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Kentucky Speedway answers drivers’ complaints: ‘I think we know what we’re doing’

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SPARTA, Ky. – Responding to driver complaints about how the surface of Kentucky Speedway was treated this week, track officials said they merely are doing what drivers said worked last year.

“I think we know what we’re doing,” Steve Swift told NBC Sports in a Thursday interview.

The vice president of operations and development for Speedway Motorsports Inc. (the 1.5-mile speedway’s parent company) said feedback was overwhelmingly positive after the July 2016 race when Kentucky treated the bottom groove in the wake of repaving earlier in the year.

After an additional layer of asphalt was added last October, Swift said “we felt we did the right thing, so we duplicated” it using its Tire Dragon machine on the bottom lane.

“I think what a lot of drivers are forgetting is this track was resurfaced,” Swift said. “It’s a brand new racetrack. So on a new track, you have to put rubber down in what is the groove, not what you want the groove to be.”

Swift said a treatment process to age the new pavement leaves dust in the bottom lane, which necessitates putting down grip by dragging tires. Texas Motor Speedway took the same approach in preparing its freshly paved asphalt for the race weekend in April.

“What we have learned from last year’s Cup race here on the new surface and in Texas is that if we can give them two to three lanes in the bottom, it creates better racing instead of doing the entire racetrack because we’re trying to make sure they can run at the bottom in lieu of not being able to run at all because it’s too dusty or dirty,” Swift said.

NASCAR veteran Brendan Gaughan became the latest driver Friday to implore the track to work on the upper groove, starting at the wall and working down the banking. Swift said that makes sense on older tracks such as Bristol Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway (SMI treated both with a traction compound this season), but the priority on a new surface is establishing the bottom lane.

“If we would have worked just the top down, that would be the only place to have grip,” Swift said. “They wouldn’t go to the bottom because it would have been dusty and dirty. So that’s the reason we went to where they will want to qualify.

“Most repaves before SMI started doing this prep and aging on the tracks, we would have run a single-file race. We haven’t had that, they’ve been able to run two wide (at Kentucky last year and Texas in April). I think we know what we’re doing.”

Kentucky concentrated on the upper portion of the bottom groove, laying down a swath of rubber about 27 to 30 feet wide in hopes of preventing cars from getting too spread out.

“We’re trying to create that bottom area and give them a good 30 feet out there to run again,” Swift said. “Last week at Daytona, they’re running four wide on a 37-foot wide racetrack. This is a 74-foot wide racetrack in turns 3 and 4. To rubber up the entire racetrack doesn’t quite keep the cars in the same area racing each other. That’s the theory behind that, but it’s primarily because it’s a new racetrack was why it was concentrated on the bottom.

“We felt we have enough racing surface to give them multiple passes, multiple lanes (and) not to put them at the wall, where one car is 70 feet away from a car at the bottom of the track.”

Swift said the track doesn’t plan to work on the upper groove this weekend but could bring the Tire Dragon back Friday morning before Cup practice and the Xfinity race or Saturday morning before the Cup race. The traction compound also isn’t being considered as an option.

“At older racetracks, it worked out great,” he said. “On new racetracks with the rubber and a tire machine, we can get enough grip that it doesn’t require the spray.”

NASCAR drivers still were waiting  to hit the surface Thursday as rain scrubbed the first two Xfinity practices. Qualifying for Thursday night’s Camping World Truck Series race also was canceled.

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 73: Eddie Gossage on Texas repaving and driver rivalries

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Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage stood on his fresh coat of asphalt in February and liked what he saw – or more specifically, what he couldn’t see.

The view of the new pavement, which should alleviate several years of drainage problems, was particularly pleasing staring into the first corner of the 1.5-mile oval.

“I can stand on the front straight, look into Turn 1 and have no earthly idea what the line is because it’s so wide,” Gossage said on a new episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast that was released Wednesday. “It definitely looks different.”

As part of an offseason repaving project, the banking in the first two turns was reduced from 24 to 20 degrees and the surface was widened from 50 to 85 feet wide. Meanwhile, the 24-degree banking and dimensions were kept the same the other two turns.

Gossage said the idea for distinct turns came from Marcus Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., parent company of the Texas track.

“By cutting the banking in 1 and 2, if you can get your car to run good through 1 and 2, it won’t run good through 3 and 4,”Gossage said. “It gives people passing opportunities. At least, that’s the theory.”

Gossage also discussed the difficulty in kick-starting rivalries in NASCAR, saying it was partly because of sponsorship, partly because of NASCAR penalties and partly because drivers are parked next to each other weekly in their motorhomes.

“It’s hard to hate the guy parked next to you,” Gossage said. “Because your wives like each other, and you’re all going to have dinner tonight and cook out a couple of steaks. It’s hard to have that rivalry.

“It may sound silly, but it’s a reality. They see each other every day of the year. It’s tough to hate your next-door neighbor.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

Should Atlanta Motor Speedway have listened to drivers in delaying its repave?

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The delayed repaving of Atlanta Motor Speedway proves that the Cup Drivers Council successfully can lobby for what it wants.

