Shortly after Denny Hamlin’s car was pushed out of Kansas Speedway’s victory lane on Sunday, a convoy of paving equipment was set to enter the facility and begin repaving the track that hosted its first Sprint Cup race in 2001. That is not long for the life of a track’s asphalt racing surface, but the Midwest winters have not been kind to the mile-and-a-half oval.
Kansas is not the only track to get a facelift on the schedule, as Dover and Michigan will also have new racing surfaces when the series invades those venues for the first time later this season. Bristol’s owner Bruton Smith also announced that he is going to work on his track’s all concrete racing surface before the series returns in August, but there is no official word yet on just what changes will be taking place.
Each track has its own reason for repaving. I am sure the decision to do so is not a spur-of-themoment idea as the move to a new surface comes with a hefty price tag. It used to be that a track raced the same surface until it was literally worn out, but that line of thinking was changed when Homestead-Miami resurfaced its track in 2003 with progressive banking.
Thanks to that repaving job, tracks can now have their tracks reconfigured to include a wider range of banking possibilities instead of being locked into a certain amount. Kansas will follow that line of thinking as its repaving will replace what used to be 15-degree banking with a track that will feature banking ranging from 17 tom20 degrees. That’s progressive banking and the thought process behind it is that the flexibility in banking will give drivers more of the track to race on as a driver can move his car around until he finds the groove that best suits his car.
All of that sounds good, but in reality whenever a new racing surface is put down, the old racing that used to take place at the track is usually gone for several years. The old, worn out surface was slick, which made it hard on tire wear, and in the process made the driver get up on the wheel as he would often have to slide his car around the turns.
That changes with a newly paved surface as the asphalt has a ton of grip that more than often puts a premium on track position. You can always argue that a repave takes some of the driver’s ability out of the equation and forces teams to make pit decisions more on where they will be back out on the track instead of giving the driver what he needs to “drive” his way to the front.
The argument can be made on either side of the repaving issue, but in reality some tracks need to be repaved because of safety concerns and in the case of Kansas, the track made the right call. Pictures this past weekend showed just how bad the track had deteriorated, and it seemed like every time a car had to drive over one of the well-patched seams that the rear end jumped out from under the driver.
When the series comes back to Kansas later this season, every team will start out new as the old notes that were used to set up cars in the past will no longer be valid with the new progressive banked surface. The sanctioning body will be conducting a test prior to the next race there, just as it will for both Pocono and Michigan. That will help, but nothing can take the place of laps logged during a race. The racing will be different but in time the new surface will wear out, giving us loose racing once again and leaving track owners the question of when to repave.
Pit Notes: Martin Truex Jr. added some more ammunition to his chances of re-signing with Michael Waltrip Racing with his second-place finish at Kansas. It was his fifth straight top-10 finish of the season and it moved him into second place in the standings for the first time in his career. Waltrip was quoted over the weekend as saying that everyone involved including sponsor NAPA would love to continue the arrangement into the 2013 season.
Event: Richmond 400
Track: Richmond International
Raceway (.750-mile oval, 14 degrees of banking in the turns)
Date: April 28, 7:30 p.m.
Defending Champion: Kyle Busch