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With seven races to decide the Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR opened Kansas Speedway early for a half-day of tire testing on Thursday.

Although the test was delayed by rain, an assist by Air Titan — NASCAR’s new drying system that was first introduced during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway in February — enabled 38 teams to take to the 1.5-mile track by early afternoon.

Jimmie Johnson, who won Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway and vaulted over Kyle Busch to second place in the points standings, posted the top speed of 182.648 mph late in the session. Matt Kenseth set the track qualifying record on April 19 with a lap of 191.864 mph.

Teams were limited to four sets of the new combination of tires, with Goodyear multi-zone tread tire — which features two distinct tread compounds — on the right sides. Those tires were introduced last month at Atlanta.

According to Goodyear, the new right-side tires still retain the original tread or “traction zone” on the outside 9 inches of the tire with a more heat resistant compound for the inside three inches, or what is referred to the “endurance zone.”

Jeff Gordon, who won the first two Cup races at Kansas Speedway after the track debuted in 2001, offered Goodyear props for attempting to try a new combination “to lean on on these smooth racetracks.”

“To put some softer compound in there to give the car a little more forgiveness and grip, I love it,” said Gordon, who posted the 11th-fastest lap Thursday, 180.782 mph. “It worked really well in Atlanta. I really liked it there.”

Considering the multi-zone tread fared well at an aged track such as Atlanta last month compared to Kansas, which was repaved before this race last year, NASCAR Sprint Cup director John Darby didn’t anticipate issues with the new tire combination.

“We didn’t see anything, which is good news,” Darby said. “One of the exciting parts of having it here at Kansas is because this is a recently repaved track that’s very smooth.

“We ran the zone tread at Atlanta without any technical issues or failures and had a good race. But that’s on a very aggressive, coarse track surface. We had that example. This is the other end of the spectrum for the tire. It’s fresh pavement that’s smooth.”

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