Stewart: Vegas made big mistake with track changes

3/12/2007 - NASCAR

FORT WORTH -- Tony Stewart said Wednesday that he believes officials for Las Vegas Motor Speedway made a big mistake by reconfiguring the racing surface.

"I think they screwed up a really nice racetrack," Stewart said Wednesday at Texas Motor Speedway. "It's going to make for a worse race in my opinion. Now, I could be wrong, but from what I saw in the test, it's not going to be a very fun race."

NASCAR's annual stop at Las Vegas comes this weekend with the Sam's Town 300 Busch race Saturday and the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 Nextel Cup race Sunday.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. mogul Bruton Smith, who owns Las Vegas Motor Speedway, opted to completely redesign the track in the offseason. The surface was wide with limited banking. Now it has a steeper progressive banking design on a much narrower track.

"Just about everybody who's been willing to talk about it has thought the same thing," Stewart said. "I don't think you can find anybody who really, truly likes what they did to the track."

"It was a unique and fun racetrack. "Now it's just another mile and a half track."
--Tony Stewart

Stewart was at TMS Wednesday as a guest of the annual Media Day festivities. His opinion is based on how the Cup cars reacted in a two-day test session at Las Vegas at the end of January.

"It was a unique and fun racetrack," Stewart said. "Now it's just another mile and a half track. And we don't need to be running the speeds [over 200 mph on the straight-aways] we're running there. We are running race-trim speeds that are very comparable to qualifying speeds."

Two weeks after the test, NASCAR officials announced the Cup cars will use a smaller fuel cell (13 gallons) and a harder tire compound for the Las Vegas race.

"Any time you redo a track like this, you have to go to harder tires" Stewart said. "That leads to more separation in the racing. The tire is so hard that when you try to scuff it in it throws sparks."

The smaller fuel cell is a safety measure. Drivers must pit more frequently, which gives the crews and chance to check the tires and change them sooner if needed.

"I want to win a race because I do something behind the steering wheel," Stewart said. "I'm proud of our pit crew, but I don't think anybody in racing wants to see a race won in the pit area. I know the fans don't."

Texas Motor Speedway is a sister track in the SMI chain. TMS president Eddie Gossage said SMI chairman Bruton Smith is trying to do the right thing to improve the racing in Las Vegas.

"I was not a fan of the old Las Vegas Motor Speedway at all," Gossage said. "It was so wide that it was like watching a fighter jet fly overhead. That's cool, but if you saw the Thunderbirds flying inches apart, that's really cool.

"On the old track, guys didn't have to get close to each other. Now they will. From a driver's perspective, I can understand why he wouldn't like that as much."

But Gossage said he isn't criticizing Stewart's opinion.

"First of all, I haven't seen the track," Gossage said. "I'll see it [Thursday] for the first time. Look, I really like and respect Tony, so I want to say this lightly. Everybody has an opinion and not everybody is going to agree."

One goal of the track changes at LVMS was to make the surface similar to Homestead-Miami Speedway, which was reconfigured with progressive banking three years ago.

Most drivers agree the change improved the racing at Homestead.

"But you can't just copy something and have it work that way," Stewart said. "This is a totally different style racetrack. They had a track that every year the racing was getting better and better. That's the disappointing thing."

Stewart is not a fan of 1.5-mile ovals in any configuration.

"If they want us to race closer, build a smaller race track," he said. "At Martinsville and Bristol we are together all day.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out. But these millionaires think they have to build mile and a half racetracks, then they all complain because we aren't racing on top of each other."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.