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Watching Elite Precision 29: SMI Track Screw Ups

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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SMI has a earned a bad wrap amongst many NASCAR fans over the years. Currently, they own 11 racing facilities and lease Circuit of the Americas once a year for NASCAR to race on the purpose built F1 track. In 2023, their tracks have hosted 14 of the scheduled 36 points-paying Cup Series races as well as the All-Star race.

And while today SMI seems to be correcting some of the wrongs they have created, the fact that they completely stripped North Wilkesboro from the Cup schedule back in 1996 to only give the dates to the new Texas Motor Speedway and a second date to New Hampshire Motor Speedway left a sour taste in the mouths of many old school NASCAR fans. Not to mention the Kentucky Speedway debacle of 2012…

In his video, Elite Precision takes us through some of the most questionable decisions SMI has made in the last several years. Let’s watch it together!

Our host starts the video off by giving a brief rundown of SMI’s question decisions. In the opening little bit, he points out the Atlanta reconfiguration back in the 1990s as well as Bristol’s transition from asphalt to concrete. Then we dive in head first into discussion about perhaps one of SMI’s biggest embarrassments: the Kentucky Speedway.

Kentucky Speedway

In introducing this track, our host points out that this racetrack was first built during the NASCAR explosion in popularity in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, and had hosted several Xfinity and Truck races before getting its first Cup date in 2011. He describes this track before it went Cup racing as “decent,” meaning the races there were pretty okay but nothing special.

By the time the track was ready to host Cup Series events, the track surface was worn out. And, like with the Xfinity and Truck series, the racing was decent. Again, nothing to be over the moon about but all right in general. It had very aggressive bumps in the surface, but it was the weepers that finally got SMI to move forward with a repave of the facility which happened in 2016.

It also went through a slight reconfiguration as turns 1 and 2 went from 14 degrees of banking to 17 degrees. But he identifies the real area where SMI screwed up was by putting PJ1 down on the racing surface. The track needed the repave and it was just going to take some time for the racing to get back as good as it once was.

The problem with PJ1 is that it only works sometimes. The chemical is supposed to provide grip to multiple lanes of racing but that’s not always the case. More often than not, it makes the racing less safe so drivers run where it is not applied, creating a boring, one-groove racetrack.

Another problem he points out is that SMI paved the track too well. Tracks need to be able to wear out more quickly and naturally over time. Today, Kentucky Speedway is not on the NASCAR schedule and there is no word on when or if it will ever return.

Atlanta Motor Speedway

Recently, AMS has provided us with some of the best superspeedway racing on the schedule. But when the reconfiguration was first announced, drivers hated the idea, as did fans. Even I wrote an article for the Daily Downforce about how reconfiguring AMS as a superspeedway was a mistake and that the track was too small to provide good racing of that style. Yeah, that article didn’t age too well now did it?

Elite Precision starts this section by recounting how transitioning the old true oval Atlanta into a quad oval helped the racing product there. Over time, the surface got really worn out and the track gained the reputation of being one that chewed up tires, similar to the old Rockingham track. A repave was inevitable, despite driver outcry who loved the old worn-out surface of AMS. Fans, however, were divided.

Atlanta Motor Speedway, like so many intermediate tracks, became a victim of the poor racing that was a staple with the Gen6 car. Something needed to change. So, SMI and Marcus Smith decided to completely reconfigure the track.

They decided to increase the banking to make it the highest-banked intermediate track on the NASCAR schedule and, in collaboration with the governing body, they assigned it a package similar to that of the superspeedways…and the track ultimately became a baby Daytona.

Our host calls this move “stupid” and complains that NASCAR didn’t even get driver input for making this change. He points out that the issue with this is that the track is a lot shorter than Daytona or Talladega, which would mean that the drivers are turning more, which makes handling a big part of the strategy once the tires wear.

While perhaps in the minority, this change has completely ruined the enjoyment of races in Hotlanta for Elite Precision. He doesn’t even look forward to them anymore. He does hold out hope, though, that in a few years when the track becomes a little more worn out, they will ditch the superspeedway package. I mean, we can dream but I’m certainly not going to hold my breath.

Bristol Motor Speedway

Elite Precision points out in the beginning of this section that BMS didn’t only get screwed up once or even twice, but a grand total of THREE times! He goes on to say that the first time was back in 2007 when the track was, you guessed it, repaved. But rather than just repaving an already good track, they decided to make some changes.

One change was adding progressive banking. This change in banking made Bristol a multi-groove racetrack with, essentially, three lanes. This wouldn’t be a bad thing at any other track but, in the case of short tracks, it took away some of the rough racing that those kinds of tracks become famous for.

While he points out that while the racing wasn’t bad, Bristol lost its short track grassroots charm, and fans stopped showing up. In response, SMI decided to remove the progressive banking by grinding the top lane down. This made the top lane the preferred line, which made the racing even worse.

Then, to make up for it, they added PJ1 to the bottom groove to create multi-groove racing and, for once, it worked. The first 100 laps of a race at BMS looks like prior to ’07 Bristol. As the race wears on, the preferred line moves up the track, so the track is constantly changing. Elite Precision does not hate the current concrete Bristol format, but he does miss the good ole days of the bump and run and the conveyer belt around the track.

What he does hate, however, is Bristol Dirt. Yep, this is screwup #3 SMI made with my home track and I couldn’t agree more…I don’t like it. And he echoes my point about going to a purpose-built dirt track rather than putting dirt on the surface of a decent track.

Texas Motor Speedway

Elite Precision saved the worst screw up for last: the infamous Texas Motor Speedway.

TMS has been plagued with controversy since it was first built. Not only did it take a race date away from the popular North Wilkesboro Speedway, but the very first race there was terribly problematic, and it had to be instantly reconfigured to better suit stockcars.

But once it was “fixed” he says that between the years of 2005 to 2016, the racing there was decent. I mean, it was an average, cookie-cutter intermediate. Of course with the Gen6 car, its quality of racing suffered a steep decline, but that was a car issue, not necessarily a track issue.

So, what was the catalyst for the decline in quality, other than the inferior Gen6 car? Yep, you guessed it! Another repave! SMI decided to repave Texas because of NASCAR’s difficulty in drying the racing surface. It was taking too long and the racing surface was old.

If NASCAR had just repaved the track, sure, the racing would have suffered at first but, over time, the same decent on-track product would have returned eventually. But, as Elite Precision points out in his video, they couldn’t just do a simple repave. No, they had to change up the track in some way.

While turns 3 and 4 remained the same, turns 1 and 2 got their banking decreased by 4 degrees and the turn itself was widened. They did this to make the track more unique. And they succeeded, but the racing product suffered as a result. Because of how dangerous the top groove became, the track became a follow-the-leader type track with a conveyer belt around the bottom, which works in short track racing but in intermediates, not so much.

Drivers became able to run the track wide-open, which meant that passing was rare. In Elite Precision’s opinion, this change ruined SMI specifically for NASCAR racing…but he does note that the racing product when it comes to INDYCAR is really, really good.

He ends the segment stating that it doesn’t matter what kind of car NASCAR uses, the racing will always be terrible. He also said that he’s never seen such distain for a track from both drivers and fans. TMS is certainly one of the most hated tracks on the schedule and, according to Elite Precision and this viewer right here, SMI completely screwed this track up.

All right, NASCAR fans, that’ll do it for this one. What do you think of these SMI screwups? Are there more that maybe he didn’t list? Comment below and let us know! In the meantime, keep it right here at DailyDownforce.com for all your latest news and discussions about the world of NASCAR!

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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