The Frontstretch: Is It Time For More Twisties In NASCAR? by Phil Allaway -- Sunday August 14, 2011

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Is It Time For More Twisties In NASCAR?

Phil Allaway · Sunday August 14, 2011


Many driving enthusiasts and professional racers alike have memories of taking on their favorite twisty section of public road. However, stock car racing is not traditionally twisty, despite it’s origins in illegal running of the ‘shine on back roads. Yes, they turn, but mainly to the left, with little elevation change. That might change in the near future.

This weekend here at Watkins Glen, there have been a couple of topics that have gotten a lot of play at the track. One is the ongoing rivalry between Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch, which resulted in rather terse comments from each driver during their media availability.

The other topic has been the question of whether NASCAR needs to adjust their schedule to give road courses more importance. This could be done in multiple different ways. One way would be to move one of the two existing road races to the Chase. Another would be to add another road race to the schedule.

The idea of adding a road course to the Chase has been floated about almost as long as there has been a Chase. The main argument is simple: If you’re going to bother having something like a Chase at all, it must be representative of all the different types of tracks on the schedule. In its present form, the Chase for the Sprint Cup does not meet that criteria. There are five races on intermediate 1.5 mile tracks, one on a superspeedway (Talladega), one on a short track (Martinsville) and two that kind of act like it (Loudon and Phoenix, although the reconfiguration makes that track a wild card), and a high-banked one mile oval at Dover. No road races.

Jeff Gordon is one driver that agrees with the idea that having a road course in the Chase would be beneficial, saying on Friday “I’ve always said that in order to make the championship fully complete and find out the true best team and driver, the only thing that I think we’re missing in the Chase right now is a road course.”

However, Matt Kenseth offered a dissenting view.

“There are only two road courses throughout the year, and that’s less than ten percent of what we do, so I don’t think it does,” Kenseth said on Friday. “It’s kind of a novelty and it’s fun to come and do because it’s something different and changes the pace up, but I don’t think it really needs to be in the Chase…”

Adding another race to the Sprint Cup schedule would be tricky, already full at 38 dates. If one were to be added, it would likely have to come at the expense of another oval already on the schedule. Which one would likely be slashed in order to make room for a third road race? That’s unclear. A look at attendance figures at certain tracks could give a good idea, but nothing would be in stone.

Then there is the question of where it would be. On Saturday, Jimmie Johnson stated after the Nationwide Series race that he would definitely be in favor of having a third road race in Canada. He did not mention any specific tracks, but he did say that there are a couple of venues in Canada that could easily host a Cup race. One possible site could be Mosport International Raceway in Bowmansville, Ontario, a track 50 miles outside of Toronto that Ron Fellows just recently bought into. The Circuit Gilles Villenueve in Montreal would be another possibility, though that track would have to work out their promotion issues before hosting a Cup event. Regardless of where a Sprint Cup road race in Canada would be, it would likely be well-attended by a group of fans that have often been left out of being able to travel to Sprint Cup races.

Moving either Watkins Glen or Sonoma to the Chase would be an interesting move as well. Both events are, however more or less entrenched in their current places on the Cup schedule; Watkins Glen has occupied the same slot on the schedule every year since the series returned in 1986, while the Sonoma has moved around a bit, but generally run towards the end of June.

Should Watkins Glen’s “esses” be a part of the Chase? Phil Allaway says “yes!”

Another topic that has been broached recently is moving the annual Cup race over from the 2.45 mile short course to the 3.37 mile long course. This longer configuration branches off from the short course on the exit of Turn 9 and goes into what is known as “The Boot.” The Boot is a downhill plunge to the “toe,” Turn 11. That is followed by an uphill blast before heavy braking for a right-hander. Then, another plunge downhill into a valley before rising back up to rejoin the short course in between that course’s Turns 9 and 10.

Only a few of the current drivers in Sprint Cup have raced on the long course configuration, but many of them, including Tony Stewart, are thrilled with it. Stewart has never actually raced on it, but drove it as part of Seat Swap: Stewart vs. Hamilton back in June. At that time, he said that he would petition Watkins Glen International President Michael Printup to switch the Cup race over to the long course. At the time, Printup was receptive to the idea. However, some renovations would need to be made to the Boot to put it up to NASCAR’s standards; there is a large trap in Turn 12 (or 8, depending on who you ask) that would likely need to be paved over.

Juan Pablo Montoya echoed Stewart’s sentiment from June.

“As Tony [Stewart] said when they did the Swap [Hamilton vs. Stewart], it is a shame we don’t use the Boot here,” Montoya said. “But, it is what it is.”

Gordon continued to state that the idea of NASCAR shortening up road courses for Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races actually hurts the show.

