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Closing Shot: Take It To The Bank

As NASCAR preps for a next-generation race car, Atlanta Motor Speedway shifts gears on a new track surface designed to increase speeds and give the sport itself more traction.

By Adam Stern
The resurfacing project will increase the banking in the turns as crews use around 17,000 tons of material on the 1.54-mile oval.Atlanta Motor Speedway

As NASCAR gets ready to introduce a next-generation car model, Atlanta Motor Speedway is preparing for a new future itself as it works on a multimillion-dollar track renovation.

 

The track — located about 20 minutes south of metro Atlanta — is changing its racing surface for the first time since 1997. Along with repaving the rough asphalt that had built a reputation of chewing up tires, track owner Speedway Motorsports will increase the banking of the corners from 24 degrees to 28, which will give AMS the steepest turns of any intermediate track in NASCAR.

The idea is to create racing that is more comparable to what is seen at superspeedways Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, where cars run far closer together than what’s seen at most other tracks on the schedule.

Speedway Motorsports is now privately traded and has not disclosed the precise cost of the project. Other elements include installing a new drainage system that will help the track better deal with rainfall if it interferes with a race.

The track is working with Sunmount Paving Co. on the project, which has had to use creative engineering solutions to get all of the equipment that is usually used on flat ground to work on such steep turns. Sunmount has paved several tracks over 25 years and is expected to use around 17,000 tons of material to repave the 1.54-mile oval. The project is expected to be completed this year and it will debut during the first of Atlanta’s two NASCAR race weekends next year, which is March 18-20.

The decision to repave the track was met with a mixed reaction by drivers and fans on social media. NASCAR’s fan base is deeply divided between traditionalists who would prefer the track’s layout stay as is and more new-age fans who are open to the idea of cars bunched up in a pack at another venue beyond Daytona and Talladega. Some drivers complained of being left out of the decision-making process.

The work comes amid important times both for the sport overall and the track specifically. For NASCAR, it’s hoping that the upcoming seventh-generation car is going to be a “panacea,” as President Steve Phelps said at last month’s CAA World Congress of Sports, one that will help make the racing better on the track and improve the business model off it by lowering costs for teams.

For Atlanta, Speedway Motorsports is putting new attention on the track that opened in 1960 — even beyond the renovation. The track operator has been eyeing a possible $1 billion casino-centered development project at the track as Georgia considers legalizing gambling.

Speedway Motorsports this year shifted a second race weekend to the venue, taking the date from Kentucky Speedway, which essentially has been shuttered for now. Ten years ago, in 2011, Atlanta saw its second race go to Kentucky, so the Georgia track has come full circle.

 

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