KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties aren’t the only things that go bump in the night. Kentucky Speedway in Sparta also is home to things that go bump in the night, namely, 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers thundering over the bumps that cover the surface of the 1.5-mile oval.

Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

All tracks have character – subtle undulations and grooves that set it apart from its counterparts. But Kentucky’s surface is the X-Games of paved tracks – edgy and in-your-face. There is no avoiding the bumps. Navigate them wrong, and they’ll make you a part of a spark-filled highlight reel.

Saturday night’s 400-mile Sprint Cup race at Kentucky marks only the third time NASCAR’s elite series has competed at the track, for it joined the Sprint Cup schedule in 2011. As such, it is just one of only two tracks where Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing, is winless in Sprint Cup competition. The other is Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, the oldest track on the Sprint Cup schedule.

Stewart would like nothing more than to cross Kentucky off his to-do list, as he did in 2012 when he won at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway to secure his first win at a track that for 13 previous years had eluded him. Ironically, Stewart’s considers Kentucky to be a bumpier version of Las Vegas.

That outlook, combined with the confidence that has seen Stewart score four top-10 finishes in the last five races – including a win June 2 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway – makes the three-time Sprint Cup champion more than capable of bumping his way into Kentucky’s victory lane on Saturday night.

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:

You’re from Columbus, Ind. Does racing at Kentucky feel like a homecoming of sorts?

“I’m a Southern Indiana guy, so the track is not very far from where I grew up and where I currently live. It’s kind of a home track to us, and that’s kind of the feeling we have going into it. You always want to run well at your home tracks.

Even though Indy has always been my home track in the past, now having Kentucky Speedway there, it’s as much home to me as Indy. We’re definitely looking forward to it. Plus, it’s an area that has deep racing roots. There are a lot of dirt-track racing roots around Kentucky.”

You have just two races under your belt at Kentucky. What makes it a challenging venue? “I guess the biggest thing about it is for those of us who haven’t run Nationwide or Truck races there, we still only have two races at that track. So, we’re still figuring out. It’s got a lot of bumps, so that makes it very challenging.

Trying to figure out exactly where to be, where to try to get around some of the bumps, how to get through them better, how to get the car to go through them better – those are challenges that kind of make it fun, because it’s not just flat and easy to get around.”

Is it like any other track you go to on the Sprint Cup circuit? “It’s a lot like Vegas for the most part, except for the banking and the bumps.”

How do you deal with the bumps at Kentucky? “It’s really, really bumpy, so it’s a struggle to get the car to go through the bumps really well. It’s bumpier than anywhere that we go as far as mile-and-a-halves are concerned. But that’s what’s fun about it too is that it’s got character and makes us have to work on making it go through the bumps better.”

How much bumpier is Kentucky compared to other tracks? “It’s definitely a challenge. It’s an added element that you have every week, but it’s more exaggerated at Kentucky than anywhere else we’ve been.”

Where are the bumps? “I don’t know. I haven’t found a spot where there weren’t any bumps. You aren’t going to go around the bumps. They’re everywhere.”

Stewart-Haas Racing