Going By the Numbers · Kevin Rutherford · Tuesday June 18, 2013
Around the road course races in NASCAR, talk always turns to the best of the best at turning right.
There’s the full-time drivers that are simply great at the tracks (in Sprint Cup, that’s but two circuits on the entire schedule), racers like Ambrose, Gordon and Montoya. There’s the road course ringers who come in with one goal in mind: beat NASCAR’s best. Right now, Fellows, Said and Villeneuve come to mind.
But let’s face it: not everyone is good at road courses.
Just like certain drivers excel at superspeedways while others can’t seem to figure them out, road courses are a hotbed for struggle. For those who have grown up racing ovals, it can be a shock. Only having to turn left is fine. But right? Multiple times? Whoa, man. Slow down.
To be fair, most of NASCAR’s stars can say they’ve notched at least a top five or top 10 in their Cup careers at a road course, but there’s still quite a few that, comparatively, just don’t stack up.
Most notable of those drivers is Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
NASCAR’s most popular driver has had a tough time at its road courses, though not in the “oh my god, he’s BAD” sense. Since he went full time in Cup in 2000, Earnhardt has a best finish of third on a road course.. That said, his only top-10 finishes came between 2003 and 2005; every other year, he’s finished outside the top 10.
By the way, that’s only his Watkins Glen results.
In 13 races at Sonoma, Junior has managed a best finish of 11th. Average finish? 22.2.
Another driver in this realm is Jamie McMurray. Though his Earnhardt Ganassi teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, has had some great road course runs in his career, success hasn’t transmitted to McMurray, whose top-five/top-10 results are the same as Earnhardt’s: two and three.
Also, how about Kasey Kahne? “But wait!” you say. “He won the Sonoma race in 2009!” Well, yeah. He sure did. But beyond that victory, Kahne has just one top-five finish, a fourth in 2010, which came at the same track. His Watkins Glen track record, like Earnhardt’s Sonoma results, leave much to be desired. Nine races, best finish 13th.
Finally, of note: Matt Kenseth has never even scored a top-five finish at either track. In 26 total races, he’s managed only five top 10s.
But historically, other drivers have struggled on the road courses, drivers who made a pretty good living out of racing. Heck, one that comes to mind in particular just got inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Dale Jarrett never won a road course race at Sonoma or Watkins Glen, and managed a total of five top fives and nine top 10s in 38 races. His average finishes are not what you’d expect from a future Hall of Famer, with 20.7 at Sonoma and 19.7 — a spot better — at Watkins Glen.
Like the superspeedways, anything can happen at the road courses, and sometimes, good fortune can sneak one into a much higher finishing position; Kahne’s poor finishes around a first-place showing might be representative of that. This could be the year Earnhardt finally goes HAM on the Sonoma field, or the rare moment Jeff Gordon actually has a bad road course race.
So, hey, don’t worry. Road course races are (currently) but two small parts in a larger 36-race schedule.
Plus, it’s not like Hall of Fame voters are looking for great road course prowess. Otherwise, we’ll be seeing Marcos Ambrose, the guy who’s probably going to win both, in years after retirement. Seriously, an average finish of second in five Watkins Glen races? Nuts.
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