Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been struggling and his 13th place finish in Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway didn’t help. After it was over, Earnhardt had some unkind words about the new low downforce rules put in place for the Kentucky race.
Earnhardt has had an up and down season to this point. He hasn’t won but has finished second four times. However he crashed out of the season opening Daytona 500 and crashed out at Talladega, Dover and Michigan. He’s never won at Kentucky but hoped to change his fortunes a bit. There were two unknowns heading into the race however. The track underwent a repave last season changing the banking in turns 3 and 4 in the process, and NASCAR added new lower downforce rules for this season and tweaked them for the Kentucky race. The changes consist of a reduction in spoiler height from 3.5 inches to 2.5 inches, a splitter reduction of two inches and a re-sizing of the rear deck fin to match the spoiler change. Starting with the spring race at Kansas Speedway, NASCAR made teams weld truck arm mounts and the rear toe alignment was reset to zero to reduce sideforce. The rear toe alignment was used for the June Michigan race and Saturday night at Kentucky.
Earnhardt started the race 13th after rain on Friday washed out qualifying and the field was set by owners points. He did make a brief appearance inside the top 10, but ran out of fuel with one lap to go.
“I did get a push trying to get into pit road because I was out of fuel,” Earnhardt said. “We run out with about a lap to go. That is why… we should have finished behind the No. 14, but it started running out.”
When Earnhardt was asked about the racing on the new surface and with the new package, he got right to the point.
“Not fun.,” Earnhardt said. “One groove, slick, slick, slick. Okay, so a new repave has a lot of grip. Goodyear brings a real conservative tire that is going to be extra careful on blistering. They had some blistering in the test that scared them, so they went really conservative on the tire.”
“I think personally I believe they can make that right-side tire as hard as they want, go as safe as you want there so we don’t have the blistering, but soften the left up some,” he added. “The racing will be better. We have issues with all the recent repaves with the left-side tires being a little bit too hard. It hurts the racing because you just can’t get any grip and turn and go underneath nobody. You just slide that left-front all night long through the center and on exit. You can’t drive around and underneath guys. There is nothing you can do to get that left-front tire any grip except for soften the tire up. That wouldn’t be hard to do. It’s a conservative tire. I understand why they did it because of the blistering they had in the test. We can’t come here and blister and blow right-front’s and have guys pounding the fence at 190 mph. “
“And the low downforce…I don’t know if all that stuff is a great combination,” Earnhardt said. “The driver’s want less downforce. If you take me to Texas with the tire we have there and a worn out old race track and a softer tire or a tire that gets grip into the track would probably love this type of package. But, it’s just a bad combination for the new surface and how conservative that tire is. I mean you couldn’t hustle the car at all. You are just on pins and needles all the time on restarts like … uhhh… I don’t want to lose any ground and boy if I have a big slip I’m going to lose all kinds of track position, which happened over and over to a bunch of guys myself included. That sucks to race that way. You want to drive and hustle and try to get in there and beat guys. You can’t even run side-by-side. Guys who run side-by-side were a second slower. What the hell? That is awful; we have a problem man that is no good. But the track will take some time to get better and we have all heard about what they did with the pavement and stuff to try to make it age quicker. We will see how it goes, but I think the Trucks race well and Xfinity cars ehhh they were okay. They were closer together. They had a softer tire and a little more downforce, but I don’t want to say that I think we need more downforce. I just think the tire is super conservative, super hard; we need to change the left. We need the tires to wear out before the fuel runs out. We can’t just go out there and keep putting right’s on. That is not racing.”
Earnhardt finished where he started, 13th. The race was won by Brad Keselowski.