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Parker Kligerman’s big idea for repaving Texas? Redo the track, too

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An Open Letter to Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage

Dear Eddie:

I believe we have met. I’ve walked across the driver introduction stage for numerous races at your track (including my Sprint Cup debut in 2013). Your racetrack always will have a soft spot in my heart. I love it. Therefore, I am sorry about the unfortunate way Mother Nature has treated your racetrack this year.

It was a herculean effort by your team and NASCAR to get in the race Sunday. Kudos! The track’s porous, worn-out surface has become as stubborn as the damage mercilessly pounded upon it by Father Time. Through those efforts the other night, there were whispers through the garage of a dreaded word whose very utterance can cause consternation amongst drivers.

Repave.

I know you understand this, as you told reporters, “I know they are going to hate it.” Which is true.

Another repaved, “D”-shaped, 1.5-mile race track doesn’t leave much to mystery. No downforce package, tire compound or tire dragger will deliver some surprise improvement to the racing. We’ll be complaining nonstop about running around the track on a knife’s edge. The racing will be an aero fest, and the winner will get out in victory lane and remark, “Phew, that was a handful, but we survived those crazy restarts and were able to get that crucial bottom line.” It will be the most expensive re-air of a show we have seen too many times.

But why does it have to be this way? I have an idea.

One of my favorite sayings lately is, “In uncertainty, there is opportunity.” Its origin is unknown, but it’s probably my overly optimistic-to-a-fault attitude. If the world was burning, my mom is convinced I’d be saying, “Well I was feeling a bit cold, this is nice.”

But I believe there is serious opportunity here. For a long time, I’ve wondered why racetracks and racing series developed figurative boxes for competition – whether it’s the designs of cars or the shapes and sizes of racetracks. Try as I might, though, I haven’t found any rules for building a racetrack.

The fact is racing isn’t curing disease, or solving third-world debt. Its sole purpose now is to entertain.

Entertainment knows no bounds, and the only constant is that it isn’t. It comes in billions of different forms. There are 7 billion people in this world and just as many definitions of what entertains them. As an incredible and very entertaining promoter, you already know this, Eddie. From crazy advertisements to elaborate prerace shows to an HDTV so large, it could double as apartment housing in New York.

Entertainment never has been more readily available, either. People have it in the palms of their hands on a 6.5-inch screen.

So why do we need to repeat the obvious when we inevitably repave Texas Motor Speedway?

Let’s what the catchy No Limits” slogan suggests and break the boundaries. If “everything is bigger in Texas,” the track that bears that great state’s name should be no different.

Let’s stop Jimmie Johnson from getting out of his car and saying “With the same tire, we were able to learn a lot for Miami” (as he did this past weekend). Let’s avoid the comparisons with recent repaves at Las Vegas, Kentucky and Kansas.

This is Texas, let’s build a racetrack and that will apply only here!

The Idea

Three years ago, I wrote a piece on “How not to design a great racetrack” that criticized the current crop of tracks built around the world. All are designed on computers under the watchful eyes of engineers who spend their lives staring at computer screens. The results are boring, lifeless and unusually expensive parking lots.

The greatest tracks were built by a man and a bulldozer (Mosport in Canada) or in the interests of avoiding a minnow pond (Darlington Raceway). We might have moved past this era, but it doesn’t mean we should be any less imaginative with track design.

Let’s use the Internet, engineers and social media to our advantage.

I always have wondered why we couldn’t get crazy and unique with track design, so let’s start with Texas. Take the sweeping, wide-open third and fourth turns and reshape them narrowly like Martinsville (while keeping Turns 1 and 2 the same). Imagine cars that brake and downshift three gears every lap and then accelerate through the gears on the frontstretch. The drivers truly will earn their money, and fans will get something you can’t see anywhere else.

OK, maybe you don’t like that. So how about a right-hander on the backstretch? Similar to the old Trenton racetrack in New Jersey, though this right- hander would be severe enough that the engineers would have to compromise on the setup of the race car for rights and lefts.

You want to get rid of “rear-end skew” and aero? There is your answer.

Or have a track where the top line next to the wall has a half– groove that is banked 8 degrees more than anywhere on the track. That would create a super treacherous line, but it would offer a sizable advantage in speed — if you dare risk hitting the wall!

There is no reason to re-create the past. Let’s be creative!

The Execution

So which do we choose?

