April 22, 2012
By Matthew Pizzolato
Ever since the infamous pothole that interrupted the 2010 Daytona 500, a rash of repave fever seems to have struck quite a few tracks on the NASCAR circuit. Phoenix International Raceway was repaved and reconfigured last year.
Michigan International Speedway and Pocono Raceway will have new surfaces before their next Sprint Cup races, but no changes were made to the layout of those tracks.
Kansas Speedway will start its reconfiguration efforts immediately following today's race. The 15 degree banking will be changed to a 17-20 degree progressive banking.
When a track's surface is worn out and falling apart or developing pot holes, it's necessary to repave it. Yet should tracks be reconfigured?
There's no question the Kansas surface needs to be replaced. A new surface with the new asphalt will change the racing enough, so why change the banking as well? Is it even a good idea?
In 2007, Bristol Motor Speedway was repaved and progressive banking was added. And it absolutely killed the racing. At a track that used to be sold out years in advance, empty seats now reign supreme.
What made Bristol famous was the one race groove around the bottom of the track. Drivers had to beat and bang on each other to make passes. Now, due to the progressive banking, they can run side by side for long stretches of time. There's no longer the action that fans used to love, it's devolved into one big game of follow the leader. Who wants to watch that?
However, as much as the fans now hate the racing at Bristol, the drivers enjoy racing on the new track configuration, especially Jeff Gordon.
"The drivers love it. It’s a great race track I think. I thought they made huge improvements. Now we hear they want to go back to the old way," Gordon was quoted as saying at a press conference at Kansas.
A few days after the last race at Bristol, track owner Burton Smith announced that there would be changes made to the track before the next race there in the fall. Those changes are supposed to make the racing better for the fans.
Yet the racing surface at Bristol is not worn out. It's not falling apart and creating safety hazards for the drivers. So why resurface it? After the last race, Burton Smith took a poll and the fans have spoken. They want the track returned to the way it was. Can that even be achieved before the next race there on August 25th?
Dale Earnhardt Jr., believes that the drivers should be consulted when it comes to repaving a track. He voiced his opinion about what should be done at Bristol.
"With the old surface the yellow line around the bottom of the track was about a foot up away from the apron, and the apron was sealed black quite often," Earnhardt was quoted as saying a few weeks ago in a press conference at Texas Motor Speedway. "And they would seal all the way up to the line. That sealer is grippy. And so there was about a foot of sealer on the very, very bottom of the race track right above the apron; and then there would be the yellow line.
"And if you were smart and you hooked your left front tire on that sealer and didn’t overdrive the car and get the car up off that, you could find grip and find speed. And if you were smart enough to do that and be patient, you could make speed on guys that weren’t smart enough to use that.
"And without that, and if they don’t do that again and they don’t have that in there, then the track ain’t like what it was," Earnhardt said. "It’s not the same track as it was. That would be the only thing I would insist that they look into."
The reason that several tracks have incorporated progressive banking into their resurfacing projects is because of the success that Homestead-Miami Speedway enjoyed after reconfiguring to include it in 2003. However, the racing at Homestead wasn't very good to begin with because the track was virtually flat. Adding banking made the racing better.
It should be remembered that progressive banking killed the racing at Bristol. Now that changes are being made to "return" Bristol to what it was, should track officials at Kansas have learned from the mistake made at Bristol?
Sometimes, track repavements are necessary, yet when it comes to changing a track's configuration, the old adage should be followed. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
If you would like to learn more about Matthew, please check out his web site at matthew-pizzolato.com.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.