Track management at Atlanta Motor Speedway announced on Tuesday, July 6, massive changes to the 1.54-mile oval. The changes include decreasing the width and adding four degrees of banking, which sparked considerable frustration among NASCAR drivers. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and several others have since strongly criticized the decision during press conferences and on social media.
Busch, the winner of the Credit Karma Money 250 on July 10, took several shots at track officials after he won his fifth Xfinity Series start of 2021. “I sure am glad to win the final Xfinity Series race on a real Atlanta racetrack,” Busch said during his post-race press conference, per NBC Sports. “Because the next one is just going to be a showpiece, and it’s going to be s***.
“If they’re going to narrow it up 15 feet, whatever it is, that’s the whole bottom groove,” Busch continued. “We’re not going to be able to run around here 3 wide. You’re going to be stuck at two wide. It’s going to be as wide as Darlington. So 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.”
Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, explained during the announcement that construction will take place starting after the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart and should come to an end in time for the 2022 season. He added that they made the changes in pursuit of close, competitive racing, a la Talladega Superspeedway.
Conflicting Reports Surfaced About Driver Input
When SMI made the announcement about the upcoming changes, the Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer reported that the drivers had no input. Steve Swift, the vice president of operations development for the company, explained that the fans and drivers want different things at race tracks.
However, Smith appeared on NBC Sports’ NASCAR America MotorMouths and provided a different story. He said that the group talked to drivers, engineers, broadcast partners, and Goodyear before finalizing the designs.
“We definitely talked to drivers. We’re talking to engineers,” Smith said, per NBC Sports. “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 that they talked to drivers about the changes, but multiple said that this statement was untrue. Larson said that the news caught them off guard while Denny Hamlin said that he has asked for the names of the drivers who provided input but received none.
Drivers From Other Series Echoed Busch’s Frustration
The Cup Series drivers are not the only ones that expressed irritation and frustration about the upcoming changes to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Kevin Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers said that the changes would make the racing “horrible.” Camping World Truck Series driver Sheldon Creed also took some shots at the decision during a post-race interview with Autoweek.
The GMS Racing driver started the discussion by explaining how changes need to take place before the Truck Series returns to Knoxville Speedway in Iowa. He cited the number of wrecks that occurred, as well as the “lack of respect” between drivers as they fought for the bottom line. Creed finished by expressing a desire to compete at a different track in Iowa while comparing it to Atlanta.
“I think we should go to Iowa Speedway,” Creed told Autoweek. “That place raced so good. You can run all over it. Apparently, they don’t like that because we are going to ruin Atlanta too.”