KANSAS CITY, Kan. – No sooner had Denny Hamlin pulled off the track and into Victory Lane at Kansas Speedway on Sunday did a tank and an earth mover from the National Guard rumble back onto the asphalt.
It was the ceremonial start to a repaving and reconfiguring of the 1 1/2-mile oval, where large chunks of pavement had come loose over the weekend. One piece, about 5 inches long and a couple inches deep, wound up in the infield media center after a routine inspection Friday night.
Brad Keselowski waved a green flag from the M1A1 Abrams tank to start the project, which will be completed in time for tire testing in September and the Chase race in October.
"Well, I've been tearing it up for a long time, but now I get to officially do it, with approval, in a tank," Keselowski said, smiling.
The repaving process has been met with mixed reviews by drivers concerned that the process will take some of the character out of the track. After all, the 11-year-old surface provided an exciting finish Sunday, with Hamlin holding off Martin Truex Jr. down the stretch.
"I'm not a fan of tearing up any race track," said Kevin Harvick, who ran out of gas early Sunday but rebounded to finish sixth. "I don't think they've done a good job with any of the asphalt they have put down at any of the race tracks since they have repaved."
Harvick's main issue with the new surfaces is that they don't wear out the tires.
"With the new-style racetracks, there are no rocks in it," Harvick said, the result of which is often less exciting racing. "Any race track tear-up is bad news, in my opinion."
The new asphalt surface is only one aspect of construction.
Kansas Speedway will also add variable banking — 17 degrees on the low side up to 20 degrees along the wall — to replace the original, uniform 15-degree banking. There will also be a road course built through the infield, which is expected to host a Grand-Am race next year.
THAT WAS THE PITS: The entrance to pit road can sneak up on drivers at Kansas Speedway, and several had a hard time trying to slow down to the 45-mph speed limit Sunday.
Matt Kenseth slid right across the line that marks the beginning of pit road on a couple of occasions, while Clint Bowyer spun out to cause the first of two cautions when he tried to make an unscheduled stop because of engine trouble.
Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to stay on the track an extra lap because they carried too much speed into Turn 4, preventing from taking the hard left into the pits. The flub cost Keselowski valuable time, while Earnhardt lost three positions on the track.
"Every track's a little different, so this one — it's always been like that," Kenseth said. "You kind of know what to expect. Every track's a little different. It's kind of fun under green. It's hard to get slowed up for, which makes it fun."
BAD BREAK FOR BOWYER: Clint Bowyer's string of disappointments on his home track continued Sunday when engine problems forced his No. 15 Toyota out of the race on the 140th lap.
"I don't know what broke," said Bowyer, who has never won in any competition at Kansas. "I just wish it hadn't happened here. Anywhere but here."
Bowyer, who grew up 90 miles away in Emporia, raced on the dirt at nearby Lakeside Speedway. To get there, he would drive past Kansas Speedway while it was under construction.
"We were running up front," Bowyer said. "I think we were a couple adjustments away from at least being part of the game here today. Unfortunately, it just wasn't our day. We'll regroup and go back after it in Richmond."
HAPPY TO BE DISAPPOINTED: Greg Biffle, one of three two-time Sprint Cup race winners at Kansas, was satisfied with a fifth-place run that kept him atop the standings.
"It feels good to be disappointed with a fifth-place finish," Biffle said. "It feels good to be in that position. We just wanted to run better. Fifth is OK, but we wanted to compete better."
Biffle ran strongly for much of the day, but his car developed grip issues late.
"It fired off there and I thought, 'This is going to be a lot of fun,' and then when the track started getting slick she started going away a little bit," said Biffle, who won at Kansas in 2007 and 2010. "We just kept after it and didn't give up."
Martin Truex Jr., who finished second Sunday, moved from fourth to second in points. He trails Biffle by 15, with Matt Kenseth 17 points off the pace.
PIT STOPS: Denny Hamlin's victory Sunday was the 199th for the No. 11 car, breaking a tie with the No. 43 for most wins. Hamlin started driving the No. 11 in 2005. Other drivers behind the wheel include Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip. ... It was the first win for Toyota at Kansas Speedway. ... There were three cautions for 18 laps after just two for 10 laps last weekend at Texas. ... It was a celebration of Earth Day at Kansas Speedway. Jimmie Johnson's car was painted "Mountain Green," in part to celebrate 1960s American muscle cars and in part to raise environmental awareness, while a Toyota Camry hybrid served as the pace car.