April 12, 2012
By Nicholas Schwartz
Sprint Cup tracks are not immune to wear and tear.
After a while, all racing surfaces need to be repaired, but repaving a race track can have huge effects on the style of racing allowed in the future -- whether intentional or unintentional.
This, in turn, could potentially have drastic consequences on fan opinion and attendance, as Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Bruton Smith found out when the 2007 repave of Bristol Motor Speedway changed the nature of the race to the dismay of the fans.
Now Speedway Motorsports Inc. is in the midst of a costly project to hurriedly return Bristol to its former layout in time for the Sprint Cup Series to return this fall. Bristol’s fate serves as a warning to other Sprint Cup tracks undergoing renovation -- three tracks in 2012, not including Bristol, will have brand new surfaces this year -- that tinkering with what has been successful in the past could potentially have grave consequences in the future.
Pocono Raceway and Michigan International Raceway have already completed their respective repaves, and Kansas Speedway is scheduled to complete a resurface of the track between its April 22nd race date and October 21st, when the Sprint Cup Series will return in what is one of the final races of the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
A recently-completed Goodyear tire test at Michigan yielded huge gains in speed around the track, with some drivers shaving six or more seconds off lap times from the last completed race at Michigan in 2011. A tire test at Pocono is scheduled to be held later in April, and tests at Kansas have yet to be scheduled. Pocono had gone 16 years without any changes to the track surface, having last repaved in 1996, but Pocono Raceway President Brandon Igdalsky is confident that the new surface will only enhance what is often a follow-the-leader race in recent years.
“If you look back to ’95 when we repaved and you look at the races the following couple of years, they were some unbelievable races,” Igdalsky told the NASCAR wire service. “Speeds were up and passing was up.… With going to a 400-mile race and with everybody on a level playing field because nobody is going to have any information on the track, I think it’s going to make for one heck of a season of racing.”
Kansas Speedway will undergo the most drastic changes, with a switch to variable banking in the corners and changes to the angular layout of the oval. Such changes have been very successful for other intermediate tracks, in particular Homestead-Miami Speedway, and the mid-season switch at Kansas should add to the drama of the closing stages of the Chase.
Michigan International Speedway was already one of the fastest tracks on the circuit, but during a tire test last week, cars regularly reached astonishing speeds of up to 215 miles per hour.
Jeff Gordon -- who took part in the test along with Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Juan Pablo Montoya -- had a positive reaction to the new surface, tweeting after the first day at Michigan “Great job @MISpeedway on ur new surface. Track was awesome and fast today. Top speed was close to 215MPH!”
Brad Keselowski, the most twitter-adept of all drivers in the NASCAR garage, provided updates to fans as his speed rose throughout the session. The new speeds certainly provide Michigan with a wow factor, as anything above the 200 mile per hour barrier is -- still holds reverence as the upper limit for Sprint Cup cars in competition.
Come June, however, 43 cars will be darting around the two-mile oval at unprecedented speeds, and the style of racing could change considerably as a result. Whether or not such changes enhance or detract from the racing remain to be seen, but repaves don’t always have identical results for every track.
If blinding-quick speeds turn Michigan -- or for that matter, Pocono or Kansas -- into a boring race, what comes next?
"Obviously, whenever you... drastically make a change to the nature of a repave, it's going to change the racing and how it works," Keselowski told NASCAR.com reporter David Caraviello. "The question is: is it better, is it worse, is it this or that? I think time will tell.”
If you would like to learn more about Nicholas, please check out his web site at Sports By Schwartz. Nicholas is a Managing editor and sportswriter for The Duke Chronicle at Duke University.
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.