Race Weekend Central

Speedway Motorsports Shouldn’t Stop With Atlanta

Most sports engage in a battle between uniformity and uniqueness.

The negotiation that takes place between these two concepts plays out in how sports are regulated and how they are consumed. When the rules move too far toward uniformity, then creativity takes place in smaller windows, and the sport frequently finds itself in a troubled position with regard to popularity.

Shifting the rules to a point of too much openness and questions about fairness and how to adjudicate the sport become an issue. 

In NASCAR, the cars are often the things that face the most scrutiny. The current iteration gracing the track asserts near conformity, built from spec parts where any modification brings down Thorʻs hammer on the offender. 

The areas of the sandbox on the car where teams are allowed to play are tiny, allowing for differing small sandcastles where minutiae is the measurement. 

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One area in the sport that enjoys almost no scrutiny — and perhaps one that should — is the tracks. 

Aside from ensuring that most of the track is lined with SAFER barriers, the organizing body seems to put little push into what a track should be. In that regard, tracks are free to use whatever materials they see fit — a nod to Darlington Raceway, which made sure to use essentially the same gravel during its repave as it had done the last time the track enjoyed a new tarmac. 

The shape is up to developers and engineers as well. 

Note recent track reconfigurations like Phoenix Raceway or Texas Motor Speedway.  Actually, donʻt note Texas Motor Speedway. No one should note Texas.  In fact, we should all pretend that Texas dumpster fire does not exist and that the sport does not race there. 

If ever there were a case study in how to botch a track, Texas would be example 1A, with Texas also being example 1B. The fact that NASCAR still visits the track is an ode to idiocy and a reason for everyone who follows, writes about, hate-watches and works in the sport to engage in group therapy. And now Texas will host the best race of the 2023 season.

The standout — and somewhat standalone in track reconfiguration — came from the last stop on the big show’s tour, where William Byron held first place when rain halted the contest in Atlanta.

While Atlanta had been considered a fine track before Marcus Smith and Speedway Motorsports went nuclear and created what is essentially a new track, few had taken such an approach before. From that thought, one might believe that the same approach should be taken with Texas, and such thinking might be embraced, but no. 

That track is like scorched earth at this point. The only thing that should be done with that track is to reduce it to such fine particles that scientists will struggle to find evidence it ever existed. 

The track that could stand to get the Atlanta treatment is the one next on the schedule and the home of the big lobster trophy. 

Hello, New Hampshire Motor Speedway. 

In what is the yearly tradition of trying to woo the Northeastʻs attention, NASCAR parades around Loudon, N.H., for 301 laps in what amounts to single-file frustration and leaves no mark toward entertainment nor competitive joy. It would be lovely to avow that New Hampshire offers some kind of historical significance and link to a black-and-white clip with a narrator that sounds like he is sipping gin while wearing a fedora, but that is not New Hampshire’s legacy. 

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Sure, the track has roots. Originally known as Bryar Motorsports Park, which opened in 1964, the facility was basically razed in 1989 when Bob Bahre bought the track and redeveloped it. Taking nine months to complete, New Hampshire Motor Something-or-other (because it is hard to call it a speedway when there is little speed) opened in June 1990. 

The NASCAR Xfinity Series graced the track that year, with the NASCAR Cup Series joining the fun in 1993. Since then, the only thing that seems memorable is that Jeff Burton led every lap during one of the races and that NASCAR botched how it called another one that led to a pileup because everyone was basically racing in the rain (which was not an art). 

Maybe there is another race that stands out for some reason, but not at the moment. 

With a history that is shorter than grunge music, there is no reason to hold on to this ailing relic. The fact that it is owned by the same company that owns Atlanta is all the more reason to let, nay, encourage Smith and his merry pranksters to lay waste to the current track and bring the people a wild iteration of the 1-miler. Have at it. The situation appears to have but one direction to go: up.

The track has left little to be desired for a while now. Passing has always been at a premium, but recent races have brought almost none as cars stall out behind each other, and the minimal banking provides little advantage when taking a different line. The racing is not just stale; it is practically petrified, as drivers are locked in by qualifying effort and restart positions. 

The governing body, however, has let tracks operate as they will, even to the sportʻs own detriment at times. But perhaps it is time that NASCAR gave a little nudge to the people over at Speedway Motorsports and encouraged a redo. 

The Atlanta project has turned out to be one of the better things to emerge in NASCAR in the past couple years, maybe the same minds can do the same thing to a place where we seem to get the same race each year. 

About the author

Ava Lader headshot photo

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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Shayne

Blaming the tracks is a rather lazy exercise in examining the root problem(s) NASCAR is currently faced with.

1. The car: An unsafe on-going experiment that hasn’t worked out for almost 2 decades now.

2. See #1

ISC and SMI have painted themselves into a corner. Ovals have become relics mainly due to #1 above. The oval tracks are expensive to operate. Something must give.

NASCAR is looking for any way to save their sorry asses. Stay tuned.

Echo

True 👍

DoninAjax

I have said for years that the problem is the car AND the drivers. The car can’t be set up the way a driver needs it. Imagine these guys running against Lee Petty, Buck Baker and Curtis Turner. We’ve seen how they react to getting their cages rattled!

Kevin in SoCal

I’ve always thought if you raised the banking on the second groove here, that it would improve the racing.
Then again, it hasn’t really worked for Bristol, has it?

gbvette

New Hampshire is just an awful track, and has been ever since they replaced the old Bryar 5/8 mile oval. Except for Indy, flat ovals have never provided good racing, and even at Indy it only seems to work for Indy Cars. Homestead started out as a mini Indy and figured out pretty quickly that the layout didn’t work. The rounded banked turns at Homestead has improved racing quite a bit. While the current generation of car doesn’t seem to race well on 1/2 and one mile ovals, the situation is made worse by the flat turns at New Hampshire.

Indy Car figured out long ago that New Hampshire wasn’t fit for modern race cars, and until New Hampshire is torn down and reconfigured, NASCAR should walk away too. The only reason it’s on the schedule is because it’s the only oval in New England, but in my opinion that’s not a good enough reason to keep going back somewhere that provides such subpar racing.

Last edited 11 months ago by gbvette
Marshall

People must not have been watching the races at New Hampshire for quite a while. I’m not going to claim it’s the most exciting track on the schedule, but it’s certainly not the follow-the-leader snooze fest everyone’s claiming. It’s one of the few tracks that still requires heavy braking, and also one of the few tracks the cats can actually lean on each other. I was at the 2020 race which was really good- multiple passes back and forth for the lead. I regretted not going every other year since I could afford it again around 2018. I typically choose to attend the Xfinity/mods double header, which is almost always a good show. I don’t think they should mess with the track at all. Give the cars their horsepower back and they’ll put on a good race anywhere.

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