Kyle Larson is the top driver on the NASCAR Cup Series this season with four wins. Denny Hamlin is the current points leader, with Larson just a few points behind. They are good at what they do. Apparently, not good enough to consult with when it comes to major changes at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which were announced on Tuesday.
Both drivers and several others voiced their concerns with the track changes and how no one bothered to ask them for their input and how it might impact future races.
Atlanta Motor Speedway to undergo major renovation
Atlanta Motor Speedway will host the NASCAR Cup Series race this weekend for its second race of the year. It’s the first time that’s happened since 2010. After Sunday’s race, the track will receive a long-overdue makeover.
Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI), which owns the track, announced on Tuesday that the renovations would include an increase in banking in the turns from 24 to 28 degrees. In addition to increased banking, the repaving portion of the project will decrease the width of the 1.54-mile track from 55 feet to 52 on the front stretch, 42 on the backstretch, and 40 on the turns.
According to SMI senior vice-president for operations and development Stephen Swift, the narrower track will push cars “in groups together. That creates better entertainment.” He said Atlanta is the first 1.5-mile track with this kind of racing.
“I say this, I kind of jest, when a driver is happy about our race track, usually the fans aren’t,” Swift said. “We want to make sure what we’re creating is what the fans want to see.”
Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin not happy
While the track owners believe it might create better entertainment, the drivers who produce that entertainment aren’t so sure. Kyle Larson, who has won four races this year, admitted as much.
“I wish they would talk to everybody about it,” Larson said on a Zoom call. “We have more experience than the fans, you know. I’ve raced hundreds of different racetracks. I feel like we have a better understanding of what really makes good racing. But, you know, fans like crashing and a 40-foot wide surface is going to keep us tight together, so maybe that’s going to accomplish the good racing that we think it is.”
Denny Hamlin agreed.
“With all due respect. This same group (SMI) has reconfigured Texas, Kentucky, Bristol with 0 driver input,” Hamlin tweeted. “One of those lost a race, other one we don’t race anymore, and last one we put dirt over it. But hey, what do the drivers know.”
Hamlin critical of track changes in the past
Hamlin has never been one to shy away from sharing his thoughts. Last year, the three-time Daytona 500 winner voiced his concerns about applying the PJ1 traction compound to tracks and SMI ignoring drivers’ feedback.
“(This is) a sensitive subject for me personally because I work directly with NASCAR on track prep,” Hamlin said. “What’s disappointing from my perspective — and for the record, I love the Smith family — but they go rogue sometimes when it comes to thinking that they’re in the competition business.
“It’s disappointing because the information that NASCAR gets from us on track prep and how to prepare the racetrack to put on the best possible racing comes from drivers who do it themselves and they know better than anyone. Better than anyone.”
Whether or not Atlanta Motor Speedway got it right without driver feedback won’t be known until NASCAR returns there next spring.