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Track executive says drivers were consulted in Atlanta project

Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, said on NASCAR America MotorMouths that drivers were consulted ahead of the announced changes to Atlanta Motor Speedway for 2022.

Those changes — increasing the banking from 24 to 28 degrees and narrowing the width of the track to 40 feet in the turns — generated feedback that included “positives and negatives,” Smith told NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett on Wednesday’s show on Peacock.

“It’s been nice to see all the discussion about it,” Smith said. “I think it just shows you how passionate our fans are about the sport, how passionate all the stakeholders in our sport, team owners, drivers, sponsors (are).

“NASCAR is a fantastic community, and we’re all in this together. I think more now than I’ve seen in my career, we’re really all working together to make NASCAR the best it can possibly be.”

Some competitors said they were not consulted and raised questions about the changes that will be made to the track.

“I wish they would have kind of talked to everybody about it,” Kyle Larson said this week. “I think a lot of us drivers were kind of caught off guard. I had heard about it earlier this year, about banking and stuff, but not the track width and stuff like that. We’re going to go and put on a good show no matter how the track is.

"… I’ve raced at hundreds of different racetracks, I feel like (drivers) would have a better understanding of what really makes good racing. But, fans like crashes and a 40-foot wide surface is going to keep us tight together, so maybe that will accomplish the good racing that we think it is.”

Denny Hamlin was vocal on social media. He noted Smith’s Speedway Motorsports had made changes to Texas Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway “with 0 driver input. One of those lost a race, other one we don’t race anymore and last one we put dirt over. But hey, what do the drivers know?”

Smith said drivers were consulted.

“You think about what do we do when we design a track and think about how we improve a track,” he said. “All the time we are talking to drivers, we’re talking to Goodyear, NASCAR, partners at NBC and the fans to look at the kind of racing that we’re producing, the kind of competition, the entertainment factor. Everything about a race comes into play when we really analyze a race weekend.

“We definitely talked to drivers. We’re talking to engineers. The pavement technology, there’s so much that goes into it. It’s not just one conversation here and one conversation there. It’s really a months- and years-long process of deciding what the perfect geometry is and the pavement makeup to renovate a track like Atlanta Motor Speedway.”

Smith said iRacing was used to simulate track configurations to determine the best renovation plans for the Next Gen car, which debuts in 2022.

“Working with iRacing and NASCAR, we took all the metics from the existing Next Gen cars and plugged that into the iRacing computer engine and took all the data we had so far with Atlanta Motor Speedway current and the new planned Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“We actually tweaked it as we went along. … It’s been 10 months of development virtually, and it’s been a great process to come up with this new track profile during that process.

“To your question of how do you do that with a new car, it’s amazing what you can do with data today. With NASCAR’s help, all the data about the new car that is known to date is plugged into the iRacing computer to make these kind of decisions happen and come to life.”

Atlanta Motor Speedway reprofiling

Photo Credit: Atlanta Motor Speedway

Smith said that a repave could no longer be put off for Atlanta’s surface. The track has had the same racing surface since 1997, making it the second-oldest asphalt racing surface on the circuit. Auto Club Speedway has had the same asphalt racing surface since 1996.

“This is one of those things, it was time to repave Atlanta,” Smith said. “Since we’re going to repave Atlanta anyway, we wanted to to do it in the newest and best way possible.

“Anytime we come up with a repave, I think, yes, you’ll see whether it is us or NASCAR really work with iRacing to simulate the different changes ... they can plug into our system and you see it in this virtual engine, how it all works on the screen and how it all performs with the all the physics of a modern day racecar.”

NASCAR announced June 29 that iRacing had signed to become the official simulation partner to the sport. NASCAR noted in a release that the partnership would include collaboration “around a number of innovation initiatives which have far-reaching implications on the future of NASCAR — including the design of new and proposed NASCAR race tracks (and) collaboration and technical support on the NASCAR NextGen race car project.”