won twice and leads the series standings. Austin Dillon, 27, Ryan Blaney, 23, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 29, are first-time winners this season, with Stenhouse doubling up at Talladega and Daytona.
Erik Jones, 21, and Daniel Suarez, 25, are leading contenders for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in NASCAR's top division, and Chase Elliott, 21, already has 15 career top fives halfway through his second full season in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
"It's neat to be a part of that younger group," Blaney said. "That's just nice to be part of the club. There are a lot of great young race car drivers that are coming up, from Chase and Larson and Erik Jones and Suarez. They're doing a great job, and it's just nice to be in that group.
"In the past few years a lot of drivers have retired who have been big for this sport -- from Tony and Jeff -- and with Dale Jr. retiring this year, there's definitely going to be some change for sure. I would hope those fans still enjoy the sport and want to pick new drivers, but I don't really feel like there's any pressure to take the responsibility."
On the contrary, Blaney feels he will be better served to remain true to himself, rather than try to emulate those who have preceded him in the sport.
"We're never going to be a Tony or a Jeff or a Dale Jr.," Blaney said. "We can be our own people, and hopefully the fans enjoy that, but we don't really talk about it. I just feel like we go try to do our job, and hopefully the fans enjoy what we do, whether it's on the track or off the track, and become interested.
"Like I said, I think it's a pretty neat time for this sport right now. There are a lot of young drivers coming in with a lot of great drivers who have been around the sport for a long time who are still winning races and competing highly, and it's a pretty neat combination. I think that's exciting for the fans and exciting for the sport in general.
"It's just nice to be a part of it, and hopefully we can help grow it and be a part of it for a long time."
NEMECHEK OUT AS RAIN WASHES OUT TRUCK QUALIFYING
Qualifying for Thursday night's scheduled Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 was canceled because of rain, leaving the field to be set according to the rule book.
The withdrawal of Tommy Regan's No. 0 Chevrolet left 33 drivers entered for 32 spots in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event. That left the No. 87 Chevrolet of part-time participant Joe Nemechek without a starting spot.
The rainout put series leader and defending champion Johnny Sauter on the pole with Christopher Bell beside him on the front row.