Frustrated NASCAR drivers speak out over 'disconnect'

Since the announcement of Atlanta Motor Speedway's upcoming reconfiguration, several drivers have spoken out about the move and the fact that most were not consulted beforehand.

Frustrated NASCAR drivers speak out over 'disconnect'

Regular season points leader Denny Hamlin has been among the most outspoken, taking to Twitter to voice his concerns last week.

The iconic track will be narrowed substantially and the banking increased from 24 to 28 degrees for the 2022 season.

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Following his 102nd career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory Saturday at AMS, Kyle Busch spoke out against the changes as well.

He was not shy about sharing his thoughts. “I sure am glad to win the final Xfinity Series race on a real Atlanta racetrack, because the next one is just going to be a showpiece and it’s going to be shit.”

He later continued: “If they’re going to narrow it up 15 feet, whatever it is, that’s the whole bottom groove. We’re not going to be able to run around here 3 wide. You’re going to be stuck at two wide. It’s going to be as wide as Darlington. So trying to run around here at 210 mph because if they don’t put plates on it, you’re going to be going way too fast.

"Just think about it. Everybody needs to just think. There ain’t nobody thinking. Brains for sale. Never used. Operating racetracks.”

A frustrating disconnect and lack of communication

On Sunday before the Cup race, Hamlin expanded on his earlier tweets and expressed his frustration on the lack of communication between Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI) and the drivers before decisions like the Atlanta reconfiguration are made.

"Each track operator has their own agenda," explained Hamlin. "ISC and SMI, they do things a little bit differently. SMI is very fan, what do the fans want, we just want to do whatever it takes to make the fans happy and put on a great show for them. ISC is a little mix of competition. Where the disconnect is, is we just have to stop with the novelties. Be what we’re good at and let’s just do that. Why are we trying to reach outside of what NASCAR has always been about for a long time. Trans-Am is not as popular as us for a reason. We are big, heavy stock cars on ovals and we’re full contact, that’s why people strive and want to be in NASCAR. I hate that we’re going away from that through novelties.”

Hamlin called the disconnect between the drivers and executives very 'discouraging' and wants more open communication in the future. 

“We just don’t get an answer. There’s just a disconnect. You just don’t get a whole lot of response. When it comes to the crash (test) stuff, I’ve asked questions to different NASCAR people, executives and I can’t get a response. That to me makes it even scarier. The disconnect right now between all the parties, NASCAR, the tracks and the drivers, it’s tough right now. It’s not in a good place.”

Hamlin believes the drivers need to get organized in order to truly have a say in decisions being made regarding safety and competition. He even claims he was 'close' to forming his own association/union for drivers in the past.

"They deserve to have a seat at the table, whatever that table is," declared Hamlin.

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry Offerpad Awesome Different

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry Offerpad Awesome Different

Photo by: Gavin Baker / NKP / Motorsport Images

The three-time Daytona 500 champion finds himself in a new and unique role this year, having now become an owner as well as a driver with the emergence of 23XI Racing.

“You can probably ask the other owners, they’re always like, ‘Man, it’s great having fresh blood in here calling out this and that.’ I told them, I don’t understand why you guys aren’t saying more. You have such a big stake in this sport. How can you guys see something that’s not right and not say anything? I’m probably a little more aggressive and abrasive in that sense, but to me, what’s everyone scared of losing? We’re all fighting for our lives here to try to keep these businesses afloat. We’re risking so much money just to try to break even.”

More pack racing?

Several other drivers have voiced similar concerns to Hamlin and Busch. 

Joey Logano feels the changes to Atlanta may be an effort to make the on-track product more similar to the pack racing seen at Daytona and Talladega.

“Just the direction of where we’re going, I guess we’re wondering why more banking? What are we trying to achieve?  I think that’s probably the question we’re all asking and wondering right now," said Logano.

“It depends on what the car is like and what the Next Gen car is gonna be. What speeds are we gonna be carrying?  What rules package are we gonna be bringing?  I think all of those questions.  As soon as you say repave and you add more banking, ok, we’re going more towards a Daytona type of racetrack. What does that mean for speed and what rules package are we gonna bring to the table.”

Those comments echoed Busch's concerns from the previous day. "Narrowing a racetrack? All we’ve done at every single racetrack that we’ve gone to over the years is try to widen the racing groove, right?" he said after winning the Xfinity Series race. "What do you think the PJ1 bullshit is for? To widen the racing groove.

"We go to Charlotte. We spray this PJ1 stuff in Lane 2 and 3 to make it wider. We go to Texas, we spray it in Lanes 2, 3, 4 at Texas to widen it. What are we doing? Now we’re going to come here and run here like Darlington. I just don’t see it.

"And they want pack racing? You want pack racing two-wide. Who’s going to pass? Where are the lanes going to go? You’re going to get to the straightaway and make it three wide and try to blend back into 2 when you get to the corner."

Kevin Harvick is concerned as well, citing previous SMI track reconfigurations which ended in controversy. 

“I don’t think it’s very good," he said. "I think the proper thing to do would probably be to build a short track. The cheapest thing to do is probably just leave the walls where they are and hope for the best. I don’t think that worked out well for Texas. I don’t think it worked out well for Bristol. I don’t think it worked out well for Kentucky. I don’t think any of those were very good, so I think if you just keep winging it and don’t get the driver’s input, you’re just gonna keep getting the same conclusion.”

Harvick didn't inquire to SMI on if any drivers were consulted, but said bluntly, "I’m just of the opinion that they don’t care. They just do what they want.”

Nascar Next Gen cars: Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, Toyota TRD Camry

Nascar Next Gen cars: Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, Toyota TRD Camry

Photo by: Lesley Ann Miller / Motorsport Images

Next Gen safety

2022 chassis have not yet been sent out to teams as NASCAR awaits the final sign-off by an independent panel of experts on the crash test results of its Next Generation car.

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"I think the whole industry is probably a little bit impatient because they want to get started on building cars out for the Daytona test that’s coming up this fall," said Brad Keselowski regarding the delay.

"We want to have a great Daytona 500 with the Next Gen car and the more time we have with it, I think in some ways the better everybody would feel about it, but I don’t think I’m pushing the panic button yet. Maybe some are and some aren’t, but indications that I’ve heard is that it went OK and there’s gonna be some kind of independent review of the data and the facts and hopefully that comes out real soon.”

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