Drivers Have Mixed Feelings on Repaves
In some cases, NASCAR race tracks feel that consulting with race car drivers about plans to upgrade or remodel their facilities is considered akin to conferring with asylum inmates about developing a new rules package.
Several of the sport's premier drivers said they've either never or sporadically been consulted about any of the many repaves or reconstructions that have recently taken place, are in process or -- as is the case with a project at Bristol Motor Speedway, which will be revealed Wednesday -- about to be announced.
"No, NASCAR hasn't really asked our opinion on anything," Kevin Harvick said. "The guys from Bristol said [at Texas' race weekend] that they were going to come and talk about the track, but I never saw them.
"I guess if they want to keep repaving them they can keep having their own ideas."
The upkeep of race tracks is a mutually-shared responsibility between NASCAR, which sets the guidelines and the track operators that execute them. But in the end, what's done is the track owners' responsibility. Either way, competitors have a differing opinion on their input.
"I haven't heard or spoken to anyone regarding Bristol," five-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson said. "But a lot of other tracks, NASCAR has held a meeting in the [office] truck on a race weekend, and brought in the paving crew and engineers that are designing it and laying it out. I've sat in on a lot of those meetings, and it felt like my voice has been heard."
Another former champion, Matt Kenseth, said he's never been sought out but that he felt like NASCAR's door was open for suggestions.
"I've never been consulted, but certainly NASCAR always listens when you have something to say," Kenseth said. "They do all those meetings -- in the winter and during the year -- where they tell us all about what's going on and ask our opinions and listen, which is really nice. It's nice to feel like you can at least voice your opinion."
Bristol track president Jerry Caldwell declined to comment on driver input into Bristol's project until it's announced. But Grant Lynch, a longtime motorsports executive and currently Talladega Superspeedway's president, said consulting with competitors could be a slippery slope.
"Back then, Talladega had gotten so bad that the hairline cracks [in the asphalt] had gotten to where they were 14 inches wide," said Lynch, whose facility was repaved in 2006. "And we were having to go in every year and take out all of that asphalt and pound in more asphalt to fill up those big cracks.
"And Mr. [Bill] France [NASCAR vice chairman] used to send me around to ask drivers, 'what do you think about repaving?' And in general, when you ask drivers about repaving, they'll all say 'leave it alone.'
"But then you start having situations like the piece breaking off the track [Friday at Kansas], I think it was at Martinsville where the big chunk came out and hit Jeff Gordon's car or have a track failure, like we saw at Daytona [during 2010 Daytona 500].
"So at a certain point, regardless of whether the drivers are for paving or not for paving, track operators have to say, 'in order to put on a good race we need to do this, because we can't have the type of breakdowns we've seen at tracks in the past that stopped the show.' "
Johnson and Kenseth said they both pretty much accept the way things are.
"They're spending the money on the track, they can do what they want," Johnson said. "Michigan [repaved after the second race last year], I'm eager to get back to. I was involved with different aspects in that, with safety in a couple of areas with some walls. I've spoken to [NASCAR vice president for competition] Robin Pemberton and know they have addressed those areas. So we are in the loop in it.
"It kind of shifts around. Some weeks some tracks may ask me, others it might be [Tony] Stewart, or [Jeff] Gordon. NASCAR puts that meeting together, and they work hard to have our voice heard."