Here is where we get so very Texas and 21st century all at once. We use modern technology to create five simulations of the new track. It would take iRacing roughly less than two weeks, and their versions would be incredibly lifelike.

We offer a free demo with a Sprint Cup car and five proposed versions of the new track. Fans around the world would be able to download all of them. They test it, and we do a series of votes to determine which they love most.

We will do races involving NASAR drivers, too — Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and others will race fans on the different versions. Eventually, a winner will be chosen, and in a nationally televised special, we will announce the winner of the first track built by the fans and NASCAR industry in the history of the sport.

It’ll be the first track built with one goal: To entertain.

By truly embracing “No Limits,” Texas will usher in a new era of race-tracks. And I’ll look forward to walking across that introduction stage to offer you my congratulations on a track built by the fans … for the fans..

Sincerely,

Parker Kligerman

NASCAR America: Scan All from the Alabama 500 at Talladega

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“Ol’ Dega is giving me one last thrill.”

That’s the remark Dale Earnhardt Jr. made after he narrowly avoided being collected in the second of three wrecks in the final 16 laps of Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, his last start at the track.

It’s one of many highlights in the latest edition of “Scan All,” which documents the Alabama 500 at the restrictor-plate track.

In the above video, Brad Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe relive the race, which ended with Keselowski’s sixth win at the track.

Here are more highlights from “Scan All.”

  • Listen to the communication of the No. 48 team as confusion breaks out over whether they can work on Jimmie Johnson‘s car during a red flag.
  • “It is a restrictor-plate race, so I’m not going to promise you anything.” – Brendan Gaughan after remarking he hoped his team wouldn’t have to make too many body repairs. He would be eliminated in a crash with 10 laps to go.
  • “Those stands are packed. They should get a free Dale Jr. autograph.” – Clint Bowyer on the large crowd that took in Earnhardt’s final Cup start at Talladega.
  • “Holy (expletive). What an idiot. That was the absolute stupidest (expletive) thing he’s ever done.” Kyle Busch after a crash involving Jame McMurray, Erik Jones and Jeffrey Earnhardt. The crash began when McMurray slowed down enter pit road and Jones ran into him.
  • Listen as Keselowski and his team struggle to communicate with each other do to a faulty radio system.
  • “How in the (expletive) did we wind up in the (expletive) back? (Expletive) stupid.” – Part of a tirade by Bowyer following a Lap 157 crash that collected him. Bowyer pulled his car into his pit box, exited it, had a brief exchange with his crew chief and walked back to the garage.

Watch the above video for more.

Race distance for Charlotte Motor Speedway road course still TBD

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CONCORD, N.C. — It still might be known as the Bank of America 500, but 500 kilometers might not be the distance of the first road-course race in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

Charlotte Motor Speedway announced Wednesday in the media center during a break in tire testing that next year’s Round of 16 cutoff race would be 500 kilometers or about 130 laps on the 2.42-mile layout. Track officials said it would be the longest road course race on the circuit (roughly 90 miles longer than the events at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International).

That prompted a raft of buzz on social media about a 500-kilometer race that likely would be pushing at least four hours with two stage breaks and a few cautions (lap times were in the 90-second range during the test).

But in a statement early Wednesday evening, NASCAR wouldn’t confirm 500 kilometers as the distance of the Sept. 30 race.

Here’s the statement:

This week’s test provided valuable data that will be part of the equation in determining the distance for next fall’s race. We will continue working closely with our partners to develop the best event for fans and competitors alike.

There was no immediate response from Charlotte Motor Speedway to the NASCAR statement. A release from the track near the conclusion of the two-day tire test late Wednesday afternoon referred to next season’s race as the Bank of America 500 but didn’t specify the race’s distance.

Charlotte road course could be Talladega, Part II as Round of 16 cutoff race

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CONCORD, N.C. – There are many unknowns about the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course – passing zones, tire compound, even race distance – but Martin Truex Jr. said Wednesday there is one certainty.

When the new layout makes its debut as the Round of 16 cutoff race next season, playoff drivers will want to be assured of advancing ahead of time.

“I’m going to be hoping I’m going to win one of the first two in that round,” Truex said. “I’m going to put this right in there with Talladega.”

The Furniture Row Racing driver tested tires Tuesday and Wednesday on the 18-turn, 2.42-mile track (which incorporates most of Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval) with Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray and Daniel Hemric.

Busch said the layout was similar to the Daytona International Speedway road course but with a much smaller footprint that ratcheted up the intensity.

