The Frontstretch: Road Trip: Why Sprint Cup Needs More Road Courses by Amy Henderson -- Friday June 21, 2013

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Road Trip: Why Sprint Cup Needs More Road Courses

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday June 21, 2013


It seems like lately, a lot of fans have been turned on to road course racing — especially since the show on the last lap at Watkins Glen last August — when previously, the road races were considered something fans have to endure twice a year. Few fans had Sonoma or Watkins Glen circled on their calendars as “must watch” races. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve always been one of the oddballs who looked forward to the road courses.) Many people thought and still think that two road courses on the schedule is two too many.

And that couldn’t be further from the truth. NASCAR needs more road course races in Sprint Cup, not fewer.

Really, NASCAR needs more of any track that isn’t a 1.5-to-2-mile oval, but there are a couple of compelling reasons for adding road races.

Some fans think two road course races is too many… but others, in light of exciting racing these past few years think they aren’t enough.

One is that race cars are expensive to build. The CoT and Gen-6 chassis are a bit less specialized than their fourth-generation counterparts, but many teams still build dedicated cars for the road races, and all of them spend a considerable amount of time setting up their road cars long before they hit the track. Teams put as much care and work into their road cars as they do the intermediate ones.

The problem is that teams are doing an awful lot of work for… two races. That’s just not very cost effective. Think of it like a manufacturing business; like, say, a bakery. If your bestseller is chocolate cupcakes, it makes sense that you make a lot of chocolate cupcakes, with a few vanilla batches here and there to satisfy that faction. And then, one customer wants just two carrot cake cupcakes… it takes as much time and, ultimately, money to get out the ingredients, make the batter, bake those two cupcakes in the oven, and frost them. That’s a lot of time and effort for two cupcakes.

It wouldn’t take that baker much more time and money to make, say, four carrot cake cupcakes if there was a market for them, right? It’s a bit similar to what the teams go through. The cars are built and setups are tweaked for just two tracks… but those cars could easily be run on two more road courses. Some of the setup is very similar. In short, the team would get more bang for its buck on those cars if there were four road races during the season. But, like the baker, they’ve spent the time and effort on just two. Even the next most underused cars, superspeedway ones, get run four times a year. Yes, in this day and age, it’s a lot easier to use a car built for one type of track on another… but there is still so much prep time to get them ready that just two races is impractical to the teams.

That’s not the biggest reason, though. The best reason for adding at least two road races every year is the unpredictability factor. Some oval drivers are also great road racers, but some aren’t… and some who are just passable on ovals shine when they make turns both ways. In other words, it’s not as much of a given that the winner will come from a select handful of drivers — the same handful that’s considered the one the winner will come from almost every week. Sure, some of the names are the same. Tony Stewart, for example, is just that good a driver. But others, like Jamie McMurray, do surprise a bit more with their road course prowess, where some weekly contenders, like Jimmie Johnson, are rarely even a factor. Then there are the road course specialists, like Marcos Ambrose or Juan Pablo Montoya, who vault from longshots to favorites overnight. Small teams also can mix it up with the powerhouses. Kurt Busch very nearly won for one-car Phoenix Racing last year, while Casey Mears was running in the top 10 late in the race before both got bitten by bad luck. Everybody loves an underdog, and the road courses are some of the few places where they can run as almost equals to the top teams.

Further, there’s no excuse for not having a road course race in the Chase for that very reason. If you want to make an argument for the champion being the best in the sport, well, he should have to excel (or at least suck it up and survive) on a road course. Would a road course have altered history in keeping the oft-maligned Jimmie Johnson from winning five in a row? Perhaps. While Johnson does have a win at Sonoma, he really should have been second, and he’s never been good at Watkins Glen, while other drivers are more versatile. It is, of course, impossible to say one way or another if we’d still be calling Johnson “Five-Time,” but it’s a valid question. Why shouldn’t the eventual champion of the sport have to make some right turns to get there?

The only other major American auto racing series that races on both ovals and road/street courses, the IZOD IndyCar Series, crowns its champion based on the entire season, so the ovals count just as much for the road course specialists and the road races count for the oval guys. The champion is the guy who did best on both types of track — and would-be champions have been foiled by one or the other. Sure, the road races count in NASCAR, but we all know that regular season races mean very little toward the actual title. They’ll get a driver into the title run, but that’s all… only those last ten races really count.

Which also means why should the title contenders race for anything but points on Sunday and again in August at Watkins Glen? Sure, there are the bonus points, but they can get those at, say, Kentucky, and test for some Chase races at the same time. There’s no reason for them to race hard on the road courses, and it’s likely that a good number of them won’t, instead settling for a top 10 or so and going on their merry way.

A road race in the Chase, by comparison would force them to find ways to be competitive during the few regular season opportunities they have. When that happens, it would improve the overall racing. And, well, isn’t that the end goal?

It’s time for a major schedule overhaul in Sprint Cup anyway, and it just makes sense that adding two more road races each year would be better for the teams and, ultimately, for the fans. One of those races in the Chase would mean that a champion has to truly master every type of track thrown at him… and isn’t that what being a champion is about? So it’s time to stop thinking of road courses as those two races the sport just keeps hanging on to — and to start thinking of them as vital to its future.

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06/21/2013 02:09 AM

THANK YOU, Amy! I totally support your position.

I would also add this: why does NASCAR have to use the short Watkins Glen course? Why can’t they drive the full 3.37 mile course? F1 did so. Trans-Am does so. So does Grand-Am in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen. There is no logical reason why NASCAR shouldn’t run the full length of one of the classic tracks in this country.

06/21/2013 08:24 AM

Great article. A road course race in the chase could be the equalizer that ‘dega is/was supposed to be but never really is.

06/21/2013 10:02 AM

I vote for Road America. It would be a major traffic jam getting in and leaving, but it still would be a good choice.

06/21/2013 11:42 AM

How about this? Add a couple more road courses in place of the 1.5 mile D- tracks, AND get rid of the Chase? Everybody wins!!

06/21/2013 12:01 PM

I think the bigger problem is the idea that the last 10 races are the only ones that matter.

06/21/2013 12:03 PM

I agree with Smart Guy. I race at the Glen in vintage car races and we use the long course. The Boot is the best part of the track. I also agree with adding two more. Road America would be a good choice but my second choice would be to use the road course at Indianapolis in place of the 400 which has to be the most boring event on the planet.

06/21/2013 12:08 PM

I think one of the chase races should be the road course at Daytona International Speedway.

Marty C
06/21/2013 06:58 PM

I love the idea of adding a couple more road courses, although I disagree that they should be the infield courses at Indy & Daytona. Part of what makes road racing so good is not just turning left and right, but elevation changes and both Indy & Daytona are flat. Road Atlanta would make a great addition. It’s close to home for most of the teams, the Nationwide cars used to race there when it was the Bush series, and there are some great elevation changes.
I’ve been around NASCAR in one form or other, from fan to mechanic since 1962 and the argument to have more road course races or eliminate them completely has been going on as long. Some people say that NASCAR is an oval track series, but road courses have been in NASCAR since the very beginning, one of the 1st races was on a road course. I’m willing to bet that most of today’s fans don’t realize that at one time the season began at the road course at Riverside. The Daytona 500 was the 2nd race of the season.
Back in about ’87 NASCAR was considering adding some street races to the schedule, in fact I know of 3 cars that were built to test for it. I think they gave up on the idea either because they didn’t want to add the expense of building another type of specialty car or they had 2nd thoughts of what would happen when a 3700# stock car crashed into a temporary Armco barrier set up in some downtown street, possibly both. It would have been an exciting race though.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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