Atlanta Motor Speedway is known for its abrasive racing surface. Most NASCAR drivers appear to love that about the track because it gives it character and a uniqueness, as well as making it one of the most challenging races of the year.
But Atlanta hasn’t been repaved since 1997, so it brings about this week’s 2HM question: Should the track be repaved?
No Way, No How
This past weekend’s races at Atlanta Motor Speedway have a lot of people wondering when is it time to repave the track? It’s been a debate for a couple of years, and there’s no way in the world I would think that repaving Atlanta is a good idea.
As a race fan, is there a worse word to hear than the word “repave?” The issue is odd because a lot of folks outside of the sport would probably consider a new surface ideal for racing. They may think that a smooth surface would produce the best racing since there are no imperfections on the track. Everyone thinks that’s a good thing for a racetrack, but it takes out the character of the racetrack.
Paving Atlanta would make it lose its identity. Atlanta’s reconfiguration in 1997 made it a sister track to Charlotte Motor Speedway. They have similar doglegs on the front straightaway and race very similar for the drivers. Atlanta’s abrasive surface is what makes that stop on the schedule unique. If Atlanta gets paved it would become just another lousy mile-and-a-half racetrack on a schedule that features too many of those.
Take Texas Motor Speedway, for example, another sister track to Atlanta. Look what has happened to that place after a repave. Were there two worse races last year than those at Texas? It was single-file racing with very little passing because the track has one lane. It will take years of aging and years of racing at that place to make it racy and give that track some character.
Look at Daytona International Speedway. Sure, the track coming apart in 2010 was a major issue and they needed to pave it, but when the track had an older surface, handling was key. Not only did the best drivers have to be on their games, but the crew chiefs had a battle on their hands as well. Who remembers the bumps in Turn 2? They were bad, and it made the racing a lot more interesting because teams had to set up their cars to get around the bumps. An ill-handling race car meant the difference between first and 20th.
Now, the place is smooth as silk, and while it’s still Daytona, the handling aspect is gone. It’s almost 85 percent luck. There’s little to no handling characteristics at the place.
I believe similar things would happen at Atlanta. It would become just another cookie-cutter racetrack that fans complain about and would take away all its characteristics. -Clayton Caldwell
Gotta Do What You Gotta Do
Atlanta Motor Speedway needs to be repaved sooner than later.
Look, I hate the racing on a freshly paved track as much as every other fan. Older, rougher tracks make for better racing, and the racing at Atlanta is currently great. But it’s not about what we want for the track, it’s about what the track needs.
In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta this past weekend, multiple drivers had tire failures. Flat tires may be a part of racing, but there were a bit too many on Sunday. The pit road incident between Ryan Preece and BJ McLeod wouldn’t have happened had McLeod not had a flat tire. Brad Keselowski nearly let Martin Truex Jr. catch him at the end of the race because he was heavily conserving tires after watching both of his Team Penske teammates have tire issues.
Do we want races where drivers are giving it all they’ve got? Or do we want races where everyone is nursing their cars around the track because they’re scared they’ll have a tire go down and slam into the wall? The latter is not a good look for the sport or Goodyear.
If I knew the track would be the same next year as it was this year, then AMS could probably hold off on the repave a bit longer. But that track is going to sit there and erode for approximately 365 days before NASCAR goes back there. If the track was rough this year, what’s it going to be like next year or the year after?
Speedway Motorsports, Inc.’s original plan was to repave the track two years ago, but the drivers talked them into delaying it. The delay was a good thing, but they can’t put it off forever.
The best thing for SMI to do is to cut its losses and repave the track now. If they wait until the track is too far gone, then we’ll have a horrible wreck-fest in its last race on the old pavement before several snoozers on the new surface.
Also, NASCAR President Steve Phelps has repeatedly said that everything is on the table as far as schedule changes for 2020 and beyond. If there’s a race at Atlanta next year or in 2020 where the track is completely falling apart, then NASCAR could feel embarrassed by the track and remove it entirely from the schedule. Whereas, if SMI invests in a repave, then NASCAR would be less likely to put the track on the chopping block.
If SMI repaves it now, then NASCAR can use the new air ducts that it used on other intermediate tracks on the cars for Atlanta races for a few years to make the racing closer while the track ages. Basically, the new package could serve as a bandaid until the track is ready for good racing again.
Whether fans and drivers like it or not, Atlanta will eventually need to be repaved. So let’s just get it over with already. -Michael Massie
About the author
Clayton has been writing NASCAR for the last seven years and has followed the sport for as long as he can remember. He's a Jersey boy with dreams of hoping one day to take his style south and adding a different kind of perspective to auto racing.