Although rookie Noah Gragson has one prior start at Kentucky Speedway in a 2015 ARCA Racing Series event, the experience he gained at that race will not benefit him very much when he returns to Kentucky this week since the track has changed drastically after it was repaved last year.
A comprehensive renovation of Kentucky Speedway was completed last June. The endeavor included increased banking in turns one and two, improvements to its drainage system, additional SAFER barriers and a complete repave of the racing surface. An additional layer of asphalt was applied last fall and allowed to cure over the winter months. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers will be the first to experience the new pavement in competition Thursday night in the Buckle Up in Your Truck 225.
Kentucky is no longer the bumpy surface Gragson remembers from the ARCA race in 2015, but that will not shake his confidence. Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) is the defending winner of last year's race with William Byron, so Gragson has a solid baseline set-up for his No. 18 Switch Tundra to begin the three practices scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. KBM teams have three wins at Kentucky with Byron last year and owner-driver Kyle Busch in 2011 and 2014. They have led 582 laps and collected 10 top-five finishes in 18 starts.
Gragson has been on a roll this summer posting two poles (Texas and Iowa) and five consecutive top-10 finishes. In the first four races of the season, the 18-year-old had an average finish of 18.0. His average finish for the last five races is 8.0, a significant improvement in a short amount of time. With tracks like Kentucky, Pocono and Michigan on the horizon, he hopes to turn those top-10 finishes into consecutive top-five finishes and wins.