NASCAR fans are likely familiar with the ongoing criticism of Atlanta Motor Speedways track. It’s been over two decades since the track itself has seen a substantial upgrade. The track also is very wide and only moderately banked, neither of which are as coveted by drivers or fans.
This has left AMS as the little step brother of NASCAR tracks. While it’s home in the heart of NASCAR country between it’s brain (Charlotte) and it’s heart (Alabama), Atlanta has never been a renowned track. It’s popularity largely driven out of being close to the largest city in NASCAR country.
However, that may finally be about to change. After the upcoming race this weekend on July 11th the track surface will close and undergo a significant transformation.
Our partners at Speedway Motorsports have reprofiled Atlanta Motor Speedway to optimize the racing with the Next Gen car, and early simulations suggest the racing will be closer and even more competitive”Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer
Digital Technology Drives Decisions
However this transition is even more unique than the change in race surface. What makes this truly unique is that the design considerations and testing were done almost entirely digitally. In fact, the surface was designed to not only make the track better, but to pair with the upcoming NexGen NASCAR cars. However, given the track and the cars don’t exist, the team at NASCAR and AMS turned to racing simulations to test and tweak the new racing surface.
The proposed track changes were built into iRacing – one of the leading and most realistic racing simulators available. With iRacing real drivers racing in real simulations of the new track and new cars were able to provide feedback on the design.
“Flexing the muscles of our virtual track-building capabilities to prototype Speedway Motorsport’s vision for Atlanta Motor Speedway has been a fun and exciting process. From one concept to the next, we’ve seen the future of AMS take shape; all without moving a shovel of dirt in the real world.”iRacing Executive Vice President and Executive Producer Steve Myers
This is a first. Technology being the driver force behind feedback and decisions in a track design. And not just the layout. The surface, the banking, and all other aspects.
While some drivers were used to test the track changes, many Cup drivers said few active racers were asked for feedback before committing to the changes. The use of technology should have been a fantastic opportunity to solicit larger scale feedback from active drivers.
“It would be beneficial to at least talk to us because we do have a different set of eyes or viewpoint on it than somebody just watching a raceRookie driver Chase Briscoe
In addition to the drivers, crew seemed to be concerned about the additional contact and wrecks.
It’s going to be like racing at Talladega and you’ll be drafting a lot and kind of become a speedway race in a way. The cars will stay tightly packed together, probably more wrecks and all those things that it seems everybody wants to see these days. So that’s kind of the way I see it.Kevin Harvick crew chief Rodney Childers
The Resulting Changes
The new changes, expected to debut at Atlanta’s 2022 races will include narrowing the track from 55 feet to 40 feet. In addition the high banking will be increased from 24 degrees to 28 degrees, the highest in NASCAR.
With the increased banking and the narrowing of the straights and corners expect a lot more close racing action. AMS may start to feel a little more like Talladega than the old AMS.
In addition to the track layout changes improvements and new technology on the track surface itself. Improved drainage and a sticker surface should also help.
With high banks in the turns, narrower width and new pavement technology, Atlanta will be unlike any other mile-and-a-half track on the circuit. It’s all new for ’22 and this will be specifically designed for close, competitive racing.Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith
Atlanta Motor Speedways Future
AMS Future is expected to be bright. 2021 was the first time in a number of years that it hosted two NASCAR races in the same year. Expect the annual Folds of Honor to run as the debut race for the new layout in 2022. In addition, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Atlanta continue with a second race in 2022.
Despite the resurfacing work, expect events that utilize the infield and parking lots, such as autocross, to continue through 2021 during the constructions.