HAMPTON, Ga. — NASCAR drivers lobbied against a repair at Atlanta Motor Speedway for 24 years. The company that owns the track said this was done to give competitors the final word in the long-pending paving project.
Atlanta Motor Speedway is hosting two NASCAR events this season for the first time since 2010, and the track overhaul reflects a commitment to having two Cup races again in 2022.
Speedway president Brandon Hutchinson said the resurgence was overdue, no matter what the schedule.
“We’ve known for a while that a rework had to happen,” Hutchinson said. “Asphalt can only last for so long. A reappraisal has been inevitable for some time.”
In fact, resale discussions have been a hot topic for at least five years with drivers in Atlanta. Drivers constantly lobbied to keep the old track.
Plans to finally replace the surface were announced after 10 months of research, including computer simulations from iRacing. The changes were designed to accommodate the 2022 introduction of NASCAR’s Next Gen Car.
Officials did not seek input from NASCAR drivers.
Stephen Swift, Senior Vice President of Operations and Development for Speedway Motorsports, said: “We try to make sure, and I say such a joke, when a driver is happy about our race track, usually not a fan. are.”
“We want to make sure that what we’re making is what fans want to see.”
Kyle Larson, who lost to Ryan Blaine in the March race in Atlanta, said he wished drivers had been consulted.
“I wish they talked to everyone about it,” Larsen said on a Zoom call on Tuesday. “We have more experience than fans, you know, I’ve run hundreds of different racetracks. I think we have a better understanding of what makes really good racing.”
Swift said that “all kinds of stickmas” have been used to patch the track.
“We’re holding it together, sticking together, literally,” Swift said. “It’s just gotten to the point that it’s worn out. We’re just buying time and that time is now.
NASCAR champion and Georgia native Chase Elliott, who won last week’s race at Road America in Wisconsin, was initially against restarting the track, but has changed his mind.
“My opinion on this has really changed,” said Elliott, who has never won at his home track. “I definitely wanted to leave it alone and not make it again. It’s a place that rewards accuracy, rewards a driver for doing a really good job behind the wheel in all aspects.”
Elliott said that his opinion was influenced by speaking with friends who attended the race in Atlanta.
“I think it’s time for it,” he said. “I have a lot of friends and people who go there, and listening to their comments and my own thoughts. As time goes by, I feel like it’s time. … I’m good with change there and I hope it gets better. I think it will happen.”
In addition to the high banks, the repair project will also reduce the width of the 1.54-mile track from 55 feet to 52 feet on the front stretch, 42 on the back stretch, and 40 on the bend.
Larsen said that would make for tight turns.
“It’s more than two car widths narrow, so that’s a lot,” Larsen said.
Swift said the narrower track would push the cars “together in groups.” It makes for better entertainment. Atlanta will be the first mile and a half for this kind of racing.”
That change caught Elliot’s attention.
“Shortening the track is probably the biggest headline that I think is unknown to anything I’ve read, and that way,” he said.
“It seems like Atlanta put a lot of thought into this. I guess that’s all you can ask for. I think it’s time and I think they’re going about it the right way.”
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