NASCAR Cup Series
Explaining the Denny Hamlin-Marcus Smith spat; Sonoma pavement update
NASCAR Cup Series

Explaining the Denny Hamlin-Marcus Smith spat; Sonoma pavement update

Published Apr. 5, 2024 11:15 a.m. ET

Sonoma Raceway is working to repave areas of the track that came apart during a non-NASCAR event Wednesday. The work should be concluded today in hopes that the event can resume Saturday.

Whether the Denny Hamlin-Marcus Smith relationship can be patched up just as quickly remains to be seen.

Hamlin (a driver and co-team owner) and Smith (the Speedway Motorsports Chairman) had a late-night beef on X, formerly known as Twitter, where Hamlin accused the company that owns several tracks of trying to repave on a limited budget.


Smith — whose company owns Sonoma, Charlotte, North Wilkesboro, Texas, Bristol, Atlanta, Las Vegas, New Hampshire, Dover and Nashville tracks and leases Circuit of the Americas for the NASCAR event there — responded by defending the work of his company, although he later deleted his responses to Hamlin.

His deleted post said: "This is a great post from somebody who doesn't know all the information. Ignorance on display for the world to see."

Hamlin responded saying "We've seen your reconfig record" — a knock at a reconfiguration at the Texas track that has not produced great racing.

To which, Smith said: "Yes we take risks, sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. We've seen your attempt of the championship as well. When you have a chance, maybe you could give me some golf tips."

Hamlin, who has 53 Cup wins but no Cup title (and is an avid golfer), responded: "Here's your tip. Let someone else run your business before you blow everything your dad gave you."

The back-and-forth continued, with Smith — whose father founded the track operating company and was known for sometimes outlandish promotional stunts — calling Hamlin an "almost NASCAR champion" and "negative comments would carry a lot more weight if you had a championship to back them up."

Ouch and ouch!

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Why is this going on?

First, some history: For several years, drivers felt Smith's tracks would make adjustments to the track surface — either grinding areas or putting traction compound down — without telling the teams. NASCAR now has an employee who coordinates all track preparations between the tracks and NASCAR and communicates those with the teams. That communication issue has, for the most part, gone away.

And then there are the current charter negotiations. The teams want a bigger cut of NASCAR's revenues, which primarily come from their media-rights agreements. The tracks get 65 percent of those media-rights revenues, the teams get 25 percent through the purse paid out for the event (which is then typically passed on to the drivers, who typically get a percentage of the purse money paid to the teams). NASCAR keeps 10 percent.

So here is a driver and team co-owner bashing a track owner for spending less money — a subtle way of possibly indicating that the tracks are pocketing money that could be better used to go to the teams.

Hamlin has also been part of controversy this week for jumping — not by much — the restart to win Sunday at Richmond. NASCAR made a no-call. So Hamlin could use something to distract from the issue.

Kevin Harvick reacts to the controversial finish at Richmond: Did Hamlin jump the final restart?

That distraction is the Sonoma repave. .... So finally, what happened there?

Steve Swift, who oversees construction for Speedway Motorsports, said they still are not sure of the root cause of the Sonoma issues but the tack used in the repaving process that would keep the new pavement attached to the milled surface area (a repave is usually done with the top two inches removed and then the remaining surface is milled and then the new asphalt is placed atop of it) apparently did not work as designed, as the new pavement didn't stick.

"We've paved a lot of race tracks in my 20 years and that's the first time I've seen that happen," Swift said.

While the issue on the road circuit located in the Napa Valley was primarily in Turn 11 at the track with some minor issues in other turns, Swift said they are testing samples from other areas of the track to make sure they don't have additional issues. There were no issues when three Cup drivers tested there last month. There were also some other track rentals for club racing activity. Smith said any additional issues would be addressed before NASCAR races there in June.

Hamlin also mentioned North Wilkesboro Speedway, a 0.625-mile track that recently was repaved and will play host to the NASCAR All-Star Race in May. There were a couple of issues during the tire test there last month but not the same issues as Sonoma, Swift said. Both issues were worked on during the first day of testing with no issues on the second day.

In the all-star event last year at North Wilkesboro, Noah Gragson hit an inside wall in Turn 1 trying to make the turn. NASCAR asked the track to remove about 20 feet of that wall when they repaved. That area now has a small bump that the track has worked to smooth out, Smith said, but with concrete underneath that area, there isn't necessarily an easy fix to make it completely smooth.

There also is an area at North Wilkesboro of 30-40 feet. During repaving, some rocks were pulled out of the surface (they try to repave with an asphalt mix that is a little bit coarse to make the track appear older and have a little bit of character of a worn track). The Cup drivers during the tire test asked a track bonding agent to be put down in that area to prevent any additional issues, Swift said.

Swift scoffed at any of the issues stemming from cutting costs.

"I can promise you ... it costs a lot to pave a race track," he said.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.


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