There has been talk regarding Atlanta Motor Speedway’s racing surface on whether to repave or not to repave. What do you think?
Matt McLaughlin: I sure hope it won’t be repaved. The worn surface makes tire management crucial and introduces the chances to use contrary strategy to have a tortoise beat a hare. It’s a lot like the Darlington Raceway of old. If the track is repaved, speeds are going to be insane, and we’ll have to endure single-groove racing for four or five years while the new surface wears in. Think of it as the difference between a brand new dark indigo blue pair of Wranglers vs. your favorite faded and well-worn pair of jeans fresh out of the drier.
Vito Pugliese: My issue isn’t so much with the surface, as it is the date. Atlanta’s spring date was always pretty early in the year and often affected by weather. This time it was the threat of rain, which was trumpeted by anybody within three hours of the track that there was no way we’d be racing on Sunday. Naturally, we got all 500 miles in with just a brief delay in the start time. Darlington is pretty worn out now and nobody seems to mind, and repaves at intermediate tracks mean high speed and even less passing. Until it starts chunking up, just leave it be and swap a date for some time in April.
Wesley Coburn: Eventually it’ll have to be replaced. It’ll be a pain for drivers and fans, as it will become a single-groove racetrack for several years, but you don’t want the track to rip a hole in a car like it did that one time at Dover International Speedway to Jamie McMurray. They may as well repave now and get it over with; the anticipation of potential unpleasantness only makes painful things worse.
Amy Henderson: A repave is eventually inevitable, but AMS should hold off as long as the surface is safe — and that should go for any track. While a new surface is faster, the old ones produce better racing. Look at Auto Club Speedway; it’s a terrible track, but the last few races there on old, abrasive pavement have been very good. In fact, that should be part of any repave: making the surface as hard on tires as it can be, like the Rockingham Speedway and Darlington of old. Tires should not last a fuel run anywhere.
Mike Neff: They used to seal the racing surface the night before the Southern 500; that’s where the name the Lady in Black came from. You don’t see people sealing asphalt anymore. It would be worth a try to do that. They should do everything they can to avoid resurfacing the track. If they have to do it, they need to take Marcus Smith’s idea to heart and seriously consider reconfiguring the track to a 7/8-, 3/4- or half-mile oval.
Pit guns were a hot topic of conversation at Atlanta, with a couple NASCAR standardized pit guns failing, most notably for Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. Did NASCAR make the wrong decision with standardizing the pit guns for this season?
Neff: NASCAR certainly didn’t make the wrong decision with the standardization but may have picked the wrong company to run the program. The rumors were that Joe Gibbs Racing spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million on gun development. The guns themselves were costing around six figures new, and the rebuilds were getting out of control as well. That said, stock guns that don’t have exotic materials that are pushing the limits for speed should last several races without a rebuild. No one on pit lane expected there to be this many failures the second race of the season. Add in the fact that teams have to pay NASCAR to use the guns that are mandated, and they have a right to be pissed. No doubt the sanctioning body will be ensuring the company that is providing the guns does a far better job of ensuring they don’t fail with this kind of frequency this weekend.
Bryan Davis Keith: NASCAR definitely made the wrong call standardizing pit guns, if the discussion is confined to the Cup Series. Cost savings and specing cars and equipment is fine and good in the minor leagues, but at the Cup level, taking away room for teams to innovate and improve is never a good thing. Cost of racing is what it is when it comes to the major league, and teams willing to spend thousands to shave tenths in the pits deserve to win. The apparent reliability issues would boil my blood as a competitor, and make NASCAR culpable; imagine if Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr. have a gun malfunction at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the final stage.
Henderson: Nope. Teams should gain an advantage on pit road because the crewmen can perform better, not because they can spend endless dollars and man-hours on souping up impact wrenches. Should NASCAR monitor the situation and make changes to a different manufacturer if problems persist? Sure, of course. But this early, it’s also entirely possible that the issues were because of the teams adjusting to the new equipment.
Mark Howell: Company-owned pit guns are just another example of NASCAR robbing teams of creative problem-solving. There was a time when ingenuity was a big deal in the sport, with teams pushing the envelopes of both existing technologies and the rulebook. Pit guns were one example: take a standard gun from Craftsman or DeWalt and tweak it into something incredible that your competition didn’t have. In NASCAR’s effort to keep everything equal, we’re faced with inferior equipment that frustrates teams and affects performance. Good thing NASCAR has always kept the playing field equal.
