If stock car drivers had their way, every asphalt company in the United States would be shut down and their hulking repaving machines destroyed and recycled into Fords or Chevrolets.
Drivers shy away from the concept of repaving speedways like sheep avoid wolfpacks. The best race track, in the driver’s view, is one that was paved a quarter-century ago and has been beaten by wind and weather and race-car rubber until it is super-slick and fully in the hands of the racer.
So it is with a great sigh of sadness among the driver corps that the green flag will fly at Kansas Speedway Sunday for the final time on the current track surface. There will be a ceremony of sorts after the race as the process of ripping apart the track begins, but it won’t be one the drivers will be saluting.
The STP 400 is scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET start Sunday. The buzz among many drivers and teams is that it will be the last “real” race on the track until the new surface is worn in – a complaint that’s heard virtually every time a track is repaved.
Carl Edwards said Friday, for example, that he would never repave a track but would repair decaying areas of the surface.
Asked if the repave could ruin the style of racing in recent Kansas events, Brad Keselowski said, “I think it can. It has the potential. I think it’s a bad mindset to say that a repave is going to kill the racing. I don’t agree with that. I think it has the potential if it’s not done right. Basically, you’re redoing something. Any time that you redo something, you have the potential to screw it up, like doing your hair in the morning. You do it the first time and do it right and you redo it and you have the potential to screw it up. It’s not different with the race track. And the potential is here to screw it up and the potential of the next track when they repave it. So it depends what process they use.”
The man in charge of that process is Martin Flugger, the director of engineering for International Speedway Corp.’s Design and Development company. ISC is Kansas Speedway’s parent company.
He said the current track surface looks OK – in response to some drivers’ claims that a resurfacing isn’t necessary – but that the problems are deeper.
“The problem is not so much the top layer,” Flugger said. “The problem is underneath. There’s a real possibility the layers could pull apart. Everybody thought that Daytona looked great until that hole opened up.”
The 2010 Daytona 500 was interrupted – twice – because of a pothole that appeared in the track surface during the race. The track was repaved, but the interruption of NASCAR’s biggest race was a major embarrassment to the sport.
“If you have a failure on the track, you have to be concerned about how long it will take to fix it,” Flugger said.
As part of the Kansas repave, the track’s banking will be changed to progressive banking of 20 degrees in the turns. A similar redesign of Homestead-Miami Speedway several years ago turned that track into one of NASCAR’s best.
“Our goal is to have three racing lanes from day one,” Flugger said.
He said the repave/redesign project will be finished by Sept. 12. NASCAR is scheduled to return to the track in late October for a Chase race.
As for track president Pat Warren, his view of the issue is straightforward: “If we don’t fix it, we’ll be taking a chance with driver safety and the operations of the track,” he said.
On Saturday, Warren brought a small piece of asphalt that had broken off the track surface in turn one into the speedway media center to illustrate that the surface has some problems.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.