In my early days as a race fan, there were two types of tracks on the NASCAR schedule that got me extra excited – short tracks and restrictor plate tracks. The beating and banging of fenders at Bristol, Martinsville, and Richmond along with the heated tempers that came with it always kept me entertained. On the flip side of the coin, it was the high speed and danger at Talladega and Daytona that had my heart rate elevated for the entire afternoon. While I still look forward to these types of races, various factors, whether it is the new style car, track reconfigurations, or the new form of two by two drafting, my level of enthusiasm is nowhere near as high as it used to be.
These days, the two races I look forward to watching on television the most are the two road courses at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. In the Nationwide Series, the same can be said for the non-ovals they run at. Ironically, these were the tracks I looked least forward to just several years ago – it was always dominated by one or two guys and it seemed so easy to run away with the lead. They were always so uneventful.
In recent years, my mind has changed about these unorthodox venues for stock cars. Not only do I now appreciate road course racing, but it is currently by far the best type of racing on the NASCAR schedule. Don’t get me wrong; the Sprint Cup schedule doesn’t need to consist of 18 road races, but it is time NASCAR seriously considers adding a couple more of them to the Cup tour.
All of those traits that made me fall in love with the superspeedways and short tracks have slowly made their way over to the road courses. Post race tempers have become the norm; we saw a pit road scuffle between Greg Biffle and Boris Said in which Said threatened to pay a visit to Biffle’s house later in the week. It capped off a terrific race that saw Marcos Ambrose pick up his first career win. Just last week on the Nationwide side at Montreal, crew chief Jerry Baxter was caught trying to yank Steve Wallace’s hair out. Where else does that happen? (Admittedly, that was probably more of a product of Wallace’s driving style than anything else.)
There was more of the same earlier in the year at Sonoma. Kurt Busch won pretty much unchallenged, which happens from time to time, but there were some good feuds between Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart along with Juan Montoya and the rest of the field. If the race up front can’t be a photo finish, it is always nice to have some good controversy to talk about, and road courses have provided just that.
On the last lap of the Watkins Glen race a week and a half ago, there was a horrific accident between David Ragan and David Reutimann. Reutimann went airborne after smacking the wall hard on the driver’s side. Everyone watching was stunned and concerned for his well being. Thankfully, both drivers were able to walk away (Ragan hit pretty hard as well), but it sent a reminder to the viewers at home that accidents like Reutimann’s aren’t limited to restrictor plate races. Am I saying that that wreck is a reason we need more road races? Absolutely not. However, it caused anxiety, and in the world of motorsports, having that feeling of anxiousness is part of what makes watching so appealing. You don’t want a wreck like that to occur, but you know that close, side by side racing can produce an accident at any second.
Even qualifying is so much more fun to watch when these guys turn right. Watching the best of the group like Ambrose, Stewart, and Juan Montoya drive their cars through the corner with such finesse is an art to watch.
Road racing has become more entertaining, and it’s time to add two more tracks to the schedule. Drop two of the cookie cutters to keep the schedule at 36 races. While it won’t happen next year, this happening in the next five to ten years doesn’t seem like an unreasonable possibility. If Montreal could somehow keep their current Nationwide race, NASCAR should take a hard look at giving them a Cup date. They have very loyal and passionate fans up there, a crowd that is definitely better than at many of the tracks currently on the schedule. The other track that would be nice to see would be Road America, but I recently wrote about that in a previous article and would be going off on a tangent to explain it again.
The next step would be to add one of them in the Chase. Quite frankly, this should have happened back in 2004. Nowadays, with all the drivers saying that the cars are all the same speed, making it extremely difficult to pass, there needs to be a road course in the Chase more than ever. Strategy is just as important here as it is anywhere else, probably even more, but the best always find a way to win. If there is one track where the drivers can make a difference, it would be where they aren’t turning left all the time.
Recently, there was a press conference where the subject was brought up to Mike Helton, who made it seem like it’s not happening in the near future. Mr. Helton, it needs to be done now. It would mean at least one race in the Chase where it’s not about who is going to put on two tires or who has the best car. We can be treated to one race where the driver can really make the difference. With the all the short track and restrictor plate type of excitement it has created, it is time for some more road races, and one deserves to be in the Chase.
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