“I think sometimes that’s one of the things we miss on the road courses as we shorten the tracks up,” Gordon continued. “Particularly [at] Sonoma when they took out that inner loop (Turns 4-6, which included the Carousel), to me, it took away the best passing zone that we had on that race track and I miss that and the challenges that came along with it.”

Historically, NASCAR has made moves to shorten road courses when they felt that it would put on a better show, or if it would have been too hard on brakes. Years ago, NASCAR used a shortened 2.62 mile circuit at Riverside that bypassed Turn 7. At Infineon Raceway, they purpose-built a shortcut just for NASCAR to use starting in 1998 (and have re-profiled it twice since).

However, the track shortening for NASCAR was not limited to after the track was purchased by SMI. Prior to the Cup Series racing there, shortened versions of the track were used for Winston West (now K&N Pro Series West) races in the early to mid-1980’s. Finally, Mexico City’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was curtailed from 2.795 to 2.518 miles (bypassing the Horquilla complex) when the Nationwide Series raced there.

As Frontstretch’s resident road course racing zealot, I am strongly in favor of additional road races on the schedule and the idea of a road race in the Chase. If there is one facet of racing that was affected the most by the move to permanent double-file restarts, it is road racing. Prior to the change, the only double-file restart all day was the initial start of the race.

Now, we’ve had a substantial increase in aggressive driving and bumping on restarts since the move has been instituted. Some writers have taken to calling a place like Infineon Raceway the “New Bristol.” However, some drivers aren’t necessarily the biggest fans of the move.

“When they announced that [the double-file restarts] were going to happen, you know the rumblings in the garage were like ‘Oh my God, wait until these road courses, this is going to be disastrous,’” Clint Bowyer said on Friday. “It’s pretty much held up to that. Despite being an August race since 1986, I would not be opposed to NASCAR moving the race to early October in order for it to be part of the Chase.

Some diehards might object since that was traditionally the time of year that Formula One raced at the Glen, but that is not important. Such a move would substantially raise the profile of a race that many of the series’ regular beat writers chose to skip this year. Also, it couldn’t hurt to lengthen the race a little, possibly to 250 miles or so.

As for additional road course venues that could host races, a number of them have hosted races in at least one NASCAR series. There’s Portland International Raceway, which hosts the K&N Pro Series West currently, and formerly hosted a Truck Series event after the half-mile Portland Speedway converted to dirt when they couldn’t afford a repave that NASCAR required.

Heartland Park Topeka is still an option, but it’s only 70 miles from Kansas City. Road Atlanta, where Brad Keselowski had his big testing crash, would likely be out for the same reason. That track hosted a couple of Busch races in the mid-to-late 1980’s. Lime Rock Park in Northwest Connecticut would likely be considered a little too short for Sprint Cup on a road course, and would be nigh on impossible because the track is dark on Sundays.

There are many more options here in the United States that if the Sprint Cup Series raced there, they would put on a great show. That’s also without factoring in street courses. NASCAR has raced on temporary circuits before, but not for decades. The earliest road races were at temporary airport circuits in places like Linden, New Jersey and Bremerton, Washington. The closest thing to a street race that NASCAR has held for the current Sprint Cup Series was the first race at Watkins Glen. That race was held on a circuit comprised of local roads that are basically on top of the current circuit’s property (Ex: The current ticket office is just off where the course ran, and the TV Compound is just west of it).

However, there have been a couple of NASCAR-sanctioned street races in the past. In 1986, the Winston West Series raced on a temporary course around the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Washington. There was even a street race in Los Angeles for NASCAR’s Featherlite Southwest Series in the late 1990’s.

Regardless of where any additional road races might end up, the current rules would mean that they would be very exciting, competitive, and full of action. Yes, there won’t be 25-40 lead changes during the race. Unfortunately, that’s just not in the cards for a road race. However, the Cup Series will put on an excellent show anywhere they are scheduled to race, whether they’re turning left, or left and right.

Contact Phil Allaway

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
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08/14/2011 11:56 PM

Disregarding all other things for brevity…maybe.

Replace a track with, say, Watkins Glen unedited.

Adding more to the season? No. Costly enough to teams w/out megabucks to set up cars, set up backup cars, take huge chances with wrecks, and so forth.

By the time the Chase rolls around, most can at least afford to just take a pass on racing the circuit.

I have a caveat, though – any addition of a circuit track to the Chase comes with a pricetag – no more ringers.

You actually race your team’s car, or your number, whatever, on every course – or you are excluded.

No exceptions, short of severe injury, and in that case, substitute a team member or development driver and lose points for that race.

THAT..will keep things level and interesting.

