NASACAR Monster Energy Cup Series driver Kyle Larson called it “the worst idea ever for this track.” Kasey Kahne admitted he’s scared of it. Jamie McMurray was brutally honest: “It hasn’t worked at this track very well.” And points leader Martin Truex Jr. said he didn’t think anyone expected it to be as “challenging” as it has been.
The biggest concern going into Sunday afternoon’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is weather. The forecast is dire not only for race day, but for Monday as well.
Since the speedway has lights, though, officials will endure any Sunday afternoon delays as deep into the night as they can. The prospect of racing on Monday with another race scheduled in Alabama next weekend isn’t very appealing.
But equally concerning to the 40 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams is the condition of the 1.5-mile track. NASCAR and the speedway have treated the asphalt surface — “mistreat” it, some feel — with a tacky, petroleum-based sealant called PJ1. NASCAR has used it to increase grip at several tracks this year — most recently two weeks ago at Loudon, N.H. — but this is the first time it’s been used on a superspeedway during the Playoffs.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott were involved in practice incidents on Friday. At least in some part, each blamed their contact or spin on the uneven application of the PJ1, which has made the asphalt slicker than usual. “I don’t think it’s good for a fast 1.5-mile track,” said Larson. “It’s slick and I don’t think any of us are ever going to run up there (the high groove).” Said Kahne: “I have seen other people get in it, and it doesn’t look good.”
Pole-winner Denny Hamlin urged patience before passing judgment about the substance. “That (coating) is not sticky until it gets hot,” he said after his first pole of the season. “In the spring (Coca-Cola 600) it took many, many laps for it to get primed to where it was good. I don’t think we should draw too many conclusions off practice. It’s going to be slick when the first few cars hit it, but once they get in the Xfinity race (Saturday afternoon) and we see guys in the middle and top, it’s going to burn it in enough to be very effective on Sunday.”
Truex, generally among the garage’s voices of reason, agreed. “It’ll get better as we move through the weekend,” he said. “Last time we were here, there was none of it on the track on Friday. We got on the track with it being normal and made our qualifying runs, and then they put it down. We just need some cars to run on that stuff and wear it in and get the track kind of prepped.”
Then Truex added this suggestion: “Maybe for the future we definitely need to look at a different way to prep the track so we aren’t running into the wall when we go out there.”