Monday, March 25, 2013

Don't Even Think About Repaving California Track

California provided the best racing of the year -- so far
California Speedway (okay, okay, Auto World Speedway) has finally come of age.

Like a grumpy old man, it is weathered and craggy.  Rutted and grooved.  It’s bumpy even on the straights.  And it’s more abrasive than Jack Lemmon ever hoped to be. 

And although the asphalt is worn and grey, it’s still fast.  Really fast. 

So don’t dare touch a thing.  Don’t even think about it.

Nothing has changed the face of NASCAR racing in recent years more than the resurfacing and reconfiguring of some of the classic tracks in the series.  No, not even the COT or Gen-6.  Repaving Daytona and Talladega made for silky smooth surfaces and gave birth to bumper tag and the two car tango and threaten to make the tracks unraceable.   Repaving and reconfiguring Bristol was so disastrous they tried to reverse the process.   Phoenix, Kansas and even Michigan, a sister track to California, have changed drastically since they were repaved – and not for the better.

California hasn’t been repaved since it opened for business in 1997.  There is some concern the track might be getting too rough, especially for IndyCar racing, which returned to the Speedway last fall for its championship finale.  Tough.  Take the money you’d spend on resurfacing and buy some more SAFER barriers.  Especially with the track running an IndyCar race, it should be ringed inside and out with SAFER barriers.

Sunday’s event was easily the best NASCAR race of the year and the best California race in many years.  It wasn’t just the finish that made it an instant classic.  There was close racing throughout, not always at the front, but cars were often three and four wide back in the pack as drivers struggled to find a groove that worked for them.  New tires actually meant something for a change.  Guys like Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, who hadn’t been up front all race, were suddenly mixing up with the leaders thanks to new Goodyears.

None of the drivers appear to be crying out for a pave job.  In fact, just the opposite.  Nearly all consider California and Atlanta, another track in need/not in need of pave job, as their favorite places to race.  Listen to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., after the race.  Besides wanting the back straight repaved (don't do it), he indicated the track is in its prime.

"I think the corners are perfect," he said.  "I wouldn't pave anything or change anything about the turns.  This is the age of asphalt that I think tracks strive for.  This is what places like Michigan and Phoenix look forward to, you know, when they get a good 10, 15 years on their asphalt.  This is really right in the ballpark, right in everybody's wheelhouse.  I think everybody that runs in the Cup garage really likes the surface.  It's just real bumpy down the back straightaway for some reason, and it doesn't have to be, and I think they can fix that with a couple lanes of asphalt on that outside toward the wall, and like I said, the corners, man, you couldn't ask for a better racetrack."

So now that the California track is finally coming into its own, please, please, please, don’t even think about repaving it.

The Races:  Thought the Joey Logano/Denny Hamlin wreck was the result of hard racing more than anything else.  Were both drivers running harder than they may have otherwise because of who they racing?  Probably.  But Logano certainly wasn’t trying to wreck Hamlin with the finish line in sight.  And Tony Stewart’s tirade at the end was laughable.  After he wrecked the field at Talladega last year with an ill-timed block attempt and then admitted it with a shrug, he no longer has any credibility in this area…The F1 race provided more than a little intrigue, along with some comic relief.  Sebastian Vettel won when he ignored team orders to hold his position and passed Mark Webber.  Webber was leading and backed off when the team told him to slow in order to save his engine, tires and gas.  “I didn't ignore it on purpose, but I messed up in that situation and obviously took the lead which, I can see now he's upset, but yeah, I want to be honest at least and stick to the truth and apologize,"  Vettel said.  "I know that it doesn't really help his feelings right now, but I think other than that, obviously a very good race for the team. To sum it up, apologies to Mark, obviously now the result is there. But all I can say is that I didn't do it deliberately.”  Wow, just think how many drivers Vettel can pass when he’s actually trying.  Vettel’s win was his 27th, tying him with Jackie Stewart for sixth all-time in F1.The comic relief was provided by Lewis Hamilton, who pulled into the McLaren pit box, forgetting for a moment he now drives for Mercedes…James Hinchcliffe scored a popular victory in the first IndyCar race of the year in St. Petersburg, Fla., making a nice pass for the lead when Helio Castroneves slid wide on a restart in the first turn.  But hopefully this is not the most exciting race of the year.

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