Could Atlanta repaving project be put on hold? ‘We’ll look at it after the race today’

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HAMPTON, Ga. – A chorus of driver dissent, most notably in a nationally televised interview Saturday, might be causing Speedway Motorsports Inc. to rethink plans to repave Atlanta Motor Speedway.

SMI chairman Marcus Smith told reporters Sunday before the 1.54-mile oval’s Cup race that “I can’t really say that the status (of the repave) has changed, but it definitely has caused us to think about what we’re doing.”

Atlanta was scheduled to begin its first repave in 20 years in late March, because Smith said SMI engineers believe the track’s pavement has lasted about three years beyond its expected lifespan.

“The challenges are still there on keeping the track raceable and making it something we can have a race on today and make sure we have a quality race,” Smith said. “But definitely have heard from the drivers saying they like this gritty surface. So we’ll look at it after the race today and be able to make better determination on what we have to do going forward.”

After finishing third in Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race, Matt Crafton made several desperate pleas to stop the repave. In Sunday’s prerace meeting, Atlanta general manager Ed Clark told drivers that the track had appreciated their feedback.

Complicating the situation is that SMI apparently is weighing whether to add a second Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2018, and it could come from an SMI track.

Should Atlanta race fans be worried about the track being closed?

“I hadn’t thought about that,” Smith said. “No, I don’t think there’s any reason for worry. Like I said, it’s been great to have feedback from drivers saying how much they like the surface, and it definitely has caused us to say maybe we should look at it again.”

SMI is repaving Texas Motor Speedway for its race next month, and the challenge is laying down asphalt that isn’t as smooth and wears quickly (as drivers prefer rough surfaces for passing).

“One of the things we’re really doing is this hard and coarse and rough surface is something that drivers like,” Smith said. “That’s what we’re trying to achieve in Texas with the repave and reprofile there. We want to come out the first race with a track that races like an older track, which is not something the world of paving technology really works on.

“Everybody else around the world that paves something, you want a nice, smooth surface. Our goal for Texas is a surface that races much more like Atlanta.”