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Rash of track resurfacing projects not good for competition

By admin | April 20, 2012

By Richard Allen

Almost immediately after the conclusion of Sunday’s STP 400 at the Kansas Speedway the process of removing the old asphalt from the 1.5 mile track’s racing surface will begin in order to make way for the laying of a new layer of pavement. On the surface(pun intended) the repaving of a race track sounds like a great idea. Surely the smoother the surface the better the racing, right?

Well, that’s not usually the case. And that seems to be especially true when the track is also to be reconfigured with progressive banking, which Kansas officials plan to incorporate along with the new surface.

As an example, look at the Bristol Motor Speedway. After yet another event with disappointing attendance last month, owners of that half-mile facility, Speedway Motorsports, asked fans to vote on whether or not the track should again be reconfigured. The track will announce the changes they intend to make at a soon to be held press conference.

“When you pave a racetrack it typically doesn’t put on the best races,” Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said during a Friday press conference in Kansas. “But after a few years of weather and wear on the surface it tends to work out OK and the track tends to come into its own again.”

Often times, new pavement provides outstanding grip. That, in turn, causes all cars to handle fairly well. So, drivers have a difficult time passing each other because the pavement is providing everyone with equal grip. The result is often a ‘parade’ in which cars follow each other around at very high speed with little passing.

That proves especially true on 1.5 mile aerodynamically sensitive tracks like Kansas on which passing is difficult anyway, a situation exacerbated by NASCAR’s mandated setups. Because of the similarities of so many of the handling components in the cars, the tracks are often the only variable to create some sort of difference.

“I would not resurface this track, ever,” Carl Edwards declared during his afternoon session with the media. “I wouldn’t resurface tracks ever if it were up to me. I’d patch the holes and keep on running.

“I’m a racer that like to race on a bumpy, rough, slick race track with cars sliding all over the place,” the 2011 Sprint Cup runner-up added. “That’s what I like.”

Edwards’ Roush Fenway Racing teammates also weighed in somewhat against the plan to resurface the Kansas track. “I’m a little disappointed that they’re repaving it,” Greg Biffle said. “But I understand that we’ve got to keep the racetrack together and not have something like happened at Daytona(pothole in 2010).”

“All the racing seems better when the pavement wears out,” Matt Kenseth said. “This new stuff(synthetically blended asphalt) doesn’t do that. It would be cool if we could pave it and it’s already worn out.

“It seems like if you could pave it and have it be a little abrasive, kind of like it would be after a few years of aging, it seems like that would be pretty cool if you could figure out how to do that,” Kenseth added.

Obviously, the failure of a track’s surface should never become part of a race story. Pieces of the track coming up during a race is not something any promoter wants to have happen. However, the rash of repaves of late do not bode well for the quality of racing fans and drivers have to look forward to in the near future.

The track in Phoenix was just recently repaved. Also, tracks in Michigan and Pocono will contest their next races on new asphalt.

The next race held here at the Kansas Speedway will also be on new pavement. And like the situation of last fall in Phoenix, teams will have the element of a new racing surface to contend with in the midst of the Chase for the Championship.

With the possibility of danger to drivers aside, this writer’s wish would be for tracks to keep their old surfaces for as long as possible. As the drivers quoted above stated, the racing is just typically better on older surfaces and the driver‘s ability is brought more into play as the track loses grip.

Edwards declared that his opinion on track resurfacing is so set that, “They don’t even talk to me about any repaving stuff because they know my answer each time. I don’t care if there’s twenty foot long patches of dirt in the middle of the race track.”

Listen to this audio podcast to get my pick to win as well as some other drivers to look out for this weekend in Kansas-> STP 400 Preview(Kansas Speedway)

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