NASCAR Drivers Question Need For Kansas Speedway Repave

Shortly after the checkered flag waves Sunday on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, the 1.5-mile track will be getting a facelift.

But it's a facelift not everyone agrees the 12-year-old track actually needs.

Prior to the October Chase race at the track, speedway officials will not only repave the surface but also reconfigure the constant 15-degree banking the track has now to a variable banking of 17-to-20 degrees.

Kansas will be the 10th such Sprint Cup Series track to undergo some sort of resurfacing in the last six years, joining Pocono, Michigan, Daytona, Phoenix, Darlington, Bristol, Talladega, Charlotte and Las Vegas.

While Kansas is being forced to repave due to the inclement weather the speedway endures, the majority of drivers in the garage are less than enthusiastic about the forthcoming changes. This is due in large part to the difficulty drivers face when trying to pass, as well as the lack of side-by-side racing a recently repaved or reconfigured surface often creates.

"I'm never a fan of repaves," Kevin Harvick said Friday. "I think when you repave something, it takes years for the racing to get back to the point of where things are."

Harvick echoed other drivers' comments, saying he didn't understand why a track where drivers can run next to one another needed an overhaul.

The more worn out a track is, the slipperier it becomes; and when a track becomes slick, it puts the onus on the drivers to handle their loose cars, as well as placing an emphasis on them to manage tires.

"When you don't pave racetracks and there's tire wear, the driver shows up a lot more," Denny Hamlin. "When you pave a racetrack, it becomes all about track position and how good your car is.

"(On an) old racetrack, I say the driver is probably 65 percent of how you run. On a brand-new paved racetrack, I'd say our numbers are probably down to 30 (percent). So it cuts half of (the driver skill) off, in my opinion. When you're running nearly wide-open on every corner on newly-paved racetracks, there's just not much us drivers can do."

Not every driver though is in the camp that Kansas is doing a bad thing by ripping up its surface. Among those is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is happy to see progressive banking come to the 1.5-mile oval.

"I think what they're doing is going to be fun and I like that they're making a change." Earnhardt Jr. said Friday. "Even though when you pave a racetrack, it typically doesn't put on the best races, after a few years of weather and wear on the surface, it tends to work out OK and the track really comes into its own again.

"As much as we'd like to have a lot of the tracks stay with the older asphalt, it's just some of them are deteriorating so bad that it's just not an option. ... I think progressive banking has done wonders at a lot of race tracks and been a real plus at a lot of places."

One such track is Homestead-Miami Speedway, which hosts the Sprint Cup season-finale and went from being a flat, quad-oval to a racetrack that now features multiple grooves with plenty of passing.

Under its old design, Tony Stewart's improbable, come-from-behind victory last year to secure his third series championship would have likely never happened due to the difficulty drivers had navigating the once-single-groove track.

Conversely, one of those tracks where progressive banking didn't work out was Bristol, where last's month race was decried by fans and media alike for its perceived lack of excitement.

Track owner Bruton Smith responded to the uproar by announcing he would make changes to the half-mile oval before its annual August night race. Those changes are expected to be announced next week, after Smith was to consult with drivers about what changes he should make.

"The guys from Bristol last week said that they were going to come and talk about the track, but I never saw them," Harvick responded when asked if he was ever approached by Smith. "I guess if they want to keep repaving them they can keep having their own ideas."

In the past, Johnson has shared his thoughts with NASCAR about the current trend among tracks to reconfigure/resurface. Though to what degree the sanctioning body and track operators have listened to the five-time champion is open to interpretation.

"The one that caught me off guard, and I think a lot of drivers off guard, was the repave at Phoenix (International Raceway)," he said. "The conversations that took place, and kind of the understanding from the drivers leaving those meetings when we came back, it was a far different racetrack than what we had talked about. I guess that's their prerogative. They're spending the money on the track; they can do what they want."

Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, is another driver who can't quite get a handle on why Kansas Speedway is calling in the bulldozers. Like Johnson, Gordon has also had plenty of discussions with NASCAR over the years on this very topic.

But Gordon accepts that eventually every track is going to have to undergo some sort of modification to its surface, whether drivers like it or not.

"I don't know anybody that's a real fan of a repave," said Gordon, the winner of the first Cup race held here in 2001. "The tracks don't want to incur the cost, but they know that it's necessary because of the structure of the pavement or the foundation underneath or whatever it may be that puts them into that box. They know that they're going to suffer on some of the racing because of the tires being harder, more durable for those types of new surfaces.

"It's just part of racing and it is part of the evolution of pavement of how it's changed. That's just technology. It's no different than what you're riding on down the highways, smoother than it's ever been and lasts longer than it ever has before – that's what we use for race tracks."

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