Is variable degree banking really the answer for D-shaped tracks?

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Kansas Speedway is in need of a repave. The racing surface of the eleven year old track has become somewhat a patchwork of sealant and rectangular tar surface mends.

The intermediate track is owned by International Speedway Corporation (ISC) and was opened in 2001 with Jeff Gordon winning the first Cup race that September.

Kansas Speedway was built in the fan friendly D-shape design. Although the D-shape design of the track allows better viewing angles for spectators sitting in the stands the fans have slowly become disenchanted with these types of racing facilities giving them the nickname ‘cookie cutter’ tracks because they are all the same in appearance with little variation in basic design.

Most of the tracks built from the mid 1990’s to the mid 2000’s were based on the same D-shape design. Even though each of these ‘cookie cutter’ tracks vary in banking and radius of their turns they all appear to be the same to the average NASCAR fan almost to the point where fans tuning in on Sunday don’t know which track their NASCAR superheros are racing at until it is flashed across the screen or the announcer happens to mention the track’s name.

The problem for the fan is that these D-shaped ovals like Kansas appear to have no individuality and most of these fans are tired of seeing the same type of racing week in and week out with what seems to be the same drivers who have mastered these 1.5 mile tracks winning each week.

The problem for drivers is that no matter the degree of banking or the radius of the turns the cars on the track all seem to have the same problem while racing each other for position, the dreaded aero push. With D-shaped ‘cookie-cutter’ ovals the cars are essentially in a corner for about two-thirds of the 1.5 mile lap and no matter how different each track may be in it’s banking and turn radius’s you just can’t get rid of the areo push that drivers experience.

Drafting is a good way to gain speed and cut fuel mileage while racing in a straight line, but once you get into the corners the air you didn’t want on the nose of your car on the straightaway you want back. What happens is that “the trailing car suffers a reduction of downforce on its front tires, resulting in a loss of stability and handling” (via howstuffworks.com) and since these ‘cookie cutter’ tracks are mostly corners it makes it very hard for drivers to pass the cars in front of them.

This is why it is hard to pass and why teams spend an abundant amount of time developing the areo packages for their cars and why you see the same cars winning at these types of tracks – those who spend the most, win the most!

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