By David Morgan, Associate Editor
After Atlanta Motor Speedway announced earlier this week that it would be repaving and reconfiguring the 1.54-mile track for the 2022 season, a chorus of drivers and crew chiefs have come out in opposition to the changes planned to the oldest racing surface in NASCAR.
Following his 102nd NASCAR Xfinity Series win Saturday at the track, you can add Kyle Busch to that growing list.
“I sure am glad to win the final Xfinity Series race on a real Atlanta race track,” Busch said. “Because the next one is just going to be a showpiece and it’s going to be shit.
The changes to Atlanta include an increase in the current banking in the turns from 24 to 28 degrees, making the banking the highest among intermediate tracks in NASCAR. The straightaways will remain banked at five degrees.
In addition, the racing surface will be narrowed from 55 feet to 40 feet in the turns, 52 feet on the front stretch, and 42 feet on the back stretch.
“I went out there today just driving around looking at it and if they’re going to narrow it up, 15 feet or whatever it is, that’s the whole bottom groove. They’re taking away the whole bottom groove. That whole first seam.
“We’re not going to be able to run around here three-wide. You’re going to be stuck at two-wide. It’s going to be as wide as Darlington. Trying to run around here at 210 mph because if they don’t put plates on it, you’re going to be going way too fast.
“Just think about it. Everybody needs to think. Ain’t nobody thinking. Brains for sale, never used. Operating race tracks.”
After lobbing comments about the crowd present for the Xfinity race and Cup stars not being allowed to race more in the series, Busch continued his rant about changes coming to Atlanta, noting a lack of communication between track management and the driving corps.
“I feel that our side doesn’t get looked at whatsoever from our vantage point,” Busch added. “You’re going to come here with fresh pavement with four degrees more banking. When they were here in 1997, they went around here wide open and set a track record of 197 mph. You’re going to tell me that the next cars that we’re going to have with more tire, wider tire, everything, we’re not going to go faster? I mean, we’re the ones that need to be consulted as well, too, a little bit.
“Narrowing the race track…All we’ve done at every single racetrack that we’ve gone to over the years is try to widen the racing groove. Right? What do you think the PJ1 bullshit is for?! To widen the racing groove. We go to Charlotte. We spray this PJ1 stuff in Lane 2 and 3 to make it wider. We go to Texas, we spray it in Lanes 2, 3, 4 at Texas to widen it. I mean, what are we doing?
“Now we’re going to come here and run here like Darlington. I just don’t see it. And they want pack racing? You want pack racing two-wide. Who’s going to pass? Where are the lanes going to go? You know what I mean? You’re going to get to the straightaway and make it three wide and try to blend back into two when you get to the corner. Simulation. Yeah, they’ve got it all worked out.”
Busch then continued, targeting Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and the changes the company has made at other tracks in its portfolio in recent years.
“They can do whatever the hell they want to do because no one holds them accountable. They took Bristol and tore Bristol apart and actually turned it into a pretty racy racetrack. All the drivers loved it, but, of course, they would argue that the fans don’t, so there’s a divide on that. There’s a divide on pleasing the fans in the grandstands and putting on a show and what that show is.
“There’s a video on YouTube of Tony Stewart saying we’re in the racing business. We race cars. There’s going to be times that a guy figures it out and he runs off. You know, that’s racing. But they want to be in the entertainment business and put on crashes and fireballs and everything else.
“I’ve been in a race that I haven’t walked out of before and that sucks. Then I missed 11 races after that, so I know what it’s like to get hurt. I know when the opportunity presents itself. Coming to Atlanta with more banking, less race track to race does not sound appealing.”
Those comments echoed what his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin pointed out on Twitter earlier in the week.
Over the years, Busch has had plenty of success on the current Atlanta surface with two Cup Series wins, three Xfinity Series wins, and six Truck Series wins at the track, making it one of his favorites, but added that will likely change when the construction equipment rolls into the facility next week to start its makeover.
“Pretty high right now,” Busch said of where Atlanta ranks on his list of favorites. “Come Monday, pretty low. It’s a fun place. We all say it. The drivers all say it.
“It’s challenging. It’s difficult. You have to figure out how fast you can run, how hard you can push and yet still try to save your tire and not burn the tires off it. We saw that here in the spring time. I mean, Larson stunk up the show, was out ahead 15 seconds, but on the last run Blaney ran him down and caught him. He burned his stuff up.
“Overall, this is one of the more fun tracks…I get it, the asphalt is coming up. You can see chunks of it missing and stuff like that out there. It’s time for a repave and what not. I don’t disagree or discredit that front, but the layout, I can’t get it in my mind that we want to go faster.”