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NASCAR goes under the lights at Kansas Speedway


Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, a new roof cam, a new night race, Kurt Busch’s Double, Goodyear tires and the Family Blaney kick off a weekend of racing at Kansas Speedway.

1. Roof camera makes return on intermediate tracks  
Look just above the windshield on every Sprint Cup car this weekend at Kansas Speedway and you’ll see something new: a small, teardrop-shaped device pointing toward the nose of the car. The little device marks the official return of roof-mounted cameras on 1.5- and 2-mile tracks.

Citing concerns that the previous roof camera mount — a circular structure that rose about two inches above the roof line commonly referred to as the “Big Mac” — was giving a lead car downforce advantages in clear air racing conditions, NASCAR wiped the popular mount from many aerodynamically-sensitive tracks in February 2013. It remained on the car, however, at short tracks and superspeedways.

In response, the company who builds and supplies the on-car camera systems went to work on new designs. Broadcast Sports Incorporated presented those prototypes before the 2014 season for NASCAR review, according to Sports & Entertainment Media’s Andy Jeffers.

Jeffers, who owns Knoxville-based SEM and works as a liaison between BSI, television broadcasters and potential on-car camera sponsors, said NASCAR’s research and development center made the final call on which new example to use.

“This was an ongoing process since last season to find a sleeker, smaller and lighter camera mount,” Jeffers said. “It’s great to have it back.”

The new roof camera — about five inches front to back and about two inches wide as it slopes to a flush mount with the roof line — will beam 16x9 high-definition signals for television viewers but it won’t offer the ability for a 360-degree pan like its predecessor. And while every car will have the new teardrop-shaped cell above the windshield, only a handful will actually have cameras inside for Saturday night’s race as usual.

2. Kansas hosting night racing for the first time
The lights went up in Kansas in 2011 – about four years too late for the likes of Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson. For Greg Biffle, the timing was just fine.

Those three drivers were involved in a controversial finish at the end of the October 2007 race when Biffle ran out of fuel and slowed coming to the checkered flag under yellow. The race, ending prematurely due to darkness brought on by prior rain delays, sparked immediate controversy when both Bowyer and Johnson passed the slowing Biffle before the finish line.

NASCAR ruled in Biffle’s favor by saying later that he had maintained appropriate speed.

Such issues shouldn’t develop this weekend as NASCAR races for the first time under Kansas’ lights. Since the lighting system was installed, only ARCA and Grand-Am (on the track’s infield road course) have raced at night at the speedway.

Kansas serves as one of 10 points races on the Cup schedule in 2014 scheduled for night racing.

3. Kurt Busch begins IndyCar-NASCAR juggle  
Kurt Busch spent his Tuesday turning more test laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for his first Indianapolis 500 start in two weeks. The IndyCar test day followed his completion of the track’s Rookie Orientation Program a week prior and subsequent role reversal back into his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing machine for NASCAR’s 500-miler last Sunday at Talladega.

With the official opening of practice on the oval scheduled for Sunday at IMS, Busch is officially immersed in what will be the busiest time of his 2014 season. Kansas’ high speeds and still-new pavement will force Busch to adjust more between the two car types, he says:

“(Kansas) will be fast. Cars will definitely be on edge. This will definitely be one of the tougher challenges of this whole Indy/NASCAR back and forth. The car on edge at Kansas is very different then the car on edge at Talladega.”

Logistics won’t be a big concern this weekend, however. Even if Saturday night’s NASCAR race gets delayed or postponed, more than 37 hours of practice time are available at Indianapolis before qualifying next Saturday.

4. Goodyear hopes Kansas tire test pays dividends
Since Kansas’ repave in 2011, drivers have often been on edge. Two of the three races have set records for caution flags – the most coming last fall when Kevin Harvick took the win.

Drivers complained that the race tire simply didn’t grip the track well and left them with a feeling of racing on pins and needles. Combined with NASCAR’s changes to the downforce and suspension packages used this season, Goodyear opted to perform a test on April 14. The test revealed a change was needed. Out was last year’s right-side tire and in was the right-side tire used at Michigan International Speedway in 2013.

Aric Almirola was one of many drivers who participated in the tire test.

“I feel like the track has aged well,” Almirola says. “It's slicked up a little bit and lost a little bit of grip which allowed Goodyear to bring a little softer tire.”

5. Ryan Blaney tries to join father in first Sprint Cup race
It may be Mother’s Day weekend, but Ryan Blaney hopes he has plans with his father in Kansas.

Ryan, the son of longtime Sprint Cup veteran Dave Blaney, is entered in Saturday night’s race with Penske Racing’s No. 12 Ford. His father is also trying to make the show with Randy Humphrey’s No. 77 Ford. Should Dave make the field, it would mark just his third start of 2014.

The Blaneys would join some cool company by taking the green flag together. The last father-son combo to race in NASCAR’s top division was Bobby Hamilton and Bobby Hamilton Jr. in 2005. Other families that once featured father racing son in Cup include the likes of the Earnhardts (Dale Sr., Dale Jr. and Kerry), the Allisons (Bobby, Clifford and Davey), the Pettys (Lee, Richard, Kyle and Adam) and the Bakers (Buck and Buddy).

Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Kansas and Busch photos by Action Sports, Inc.; Roof cam by SEM