With a track surface that has not been overhauled since 1997, Atlanta was due for a repave sooner or later. Now that day will come, as this weekend’s Xfinity and Cup Races will be the final races on the worn-out Atlanta Motor Speedway surface. In addition to laying down some new asphalt, Atlanta will also make some changes to the banking in the corners and track width as well. However, the reaction to these changes has been mostly negative, from fans and drivers alike.
Breakdown of Track Changes
All new for ’22!
The next generation of Atlanta Motor Speedway!
Get the details ➡️ https://t.co/X6T7IL05Y0 pic.twitter.com/MzPKIHlVja
— Atlanta Motor Speedway (@amsupdates) July 6, 2021
The big change here is first and the four additional degrees of banking in the corners. For most of the 1.5 mile (Intermediate) NASCAR venues, the banking in the turns maxes out at 24 degrees. With Atlanta now set to have 28-degree corners, it will bring the track close to both Daytona and Talladega. With the latter two tracks sitting at 31 degrees and then ranging from 32.4 to 33 degrees respectively.
Track width also being chopped everywhere is also notable. While the quad-oval remains about the same, the backstretch and turns got gutted in width. 15 fewer feet of track in the corners will be a major change, for better or for worse. These changes were done to “Optimize the racing with the Next-Gen car, and early simulations suggest the racing will be closer and even more competitive.” According to NASCAR President Steve O’Donnell.
Speaking of simulations, this reconfiguration came largely in part due to the brain trust at iRacing in Chelmsford, MA. AMS parent company Speedway Motorsports, aka SMI, came to iRacing around a year ago on an Atlanta revamp design. Not an entirely new concept either. iRacing had a large part in the wholesale changes coming to Auto Club Speedway. After considering several options, this is what SMI decided on for Atlanta.
SMI Gone Rogue?
Despite SMI being happy with these changes, it seems that they left out an important party while deciding on changes, the drivers. Multiple Cup Series drivers, namely Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin, both said that these changes were never brought to drivers for thoughts or considerations. That seems like a monumentally big problem. Larson was quoted saying this on Tuesday on the changes.
“I wish [SMI/NASCAR] would talk to everybody about it. We have more experience than the fans, you know, I’ve raced hundreds of different racetracks. I feel like we have a better understanding of what really makes good racing. But, you know, fans like crashing, and a 40-foot wide surface is going to keep us tight together, so maybe that’s going to accomplish the good racing that we think it is.”
Hamlin meanwhile took out his flamethrower on Twitter later that evening.
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
For further context here. Texas had its turns one and two completely gutted, and instantly became one of the worst venues in the sport. Kentucky’s repave was by no means needed, however had arguably the best finishes of the year in 2019 and 2020. And the spring Bristol race becoming a dirt race this year was completely unnecessary. Taking away what is almost always a fantastic race for a dirt race when there are literally hundreds of dirt tracks in America was odd.
Even more bizarre was this quote from SMI Senior VP of Ops and Development Stephen Swift.
“I say this I kind of jest, when a driver is happy about our race track, usually the fans aren’t. We want to make sure what we’re creating is what the fans want to see.”
Reason for Caution
With NASCAR seemingly once again missing the mark (based on initial reactions), this segment of a sitdown video with Tony Stewart and Kyle Petty certainly feels relevant. (5:48-6:44).
Compounding this with the biggest track ownership organization no taking in driver input on track reconfiguration, this feels like a less than ideal situation. Having a system where the most important piece to the puzzle has no input in executive decisions is quite frankly insane. Here’s to hoping these changes pan out for the better.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images