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NASCAR's Brian France: coming to Kansas City, and riding the wave...but meanwhile out in Phoenix, drivers sweating new asphalt...

  NASCAR's Brian France (L), and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   KANSAS CITY, Kansas
   It's been a while since NASCAR's Brian France met the NASCAR media to dish out his view of the state of the sport. But now, with the championship playoffs well under way, and with an amazing nine drivers within just 19 points of each other – that's only 19 finishing positions – with the Sprint Cup tour only seven weeks from the Homestead finale, it looks like a great point in the season for him to offer a few observations and take a few questions.

   France will be here for Sunday's Kansas 400, at the family's International Speedway Corp.'s Midwestern showcase, for Round Four of the title chase.
   He is to name the four finalists for the inaugural Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, named for his mother, and the wife of the late Bill France Jr.
   But the hot topic at the moment is that new asphalt at Phoenix International Raceway.
    Wild card?
    You betcha!
    There's a lot of new asphalt on the NASCAR trail, and more coming.
    And that new spread at Phoenix, coupled with that track's redesign, may be more than a little worrisome for Sprint Cup title contenders, particularly since they'll be running on it in the next to last race of this year's championship playoffs.

   Yep, that's Kevin Costner with Betty Jane France (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Carl Edwards is one of 36 testing two days this week at Phoenix – in a whirlwind NASCAR schedule from Dover, Del., to North Carolina, to Phoenix, and now on to Kansas City, without a break.
   "Whenever you introduce something new like this new surface and new track layout, there are going to be guys that figure it out quickly, and there are going to be guys that struggle," Edwards says. "And it's not necessarily the guys you expect."
   That's ominous enough.
    But then Edwards, who may well have the best chance of anyone this year at dethroning Jimmie Johnson, may want to throw up some misdirection if he can. And Edwards did have a car to beat at Phoenix in the spring…until that little run-in with Kyle Busch. (Wonder if they have really patched things up?)
   "This race -- I think -- we're all going to come into with a little nervousness…a little trepidation," Edwards says.
   It's not clear if Edwards is trying to be indirectly critical of the new track design, which does do strange things on the backstretch, and off turn two, or if he's just talking about typical new track worries.
   "The way the surface is it's unforgiving," Edwards said. "So there could be some accidents, and things happen that we don't usually see at Phoenix.
   "It's going to be pretty amazing to be the penultimate race and have all those opportunities for something crazy to happen. It could shake everything up."
   Or it could go like Kentucky Speedway, a 'new' track for Cup teams in July….in which the pre-race build-up was too much hype, and the race itself too boring.
   Of course NASCAR drivers may just be getting word about Pocono's planned repave before next spring's 400 – and that could be downright frightening, going into new turn one asphalt at the end of the sport's longest straight…..
   And Bruton Smith  has talked about repaving Kentucky Speedway before next June's tour stop.

    Kansas Speedway: two Sprint Cup races this year, and site of Round Four of the championship chase (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   This Kansas track too will be 'new' next spring, and drivers don't generally like new asphalt because it is typically one-groove and very fast.
  "This surface has matured over the years, and it's a track where you can move all over the place -- You can go from the bottom all the way to the top," Kyle Busch says. 
    "Typically when we repave these places, you/re always stuck to the bottom….the fastest way around, the shortest way around.
    "Sometimes there's not a lot of grip," Busch says of the current asphalt here. "It's got good age to it, it's got some character."
   And that will now change.
   But at the moment drivers and teams are sorting through the Phoenix test results…and Edwards seems worried that trouble awaits.
    "Before, although it was very difficult, it was very forgiving," Edwards says. "This new surface is so perfect…different characteristics of grip. So when you lose traction, you lose a lot.
    "When you combine that with side-by-side racing, the way the back straightaway is now configured, that's going to be kind of a choke point, where two guys could really get into trouble."
   Goodyear did a Phoenix tire test earlier this year, but there are still questions. Goodyear has had good compounds for repaves, but drivers can be finicky.
   The tires? And how much might the track change between now and the mid-November race?
   "That's one of the things we're all concerned about," Edwards says.
   "As the track is taking rubber, it starts to feel a lot better. It's starting to be a little more forgiving."
   Still, he points out "it's only that one groove."
   And drivers need two grooves for passing.
   "I just talked with (NASCAR's) Robin Pemberton, and they're going to have some softer Goodyear tires and some cars come out and run tons of laps in the second groove, try to rubber in a second groove before anyone runs on the track for the race," Edwards says.
    "That's going to be good."


    NASCAR's Brian France may have things perking pretty good right now...but things would be a whole lot better if Dale Earnhardt Jr. were putting up some good numbers. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  

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