Posted: 1:22 pm Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017
By Doug "Fireball" Turnbull
Atlanta Motor Speedway officials announce that following the March 5th Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, they will repave the 1.5-mile track surface.
Drivers and fans alike have applauded the multi-groove racing the Hampton, Georgia track has produced over the years, but two decades of racing and weather have aged the surface to the point of needing new pavement. Officials have said for several years that this was coming – the question has always been when.
AMS repaved and realigned the racetrack in 1997, between the March and November races, switching the front and back straightaways and adding a quad-oval. Geoff Bodine set the track record, which still stands, at 197.478 mph. At that point and for several years to come, it was the fastest track in NASCAR. 2000 MENCS champ Bobby Labonte won his second of six-career Atlanta races that fall day.
The new repave will not change the banking in the 24-degree turns or alter track layout in any other way, officials say.
Initial reaction to the repave has been dissent, with multiple drivers tweeting or Facebooking versions of, “Nooooo,” to the news. The challenge the track faces is using a type of pavement that can still keep the amount of passing and tire wear at desirable, entertaining levels. Drivers love that they have more lanes to choose from and that the tires fall off on AMS’ old surface. Newer pavement increases speeds and drives racers to use the bottom groove on the track. This makes passing extremely hard, until another groove rubbers in and the pavement wears. Once wear happens, the pavement chews up tires more quickly, speeds fall off, and more grooves come into play. The cars that handle the best and the drivers that can put their machines on the ragged edge are the ones that usually prevail.
One ray of hope for the repave is that the last one at AMS produced 24 lead changes amongst 11 drivers in that 1997 NAPA 500. There were, however, only four cautions in 325 laps, the first of which was a competition yellow to check tire wear. And ‘97 NASCAR racecars were far less engineered than the Gen-6 pieces on the track today.
Neither NASCAR, Goodyear, or AMS have announced any testing dates. But the repave, weather-permitting, should be complete by mid-April, in time for AMS’ annual Motorama and in plenty of time to test for the 2018 NASCAR season.
The announcement comes two months to the day before the start of the NASCAR race weekend, the second on the 2017 NASCAR national schedule. The Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series run a double-header for the third-straight year on Saturday, March 4th, before the Cup cars tussle for 500 miles on March 5th. And AMS still has the Perfect Race Weather Guarantee, which guarantees a track credit to a future 2017 or 2018 event if the temps do not reach 50 degrees or if rain postpones the Saturday or Sunday races.
2017 begins the Monster Energy era as the title sponsor of NASCAR’s Cup Series and now ends an era of sorts at AMS.