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A History of Controversial SMI Repaves and Reconfigurations

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Joshua Lipowski

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What’s Happening?

Perhaps the most substantive comments to come out of the Denny Hamlin/Marcus Smith feud was Hamlin saying to Smith, “We’ve seen your reconfig[uration] record.” Regardless of how the feud devolved into personal attacks that both sides agreed were taken too far, that comment has some legitimate weight to it. Today, we analyze the recent history of SMI track reconfigurations.

  • SMI tracks have undergone multiple repaves and reconfigurations throughout the years. Marcus Smith has spearheaded many of the projects that took place during the 2010s.
  • These reconfigurations showed mixed results, to say the least, but they showcased that SMI was willing to experiment. New ideas were thrown around, but, the ideas didn’t go anywhere.
  • Fans have thrown SMI under the bus due to the bad reconfiguration, but, not every reconfiguration has been bad. Today, we look at all track reconfigurations.

1997: Atlanta Quad-Oval – Okay, Not Great

In 1997, NASCAR was booming, and expansion was the name of the game. Bruton Smith decided to expand and reconfigure Atlanta before the spring and fall races in 1997 into a quad-oval, making the track slightly longer (1.522 to 1.54 miles). The results were a mixed bag overall.

It was still fundamentally the same type of track, just a different shape. While there were some great moments like photo finishes in 2000, 2001, and 2005, the track fit the definition of a “Cookie cutter”. From above, it looked almost the same as Charlotte and Texas. While far from a bad reconfiguration, nothing makes the reconfiguration itself stick out too much.

2005: Charlotte “Levigation” Repave – Bad

This configuration lasted only one year, but, what a year that was. When Charlotte Motor Speedway was repaved before the 2005 season, the track used a process called “Levigation” to smooth out the bumps. The result was a treacherous track that produced numerous tire failures.

Both races at Charlotte in 2005 combined for 37 caution flags, accounting for 1/4 of the laps at the track being run under yellow. While the races were wild and unpredictable, and the 2005 Coca-Cola 600 is looked back on fondly by fans, things needed to change. Charlotte repaved once again before the 2006 season.

2007: Las Vegas Reconfiguration – Okay, Not Great

Following the 2006 season, SMI reconfigured Las Vegas Motor Speedway to increase the banking from 12 degrees to 20 degrees. While the first race in 2007 had a wreckfest start, the track soon became a hit with Las Vegas locals. So much so that the track had a second date added in 2018.

While the track was still largely a 1.5-mile “Cookie Cutter”, the increase in banking made for faster speeds and a more compelling racing product. Overall, this reconfiguration is a net positive, but, far from a home run.

2007: Bristol Progressive Banking – Bad

In 2007, Bruton Smith decided to get creative with Bristol Motor Speedway and add progressive banking. While the drivers loved being able to race multiple grooves, it wasn’t the same Bristol. The bump and run was now largely a thing of the past, and Bristol became a less compelling show.

This reconfiguration played a part in the large attendance decline at Bristol throughout the 2010s before being retconned in 2012. Overall, this was a massive flop amongst the fans, but, the track did see a resurgence in the racing product throughout the 2010s.

2016: Kentucky Reconfiguration – BAD

SMI tracks remained largely unchanged for a while after Bristol, but, in Marcus Smith’s 2nd year as CEO, the Cup Series’ newest track underwent a reconfiguration. A repave along with an increase in banking in turns one and two meant the track had two different banking angles, 18 degrees in one and two and 14 degrees in three and four.

The concept was interesting with the first race having an interesting fuel mileage finish, but, it soon proved to be a failure. The track was a single groove, which made passing difficult to impossible. After multiple lackluster races, the 2020 season was Kentucky’s last. The track now lies largely dormant.

2017: Texas Reconfiguration – BAD

Since the 2016 race at Kentucky was fine, SMI tried to do a similar thing at Texas Motor Speedway. Banking was reduced in turns one and two, meaning that the area had 20 degrees of banking with 24 degrees in three and four. Just like Kentucky, the racing product suffered.

A single groove track forced SMI to apply PJ1 to the upper grooves to try to make a second groove. Well, that didn’t work, and it even ruined IndyCar races at the venue for a few years. The track has yet to age, and fans universally pan it as the worst race track in NASCAR.

2022: Atlanta Superspeedway – Good?

In 2022, SMI decided to do something different to the aging Atlanta Motor Speedway. They increased the banking from 24 to 28 degrees, essentially creating a mini-superspeedway. The move was met with mixed reception.

Regardless of where fans fall on it, no one can deny that the reconfiguration has created some incredible moments, most notably a 3-wide finish in 2024. As time goes on, fans are warming up to new Atlanta, but, some still don’t want a new superspeedway.

Overall, the reconfigurations of SMI tracks have seen a few missed, one sort of hit, and a couple of ho-hum reconfigurations. One thing is for certain, Hamlin was right that SMI does not have the best record in terms of reconfigurations. However, we should applaud SMI for at least being willing to take risks and spend the money to try new things.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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