Atlanta Motor Speedway officials have put off a repaving project at the 1.54-mile facility until the track's 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race has been completed.
Officials had planned to repave the worn racing surface following this year's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 on March 5. Several NASCAR drivers, however, urged track officials and Speedway Motorsports Inc., President Marcus Smith to reconsider the move.
The track was last repaved in 1997. The worn, abrasive pavement creates tremendous tire falloff, and the slick surface typically provides some of the most exciting racing on the NASCAR schedule.
"We're going to repave, it's just a matter of when we're going to do it," Ed Clark, AMS president and general manager, told NASCAR.com Tuesday. "We know we have to do it sooner rather than later.
"We've talked to fans, to people in the NASCAR garage, spent a good bit of time with Rick Campbell of Goodyear, and we came to the conclusion that with a little bit of work, cutting out some spots and patching them, we could go another year.
"If they can make it work, we'll go another year and evaluate it after next year's race. We are going to have to cut some patches out and repave them, mostly on the front straightaway."
Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski, the 2012 series champion and winner of this year's Folds of Honor QuikTrip race, said after his win that the decision to repave puts tracks in a difficult position.
"It's tough, and I feel bad for those guys because all it takes is one race where there are weepers or where the track comes apart and you've got red flags and delays and everybody gets mad at them," Keselowski said. "So they're really in a no‑win spot. We pick on them and tell them don't do it and all these other things, but at some point you have to trust them to know their business.
"... Drivers hate repaves. We want to see the surfaces last as long as they can. But the reality is nothing lasts forever, and this surface has made it a really, really long time, 20 years I think ... and they should be really proud of that."
Speedway Motorsports Inc. owns eight tracks that host 12 points races on the 36-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule. One property, Texas Motor Speedway, was recently repaved and reconfigured in preparation for this year's two stops at that 1.5-mile venue.
"I think we all appreciate tracks with so much character and to have the bad news that two of the tracks with the most character are going to be repaved this year, I think that shocked and upset a lot of us," seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson said when asked about the Atlanta repave earlier this year. "We get it. We understand, but it's just going to take a long time for the track to get back to this condition."
Clark said officials' biggest concern with the racing surface are parts of the track "unraveling" where cracks exist in the asphalt.
"It's more of that," he said, "the gradual unraveling and a crack opening up. I'm not concerned necessarily about a big chunk of asphalt coming out or anything like that. We've looked at that pretty closely.
"The good news about our place is we've kept this thing sealed up. We've done it every single year since it was paved, sealed every crack in the fall. We just haven't gotten the humps and bumps that some tracks get. From that standpoint, other than it just being absolutely worn out, that's not an issue. I think that's somewhat the comfort level drivers have in saying just leave it alone."
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Timothy Peters said he was "ecstatic" that officials are holding off on the AMS repaving project.
"I think other tracks should look at that," he said. "Worn-out pavement is the way to go, in my opinion.
"Atlanta ... is multi-groove, from the bottom to the middle to the top. It puts it back in the driver's hands. I guarantee they will get a lot of Christmas cards this year for electing not to repave the place."
Atlanta Motor Speedway, located in Hampton, Georgia, has been hosting NASCAR-sanctioned races since 1960. In addition to the quad-oval featuring 24-degree banked turns, the site includes a 2.5-mile road course. Permanent seating capacity for the facility is 71,000.
"We're going to let it ride, let them slip and slide in 2018 and figure it out after that I guess," Clark said.
- RJ Kraft contributed to this story.