Christian Koelle: NASCAR is cutting costs in the wrong places. Did you ever hear someone else’s pit gun was giving them a millisecond of an advantage? Even if you did, does it honestly matter? Will it give that level playing field? No. Let the teams have their old pit guns back, and let’s call it a day. Also, let them have that extra person on pit road back.
Chevrolet was off the pace at Atlanta, as Ford and Toyota ran ahead of the bowties for most of the event. How long do you think it will take the Camaro ZL1s to reach their full potential?
Koelle: This really surprised me last weekend, especially after Chevrolet and Toyota dominated both practices and qualifying. We get to the race and the Fords are straight-up dominating. The same thing happened in Daytona; Chevrolet dominated qualifying while Fprd dominated practice. Then come Sunday, Fords are all up front running faster. Why both Chevrolet and Toyota are off the pace? Who knows. It isn’t something to get worried about this early in the season, though.
Phil Allaway: We’re two races into the season and Chevrolet won the Daytona 500. Not worried in the least right now. If we’re having this discussion after Pocono Raceway in June, then the Chevrolets would have a serious problem. My guess is that they’ll slowly develop the new car over the next few weeks and will be a threat to win pretty soon. Harvick can’t stomp the field every week, can he?
Howell: My guess is that we’ll see improved performance by the ZL1 come late April or early May. There’s always a period of adjustment when a new model enters competition, and the only way to make a new car better is to generate several weeks worth of real-life experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Camaro wins by the end of this West Coast swing, but I’m betting on legitimate opportunities within the next six weeks.
Frank Velat: This surprised me a bit. As far as mile-and-a-half tracks go, Atlanta Motor Speedway is probably on the lesser end as far as areo is concerned. The track is more about mechanical grip, how the car attaches to the pavement. You won’t see as much areo loose/tight conditions, which tends to level the playing field a bit. But the Chevrolets definitely didn’t perform like the Fords or Toyotas. However, it’s still early. With Vegas and Fontana coming up, there is still much to learn about the Bowtie Brigade. I wouldn’t go pushing the panic button just yet.
Pugliese: We saw the same thing last year. Fords were strong in Atlanta and after that the No. 78 car and Toyota paced the field for much of the year. There was a big deal made last year about Gibbs not winning a race, but Kyle Busch had dominated several races before some poor timing or racing luck bit the No. 18 in the final few laps. The first few races of the year historically mirror the year prior. Give the Chevrolet teams a couple of races in actual race conditions to find the right balance, and they’ll be a factor for sure from about Texas Motor Speedway on forward.
This weekend marks the first of three straight races of the NASCAR goes West campaign with Las Vegas Motor Speedway, ISM Raceway and Auto Club Speedway. Do you think this is a good place in the schedule for the three races out West?
Keith: The idea of going out west in a spurt is a good one, and the timing makes sense given weather challenges in the southeast this time of year. There are rightful concerns about geography though, as Fontana is an easy drive from Las Vegas, and there’s a question I’d ask about season momentum in leaving the center of the sport for 3 weeks on week 3 of the season. If I’m making the schedule, we’d go Daytona-Atlanta-Phoenix-
McLaughlin: In much of if not most of the country it’s still too danged cold to hold a race. I remember years where Richmond was early in the season and I’d end up sitting on those frozen concrete grandstands in temps in the lower 30s trying to defrost a can of beer between my increasingly numb hands. Admittedly, the West Coast swing can’t be good for ticket sales with the three tracks so close together geographically and fans unable to afford tickets to all three.
Coburn: If I was designing the schedule, I’d move Homestead to just after the Daytona 500, and maybe end the season at Texas. The three tracks out west in a row seems to work pretty well, so I would just shove them back a week. Atlanta could maybe go near the spring Bristol race to keep the geography relatively intact.
Velat: NASCAR is doing the right thing by keeping the three events consecutive. The only change that I feel could benefit is to move the races to immediately follow Daytona. Atlanta has always had questionable weather, and I really feel like that race belongs in April, possibly the week before Talladega. That would give fans who want to attend both the opportunity to lodge somewhere in between the two facilities. But the “NASCAR goes west” refrain has taken on some life and I think its best to keep it in place.
Allaway: This setup is nightmarish for almost everyone involved…except for Furniture Row Racing. They’re less than 12 hours from Denver this weekend. For everyone else, it’s just a marathon. For the smaller teams, they have to be very careful because swapping equipment is very difficult. The problem with this setup is that you really can’t move it. They used to have an off-weekend in the middle of it. Before that, the races were split apart with Fontana and Las Vegas back-to-back while Phoenix was in mid-April. Yes, that helped in regards to equipment, but the teams believed that it was easier to do them in a row. Ideally, one of these races would be in April.