08/15/2011 07:51 AM

Teams already have put the time and money into having a roadcourse car and backup…wouldn’t it make sense to use it more than twice a season? With so many of the Cup regulars becoming more proficient at road course racing, it seems ridiculous not to have a road course in the ‘chase’, or not use the entire track at The Glen. It’s like saying the Natiowide cars can run on rain tires, but not the Cup cars. Granted, a downpur with standing lakes on the track isn’t reasonable for stock cars, but drying the track to just damp and allowing cars to run would certainly work.

Don Mei
08/15/2011 09:12 AM

A couple of comments; first, the question of where to put a road course in the schedule would be moot if we could dump the chase.Secondly, my vote would be for Montreal. Its easy to get to the track by subway and its got access to all the hotels and restaurants of the city itself.The Canadian fans are enormously knowledgeable about all forms of motorsports and deserve an event in Canada. Thirdly, using the boot at the Glen makes enormous sense. The long course provides an additional couple of good passing zones so the race would be enhanced. Lastly, no reason not to run in the rain. The tires are available, the Nationwide guys do it so have at it.

Phil Allaway
08/15/2011 09:34 AM

Don, I’m right with you on Chase dumping. I hated it the minute Jimmy Spencer let it slip at Homestead in 2003. I would be fine with Montreal, but there are some promotion issues. That would be the only reason why that couldn’t happen. If they were solved, have at it. It would require some more brake development, though, since the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is the toughest track on brakes in all the world.

08/15/2011 10:36 AM

F the CHASE. We don’t need it. The POINTS system wasn’t broke, so WHY would NASCAR think it had to fix it?

Don Mei
08/15/2011 11:30 AM

Phil, I don’t think promotion of a race in Montreal would be any problem at all. The two Nationwide races I attended had good sized crowds, probably more than attend most stand alone Nationwide races here. Secondly, Montreal is only 6 hours from NYC and 5 hours from Boston, so its an easy straight shot ride for New England fans to get there. Tons of hotels and restaurants in the greater Montreal area.

I agree with you on braking, but I’ve been involved in road racing for more than 40 years; not that big a deal to set up quick change pads and/rotors. The baseline info is there with the Nationwide cars so its not that difficult to do.

08/15/2011 04:23 PM

Circuit of the Americas. It’s going to be incredibly wide like all new F1 tracks, but that would be more helpful to NASCAR anyway. Large runoff areas are another F1 requirement that NASCAR also wants (and is lacking at many US road courses). It would give Texas three races, but the state could probably support it, and the road race would draw different fans as well. It works for the Chase as well since a race in Texas should be in either the Spring or Fall. The only issue with that is the November F1 date, which might put the two races too close together and affect ticket sales.

08/15/2011 05:42 PM

Count me in for another road race or two and I don’t care where they are held. Let’s get rid of a couple 1.5 mile cookie cutter snoozer tracks and let ‘em turn right!

08/15/2011 05:51 PM

Put a road course in the Chase. Make it simple: swap dates with New Hampshire and Watkins Glen, putting the Cup race around the date of the old US Grand Prix when the fall foliage is in full bloom.

08/15/2011 08:52 PM

If there’s a road course race in Canada it should be at Mosport. Richard Petty has already raced there. The drivers would love it. It’s fast and scary.

08/15/2011 10:42 PM

Why not Limerock? YES it is small, but couldnt that fit NASCAR standards even more? I mean it would race sorta like an oval in that sense just have a few right turns as well…works for me.

And the issue with long courses I have and its the same issue that i have with Road America, they put on great races but you have to find a way to shorten up the track during qualifying periods, because no fan wants to sit through 4 caution laps at a track that is almost 3 miles long. If they could use the boot at walkins glen and then maybe during cautions take the short way? I am not sure on the logistics of that though because how would you prevent cars from going the short way anyway could be tricky, but i would not want to sit through that long of a caution.

The Mad Man
08/16/2011 08:30 AM

Putting a road course race into the current play-off format would break up the monotony of the 1.5 mil cookie cutter tracks which dominate the play-off schedule. Road America, Road Atlanta, Limerock, and others could easily replace some of the cookie cutters currently on the play-off schedule.

I’m all for dumping the play-offs. It’s proven to be a failure since it was implemented and has chased away more fans than it’s brought in.

08/17/2011 11:46 AM

More Road Tracks would be great. I live on the in the North East and would welcome Lime Rock, Mosport or Montreal. But how awesome would it be to see 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup cars diving into the Cork Screw at Laguna Seca (Mazda Raceway)? I know the likelyhood of this track getting a cup date are pretty much slim to none, especially with its proximity to Infineon. But, it is a great course and would definitely be a challenge for the racers. Plus from a fans perspective it would be great too! Either way, I would like to see more road races and less cookie cutter races. Both Road races this year had me paying attention the entire time and not nodding off at all. I have been to Watkins Glen a few times now and would also like to see the boot used!!