10/11 2017

Charlotte shows off road-course addition, new synthetic turf   BY:  Kenny Bruce


CONCORD, N.C. – Mix 18 turns with 2.4 miles of asphalt, add a pair of chicanes and a generous helping of synthetic (yes, synthetic) turf and you’ve got yourself a road course.

Specifically, a Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, and one that will be utilized during the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

The frontstretch chicane, located between Turn 4 and the start/finish line, was officially unveiled Thursday as was the synthetic turf placed between the frontstretch and chicane. For safety purposes, a temporary concrete barrier will be installed between the chicane and pit road prior to next year’s race.

In addition to looking nearly perfect, the synthetic grass area is expected to slow down cars that spin off the track and also lessen the amount of debris that is kicked up on the racing surface.

“Cars are going to get on it an awful lot and create a lot of debris in the chicane which we felt like would be a problem with competition,” Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., said. “It’s something that does exist in Formula One and now it will happen in NASCAR, which I think is going to be a great step forward.”

Smith said the idea for the turf came from 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick. Sports Fields Inc., headquartered in Canton, Georgia, handled the installation.

A Goodyear tire test is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 17-18 at CMS on the new road-course layout. Track officials said fans will be allowed to view the Oct. 18 portion of the test.

“We’re incredibly excited from a NASCAR standpoint for the fans,” Steve O’Donnell, Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, said. “We applaud Marcus for the vision for putting this together. … The fans wanted road courses in the playoffs, this does just that. (It has) a lot of exciting elements.”

The turf project features 42,000 square feet of synthetic turf, 300,000 pounds of sand, 1,100 gallons of glue — and required 900 man hours of planning and installation. In addition to the chicane on the frontstretch, a similar “break” is in place on the backstretch and will slow competitors as they head into Turn 3.

The road course race will consist of 130 laps.

Former driver Jeff Burton, now a NASCAR analyst for NBC, said his initial thought when told of the changes to the 1.5-mile track was, “What the hell are you doing?”

Burton is a two-time winner of the Coca-Cola 600 at CMS, and won the fall event here in 2008.

“Then coming over here and actually driving the race track, a lightbulb went off and I thought, ‘This is an exciting track,’” Burton said. “All the misconceptions I had about the track being too narrow, the no-passing zones, you can’t do this, you can’t do that, they slowly started going away once I got here and actually saw the track and drove on the track.

“I look at things as if I’m still a driver but I look at them as a fan, too. I think this will create an extremely exciting race.”

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams compete on two road courses during the regular season – at Sonoma, California, and Watkins Glen, New York. Next year’s event at Charlotte will mark the first time a road course has hosted a playoff race.

“I think there are certainly risks with anything you do,” O’Donnell said. “But then there are calculated risks. For (NASCAR), we’ve got enough data we can look at … we feel comfortable that this course is very suitable to what we want to do.

“You never know what’s going to happen, right? But from a pure road-course layout, we thought it was great. We think the fans are going to be able to see the whole course, which is terrific. Much more upside, we think, than anything else.”

CMS will host two NASCAR Playoffs races this weekend, Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series event (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and Sunday’s Bank of America 500 (2 p.m., NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). It is the first elimination race for XFINITY Series teams and the opening race of the Round of 12 for Monster Energy Series teams.