By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
SPARTA, Ky. -- Kentucky Speedway had the "Tire Dragon" working overtime on Saturday.
The unique vehicle, whose purpose is to put an extra layer of rubber on the asphalt racing surface, worked the middle groove before Saturday's rain-delayed Alsco 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race.
With four tires mounted on a rack behind a tractor, the Tire Dragon drags the tires around the racing surface, laying down rubber in much the same way as a Zamboni covers a hockey rink with a sheet of ice.
And before race winner Kyle Busch made it to the media center after taking his 88th checkered flag in Xfinity competition, the Tire Dragon was at it again, widening the racing lanes in Turns 1 and 2 for Saturday's Quaker State 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
After repaving and reconfiguring the 1.5-mile track in the spring, Kentucky added a two-inch layer of asphalt in October to prolong the life of the racing surface. The track used the Tire Dragon before a Goodyear tire test in May and prepped the track with an additional layer of rubber before the current tripleheader weekend.
Busch said the work with the Tire made a difference in the quality of competition for Saturday's Alsco 300.
"Yeah, until they oiled down the backstretch and that lane getting into Turn 3 (when the engine in Joey Gase's Chevrolet blew and dropped fluid on the asphalt), I thought the track was really racy," Busch said. "Hopefully, they can burn that in a little bit more down the backstretch, and that quick dry that they put down in order to take up some of that oil, they can burn that off and get it back to black instead of white.
"The other thing I saw was the race track was really good in (Turns) 1 and 2. It got really wide -- and definitely nothing out there (in the high lane) to race in -- but at least it's safe if you do slip and get out there and you can still catch your car. There's room for lapped cars to go out there and not feel that they're going to crash."
BYRON SCORES FOURTH STRAIGHT TOP 10
JR Motorsports driver William Byron came to Kentucky Speedway with a chance to make history.
Fresh from back-to-back wins at Iowa and Daytona, Byron could have become the first NASCAR Xfinity Series driver to notch his first three victories in the series in succession, had he won Saturday's Alsco 300.
But the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender was mixing it up with the sport's heavy hitters, and he rolled home seventh behind race winner Kyle Busch and five other full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers.
"It was a pretty good run for us," said Byron, who collected his fourth straight top 10 in the series. "I think we lacked a little bit, but we made some really good adjustments, and I was able to get up there on a few restarts and have a chance at a top three or four.
"Ultimately, we finished seventh, but I think it was a pretty good overall day. Just lacked a little bit of speed, but we'll go to New Hampshire (next Saturday), which is a really good track for us and hopefully get a win there."
LARSON'S VERSATILITY IMPRESSES STENHOUSE JR.
And both Larson and Stenhouse have two victories so far this season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Larson at the two two-mile tracks (Fontana and Michigan) and Stenhouse at the two restrictor-plate superspeedways (Talladega and Daytona).
Unlike Stenhouse, however, Larson hasn't curtailed his moonlighting in the open-wheel ranks. On Tuesday, between Monster Energy races at Daytona and Kentucky, Larson won his sixth straight sprint car race, taking the checkered flag at an event in Pennsylvania.
Stenhouse believes Larson's versatility keeps him sharp.
"I think showing up and doing what Kyle has been doing in sprint cars is pretty tough to do," Stenhouse said. "I had the opportunity back when I was racing sprint cars all the time to run Ohio Sprint Week like Kyle did this year and won three out of five races in 2006. That was a big task and a huge goal that I accomplished.
"For him to do it when he is not running full time sprint cars is impressive. Going to get around different cars and trying to adapt to different race tracks and changing conditions just keeps you sharp. It definitely brings some confidence to what you are doing over here. I don't have everything in line to do that like Kyle does right now. He has a good system lined up that he has been working with the last few years, and it's been paying off for him. I definitely think it brings confidence to both sides."