“There’s no room for taking a break or having a quick, deep breath down the straightaway,” Busch said. “As soon as you’re in high gear off turn 2, you’re in a chicane. Back through the gears, you’re downshifting on the brakes to go to the frontstretch chicane. It’s a very busy track.”

There is a 35-foot change in elevation on the course, which features two chicanes that track officials say are designed to encourage passing and provide an option for rain tires.

The transitions between the high-banked surface and the flatter road course make it tricky to navigate.

“There’s all kinds of craziness going on,” Truex said. “Turns 1 and 2 are pretty wild, narrow with concrete walls on both sides. Intimidating.

“It’s a unique track. I don’t know if I’ve run a road course anything like it because of the elevation changes, the bumps and the humps. Charlotte isn’t smooth to begin with and add in infield that has been around a long time, there’s a lot of swells in it. It definitely is interesting. It’s a unique challenge. I don’t know I’ve raced anything like it.”

The track announced the race distance as 500 kilometers, which would make it the longest road course race on the circuit, but NASCAR didn’t confirm the length of the first playoff race with right turns (saying “it provided valuable data that will be part of the equation in determining the distance for next fall’s race”).

Also in flux is the layout. Truex talked to Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Marcus Smith about adding some safety features such as curbing, runoff areas, tire barriers and walls.

Busch also has recommended eliminating Turn 8 to connect the seventh and ninth turn, reducing the number of slow corners on the track. “There are a lot of slow sections with turns 5, 6 and 7,” Busch said. “Those are good rhythmic corners. … (But) a 3,500-pound car going 35 mph too many times isn’t too exciting. We need to speed up the track a bit.”

Truex, who shaved 10 seconds off his lap time on the first day, estimated the top-end speed is about 175 mph and said the ninth turn (before entering the oval in Turn 1) is the slowest.

Where are the best passing zones?

“That’s a great question,” he said. “I can’t tell you that. Single-car runs so far, it’s hard to say. There’s a lot of places you can crash. I’m not sure about the passing yet.”

After starting on the Watkins Glen tire, it’s expected Goodyear could bring a softer tire next year for faster speeds and better grip. Lap times were in the 90-second range, which Busch said was slower than anticipated but illustrated the difficulty of balancing a tire between a high-speed oval and a road course that drove more like the technical Sonoma than the high-speed Watkins Glen.

“The corners are sharp, low grip and we have 800 horsepower, so we’re trying to put the power down and sliding the tires quite a bit,” Busch said. “The process is to work with Goodyear and Charlotte Motor Speedway to find things we can change safety-wise and recommend the shapes of chicane around the back straightaway and even the front straightaway section.”

Busch, who drove the No. 14 Ford in place of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer, said he volunteered for the race because of its playoff implications in 2018.

“It’s a cutoff race,” he said. “Teams better get their arms wrapped around it and their heads focused on it because it’s one of the most important races of the year. When it’s a new situation like this, there’s a lot of oddities and variables. Fans will see it.”

Aric Almirola returns to Kansas for first time since May’s crash there

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The last time Aric Almirola left Kansas Speedway, it was in an ambulance after being involved in the hardest wreck of his racing career.

That three-car wreck on May 13th – which also involved Joey Logano and Danica Patrick – fractured the Tampa native’s back and sidelined him for two months. Almirola missed seven NASCAR Cup races in the process.

He climbed back behind the wheel for the first time after the wreck on July 16 at New Hampshire, where he qualified 21st and finished 24th.

Almirola returns this weekend to Kansas Speedway with confidence and some unfinished business in the race.

“I have no hesitation heading back after the accident there in the spring,” Almirola said in a team media release. “It had nothing to do with the track and was just a product of hard racing.

“I’m fully healed and ready to head back out there. We had a good week last week (fifth at Talladega) and really fought for a top-five finish. We’ll try to use that momentum this week to get a good finish as we near the end of the season.”

Where Almirola goes after this season remains a question mark. Almirola has already announced he will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports next season. Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. – who filled in for four of the seven Cup races Almirola missed while recovering from the wreck – has already been announced to  drive the No. 43 Ford for RPM next season.

So for the remaining five races of the season, Almirola will continue to give a best effort and keep talking with other teams for a potential ride next season.

“I always like going to Kansas,” he said. “It’s a track where we’ve been able to compete up front in the past, so we are always excited to see if we can improve on that.”