NASCAR drivers may love the latest technology, but when it comes to racetrack surfaces, the older appears to be the better.
This weekend’s venue, Atlanta Motor Speedway, is a good example. The 1.54-mile oval’s racing surface is one of the most abrasive and bumpy in the sport.
While drivers who favor AMS like to use terms such as the track has “character” or they like the fact it’s “weathered” or “slick,” there’s no disputing that the current track surface is nearly a quarter-century old.
The last repave of the Hampton, Georgia facility was following the 1996 season. It’s the third oldest surface in the sport. Only all-concrete Dover (1995) and Auto Club Speedway (1996) have older racing surfaces. Auto Club Speedway has the oldest asphalt surface in the sport, followed by Atlanta.
Track officials announced they would resurface the track after the spring race there in 2017, but overwhelming driver pushback prompted cancellation of the repave.
Still, it’s almost inevitable that the track will have to be resurfaced again, although Ty Dillon offers some interesting alternatives.
“No matter when they do it (resurface the track), all the drivers are going to be upset,” Dillon said. “There is a certain point where they have to do what’s best for the track.
“I think once they decide to repave it, they should maybe ‘dozer the whole thing and change it up. Maybe make it a short track or a road course, do something different. I don’t think we need more mile-and-a-half tracks, I think we need to change up. If they want to get more and more people to Atlanta, they need to look at something different.”
Atlanta is celebrating its 60th anniversary this weekend, having hosted its first race on July 31, 1960. Fireball Roberts was the winner.
Here’s what several Cup drivers have to say about racing at Atlanta:
Chase Elliott, who will start from the pole in Sunday’s Cup race: “The track has a lot of wear to it, a lot of character and a lot of bumps. There is a fine line of getting your car right.”
Alex Bowman: “This track is one where you have a lot of options. It’s worn out and you can move around a lot, which gives drivers a lot of choices. Everyone appreciates options, so this weekend should be a good one.”
Austin Dillon: “We make sure when we go there, we don’t pray for rain. We don’t want any rain because it’s going to be a long day drying that place. It is old, it weeps, but I’m glad they’ve kept it the same. It’s a place that drivers love because you know it’s going to be slick and over time you might be able to find some grip by moving around or changing your line and being disciplined with the throttle.”
William Byron: “Atlanta is a tough track. You have to take care of the right front tire there, or the right rear, whichever one seems to be wearing out the most. I think any time you get a chance to pass a car and get ahead of them you need to take it, but it’s a fine line of how hard do you push it versus taking care of your tires so you’re there in the end. You just really need to manage your equipment the best you can to have a shot. It’s a long 500-mile race and it’s physical.”
Tyler Reddick: “Atlanta is all about managing tires, even with all of the downforce we do have and where the horsepower is at in these Cup cars. You have to be smart and really understand how to manage your car from Lap 1 to Lap 45, which is about how far you can go on a set of tires. Tires will be our best friends this weekend.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: “The old surface is so hard on tires that it creates an entire new strategy for the race.”
Ty Dillon: “Atlanta is old, abrasive and wears on our car and tires very hard. I think everybody’s goal in Atlanta is to make sure that you don’t wear your tires faster than the guy in front of you.”
Ryan Preece: “Atlanta is so rough on tires and your tire strategy that it really gives us a new angle setup-wise than we’ve seen at some of the other intermediate tracks we’ve run at.”
Matt Kenseth: “Atlanta is about as racy as it gets for high-banked intermediate tracks. The pavement’s wore out, there are a lot of bumps, and at times can be very line sensitive. It’s a track I have always really enjoyed racing at and I’m excited to get back. Every week has been a new challenge for me to get acclimated and up to speed, and this will be another one.”
Kyle Busch: “You have to have good grip there, you have to have good (tire) fall-off – you have to be fast to start a run, yet you don’t want to fall off more than anybody else. So you have to take care of your stuff and bide your time a little bit. That lends itself to options by the driver to either push hard early (in the run) or save a little and be there late. We went there several months ago and didn’t get to race there, so expecting the weekend to be much different this time around than when we traveled there in March.”