Speedway Motorsports Inc. got many in the NASCAR world riled up this week when it announced July 6 its plans to repave and reconfigure Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Essentially, the longtime stay on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is getting more banking while its width is getting narrower in an attempt to get tighter racing at the intermediate track.
Drama arose when Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson revealed that they weren’t consulted on the changes and stated that no drivers were. Then SMI did some flip-flopping on whether or not it had consulted drivers or not.
Much was said and written about the Atlanta reconfiguration in the days following. And if, for some reason, you want my thoughts on it as well, give a listen to this week’s episode of the Frontstretch Podcast.
But the Atlanta reconfiguration is happening, whether you like it or not. So now it’s time to look ahead to the future at what tracks NASCAR should repave or reconfigure next.
Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol used to be the perfect racetrack. But in NASCAR, if it’s not broke, then it must be broken.
The first chink in Bristol’s armor was switching from asphalt to concrete in 1992. There were still incredible races at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile after this, but it was the first step in the wrong direction.
Then SMI grated the track’s precious banking down to allow for progressive banking in the hopes that it would create multiple lanes of racing. It failed. Instead of hugging the bottom and beating and banging to make passes, cars stayed by the wall, passes were nearly impossible and any contact would wreck a competitor instead of simply moving them. I was in the grandstands for the 2015 Bristol Night Race and actually saw fans falling asleep in their bleacher seat because the race was so boring.
Since then, PJ1 has been applied to the track to bring the bottom groove back. It worked a little bit. But still, you shouldn’t need to apply a substance to your track to make the racing good.
SMI then went from just putting a sticky substance on the sacred Bristol grounds to literally covering it in dirt for the Bristol Dirt Race. And when that surface was actually suitable for racing, do you know what comments the FOX booth and many fans made?
“It races like the old Bristol.”
Well, if the goal is to have racing like the old Bristol, it’d be a whole lot cheaper and easier to maintain if SMI just brought back the old Bristol, something that should’ve never left to start with.
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Charlotte used to put on some decent racing. There’s a reason its 600-miler became a crown jewel. Humpy Wheeler’s brilliant marketing could only go so far without a good on-track product.
There’s an argument to be made that the past two generations of cars hurt racing at the track. But it’s also never ever really been as good since its 2006 repave.
Even if there’s a new car coming out next year, it’s probably not going to change racing at intermediate tracks a ton. So something needs to be done to NASCAR’s home track to spice up one of its most important weekends.
I want to see it stay as an intermediate oval, but any type of repave or reconfiguration could only help at this point.
I actually really liked how Chicagoland raced toward the end of its run on the NASCAR schedule. But its location so far away from Chicago killed it.
If NASCAR could somehow pick up this track and move it 40 miles northeast, like you would do for a mobile home, maybe it could find its way back on the schedule. So I guess it needs a relocation, not a reconfiguration. And yes, I know this isn’t actually possible.
Dover International Speedway
Like Charlotte, Dover was hurt by this current generation of car. It used to be a track of attrition and survival, with any wreck clogging up the whole track. But with the current car, it’s nearly impossible for anyone to wreck, so why is Miles the Monster still hanging around?
NASCAR loves itself some downforce, so don’t count on that changing with the Next Gen car. Dover, one of the few remaining independent tracks, is probably going to have to adapt if it wants to stay on the schedule.
I like that it’s one of the only 1-mile tracks on the circuit, so don’t change the length. But as with Bristol, going back to asphalt would possibly be a positive step for the track. Dover, too, was an asphalt track for its first 36 years, and it should try that again.
Kansas has never necessarily been a bad track. But there’s also nothing spectacular about it either, as is the case for most of the intermediates born in the cookie-cutter boom.
It’s important to have a good track for that Kansas City market and the surrounding areas, because there’s not a lot of NASCAR out that way. I’d love to see Kansas be reconfigured into something truly unique that would draw people into that track.
I was happy when I saw Kentucky wasn’t on any of the 2021 touring series schedules, because it is probably the worst track NASCAR has been on in recent memory. It was OK prior to the 2016 repave and reconfiguration, but since then it’s just been awful.
A fan could go sit in the grandstands of Kentucky right now, during its year void of racing, and see only slightly less passing than what occurred when there actually were cars on track there.
But SMI still owns the property, and it’s good to have a race in the state of Kentucky, so I’d like to see a return there. But it must be reconfigured. And I don’t mean slight adjustments to the width and banking like at Atlanta — I mean bulldoze the whole facility and start over from scratch.
How about turning Kentucky into a dirt track instead of doing a dirt race at Bristol?
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
It is a good thing that NASCAR has a track in a destination city like Vegas. But let’s be honest, the only reason Vegas has two races on the Cup schedule is because the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is paying SMI $2.5 million a year to have a second race weekend.
If the city is going to give SMI that much money just to come to town twice, the least SMI could do is put a track there worthy of the taxpayers’ money.
Vegas is in the same boat as Kansas. It’s an OK track but is a child of the cookie-cutter boom with no real defining characteristics.
The track is in Sin City. It needs to be one of the most insane tracks around. SMI needs to pull out all the stops to build something we’ve never seen before instead of a cookie-cutter.
The city is known for gambling, right? Put a figure-eight track there with a big old jump so that each lap is a gamble! I kid, but FOX and NBC would seriously love that since all they use in their promos is footage of crashes.
But seriously, what’s the point in SMI’s top employees making so much money if they can’t come up with a creative and unconventional idea for a racetrack in one of their most important markets? Bulldoze the current layout and put something awesome there.
Richmond is a tough one, because I really appreciate the racing there. It’s a driver’s racetrack, and it’s cool to see comers and goers as some drivers are better at tire management than others.
But the average fan isn’t into that. They see a race that can get fairly spread out and a complete lack of wrecks (thanks to the current car, of course), and they think Richmond is boring.
It’s certainly not as amazing as it was in the early 2000s. Go back and watch some of those races and you’ll see why it earned the nickname the Action Track.
But back then, sealer was applied to the racing surface. Richmond doesn’t use that anymore. I’d like to see NASCAR try using the sealer again on the track to see if it produces the kind of racing the track had 20 years ago.
If the sealer is applied and the racing is still boring, let’s just reconfigure Richmond back to the half-mile layout it used to have prior to 1988. Then we would surely see some authentic short track racing.
Texas Motor Speedway
Texas is slightly better than Kentucky. Slightly.
As Hamlin pointed out, it’s another track that SMI made worse through a reconfiguration.
With all due respect. This same group has reconfigured Texas, Kentucky, Bristol with 0 driver input. One of those lost a race, other one we don’t race anymore and last one we put dirt over it. But hey, what do the drivers know 🙄 https://t.co/IRCfVeK79d
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) July 7, 2021
At this point, SMI could reconfigure Texas into literally anything and it would likely be an improvement. It’s already had one of its two races moved to become the All-Star Race. If the All-Star Race continues rotating like it has been the past few years, I don’t think Texas gets a second race date back. Something needs to change to stop the track’s bleeding.
I’d suggest turning it into a short track like NASCAR is doing with Auto Club Speedway (well, not exactly like NASCAR is doing with Auto Club. Give it its own characteristics, please), but adding short tracks seems against SMI’s religion.
I’ll change my mind on that if it actually delivers in getting North Wilkesboro Speedway up and running again. Oh, I guess North Wilkesboro makes it 10 tracks that need a repave or reconfiguration.