Is that always a good thing, though?

NASCAR on NBC analysts Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte discussed that topic on Tuesday’s episode of NASCAR America (watch video of the discussion above).

“I think they’re the No. 1 factor in this decision,” Letarte said of the drivers. “While I side with the drivers that the old pavement is great for racing, and I’m a big fan of it, I’m not a track owner or promoter. I can’t imagine Atlanta Motor Speedway wanted to spend all that money to repave just because they thought they should. There had to be good reasons behind it.

“I think the global question is, ‘How did we get here?’ It seems to me this is the most public display of the drivers being vocal about a situation, and it ended up going their way. They didn’t want it to be repaved, Atlanta heard them and changed their decision. The question is, is it good for NASCAR to have your drivers that vocal. I’m not sure. Obviously, they are one of the biggest stakeholders and have to put the race on, but should it be a track decision or a driver decision?”

Burton said ultimately the decision should belong to the 1.54-mile speedway.

“The drivers trying to influence the decision, I think that’s a good thing just making the track owner understand, ‘Hey we love this surface,’” Burton said. “But I don’t think Atlanta Motor Speedway said, ‘Hey, let’s spend a couple of million dollars for the heck of it.’”

The risk is if the track falls apart because of its age or if massive delays are incurred by rain (such as Texas Motor Speedway last November).

“If something happens – if a piece of asphalt goes through a radiator (because of a crumbling surface), no word (should come) from the drivers,” Burton said. “The drivers are going to have to be perfectly quiet on that one.”

Said Letarte: “I don’t disagree with drivers being vocal, but be careful what you wish for, because now they got it. They got the old pavement for another weekend. If we get weather, or have an issue and can’t get cars on the racetrack, I hope those same drivers step up and back (track president) Ed Clark, who has now backed them and given them the old pavement for another year.”

Clark told NBC Sports.com’s Dustin Long that the track will make a few sealer patches for the 2018 race, which he expects could be the last on the surface that has been in place since 1997. Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Atlanta, repaved Kentucky last year and received positive reviews.

“Are you just delaying the inevitable if you’re going to have to pave it in 2018?” Burton asked. “I don’t know what you’re really buying other than one more race. My biggest concern is they wanted to pave it for a reason. They understand that paving racetracks is problematic. This group put a ton of effort into Kentucky so when they repaved Kentucky it wasn’t like the other repaves. They understand the problems with paving new racetracks. My concern is they wanted to do it, now they’re not doing it, is there a problem that’s created that we’re not aware of?

“Give the drivers credit. They brought an issue up. … If the track really had to be paved, I don’t think that Ed Clark or anyone  would say, ‘Just listen to the drivers and to heck with whatever happens.’ I believe the racetrack and owners have confidence that with changes and small improvements, it’s OK not to pave it. So ultimately the responsibility falls on (the drivers). If it doesn’t go well, the drivers have to stand up and back them and say, ‘Thank you for working with us, sorry it didn’t work out, thank you for making it work.’”

Texas Motor Speedway shows off new repave

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Other than the lines needing to be painted, the repave of Texas Motor Speedway’s racing surface has been completed.

The track officially unveiled the finished product on Monday, less than a month before its first usage by NASCAR.

One of those present for the reveal was NASCAR Cup driver and Texas native Chris Buescher.

In addition to the repave, the project lowered the banking in Turns 1-2 from 24 to 20 degrees and the racing surface width was expanded from 60 to 80 feet in those turns. Turns 3 and 4 were just repaved.

A drainage system was also installed to help prevent long rain delays or postponements that plagued both NASCAR weekends and the IndyCar weekend last year.

In the above video you can watch Buescher drive around the track and give his commentary on the how the project turned out. Buescher and the rest of his NASCAR competitors will return to Fort Worth, Texas, for the April 9 O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.

“The track was soaked this morning when we got here and was dry within the hour without any assistance,” Buescher said in a press conference. “We ran maybe 10 laps with a pace car. That’s all we really did to help. … Turns 1 and 2 over there, it’s interesting how wide it is now. It’s pretty amazing, when you get on the front stretch, which is it’s always been without white lines now. Looking at the corner coming up, it’s extremely wide, we’ve got a lot of options. … The bottom groove is so far down the track, you feel  like that track is going to be quite a bit slower.”

After the first NASCAR race weekend, the Verizon IndyCar Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will return to race on the track during the weekend of June 10.

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Repave at Texas Motor Speedway is complete

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway
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On Wednesday, Texas Motor Speedway officially waved the checkered flag on the repave of its 1.5-mile track surface.

The track announced the project’s completion on social media.

The repave, the first at TMS since 2001, was announced in January as a way to prevent the lengthy rain delays that plagued the track last year for its NASCAR and Verizon IndyCar Series events.

As part of the repave, the banking in Turns 1 and 2 was reduced from 24 to 20 degrees. The racing surface width was expanded from 60 to 80 feet in those turns. Turns 3 and 4 were unchanged and simply repaved.

NASCAR returns to the track April 7-9 with the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series.

Goodyear has already announced it will not be able to conduct a tire test before the race weekend.

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