Racetracks across the Monster Energy NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit have embarked on ambitious capital improvement projects in recent years to make the country’s most popular form of motorsports even more entertaining for fans and competitors.
Tracks committed tens of millions of dollars toward more comfortable stands, track reconfigurations, new fan zones, better cellular and Wi-Fi signals and improved traffic to make for the ultimate experience. So it’s funny when No. 14 Haas Automation Ford driver Clint Bowyer said drivers and the 70,000 fans attending Sunday’s 500-mile race at Atlanta Motor Speedway will be the biggest winners from an action the track’s management decided not to do in 2018 – repaving the 21-year-old racing surface.
“I thought it was a great idea to patch the up girl and hold on as long as possible because a lot of us aren’t fans of repaves,” said Bowyer who speaks for a majority of the drivers when it comes to a vote on whether to repave the 1.54-mile track in Hampton, Georgia. “Ever since I have been in the sport it seems like Atlanta is the most worn-out track but always produced some of the best racing.”
New track surfaces usually create much better grip and faster speeds that often result in a one-groove race track where passing is difficult resulting in single file racing – something Bowyer says neither drivers or fans enjoy for 500 miles. He says the Atlanta track where the Cup Series will battle on Sunday is just the opposite. It’s slick surface is hard to navigate, but offers several grooves and plenty of passing opportunities.
Bowyer said it doesn’t take long to remember he is racing at Atlanta.
“Atlanta is just one of those places where you get on the track and after the first lap you are like ‘oh my something is drastically wrong’ and you almost want to pit. Then you look up and you are like third on the board and it felt like 53rd. It’s crazy how wore out the track is, but that is what makes for good racing and it puts on such a great show for a long time.”
Bowyer and Stewart-Haas Racing’s (SHR) No. 14 team led by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz hope to improve upon their 15th-place finish the team posted at last weekend’s Daytona 500 where Bowyer suffered engine issues midway through the race. Bowyer showed his No. 14 Ford was one of the fastest on the track and after avoiding two multicar accidents appeared ready to race for the lead in the final stages.
“That’s last week and we are on to Atlanta now,” said Bowyer. “It’s a very long season but we’re confident. We had a good Speed Weeks in Daytona and I think that will continue this weekend in Atlanta and on the West Coast swing in the coming weeks.”
Bowyer is still looking for his first top-five at Atlanta, but that isn’t indicative of his performance history at the track. He led 52 laps at Atlanta during the March 2008 race before finishing sixth. The most heartbreaking moment there came in September 2013, when he led 48 of the first 192 laps before engine failure. In total, Bowyer has led 115 laps at Atlanta but only has four sixth-place finishes to show for the effort. Last year he started 25th at Atlanta but quickly showed he had one of the fastest cars on the track by driving to third with just 85 laps remaining. Fender damage led to a cut tire and a brush with the wall with 50 laps remaining. Bowyer dropped to 15th but climbed to 11th by the time the checkered flag fell.
With the combination of SHR, Ford and a strong No. 14 team, Bowyer is a good bet to better that finish Sunday.
“We showed speed last year. If we are that fast again then I think we’ll have something for them.”