After another set of thrilling road course races at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International, it’s time to admit it.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup needs a road course.
Once surrounded by a general feeling of awkwardness as the majority of the field attempted merely to survive and advance, the two road courses have become crown jewels on the Sprint Cup Series tour in recent years. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that the drivers in the field have all learned how to run at the facilities over the last two decades, no longer content to run quietly for 10th and advance to the next race.
However, another part of the allure to the road courses -and particularly Watkins Glen- in recent years is the thrill and potential Chase swings associated with the two races.
In the past, road course aces like A.J. Allmendinger looked at road courses as a brief reprieve from the norm – a chance to shine and show what they were made of. In the modern Chase, however, a win at Sonoma or the Glen can alter a team’s entire season.
Case in point: Allmendinger’s 2014 triumph at Watkins Glen. In a year in which both Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose were struggling, their desperation manifested itself in a classic duel for the victory at the 2.45-mile circuit. California’s Allmendinger ultimately prevailed, and in doing so was able to celebrate not only the first victory for JTG-Daughterty Racing, but also the team’s first Chase berth in September.
Now, imagine that same level of desperation and will to win, and put it in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff.
Martin Truex, Jr., and Brad Keselowski were ultra-aggressive in trying to pass Denny Hamlin for a normal race win in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at the Glen. If the stakes were even higher, if their season’s were on the line, imagine how wild the finish would have been.
The sheer excitement and wild card aspect of a road-course race would place it right along with the October races at Talladega Superspeedway and Martinsville Speedway as the wildest events in the Chase. However, regardless of that, there are other reasons that the Chase deserves a few right turns.
The major reason that the Cup tour deserves a third road course, or at least one in the Chase, is the attendance. In a year in which NASCAR has struggled to get fans to the track, Sunday’s race at WGI was reported as a second-straight sellout for the New York circuit.
“What impressed me a lot was that crowd,” winning car owner Joe Gibbs said after the race. “To have a sellout crowd is huge for our sport.”
“This is a great testament to the passion and dedication our fans have for Watkins Glen International,” Michael Printup, WGI president said. “We’re looking forward to a great race and delivering an incredible experience that keeps out fans coming back year after year.”
If good road course racing has proven that it could add excitement to the Chase and brings fans out to see it, then it is only logical to ponder where such a race could be ran, or if it’s even possible.
Sadly, this isn’t a move likely to come within the next 3-4 years. With the current five-year deals in place with each track on the Sprint Cup tour, it would be a long shot for any race to be added or removed through at least 2020.
However, when that time comes NASCAR should take a long, hard look at the potential of swapping a Chase race with a road course, regardless of the difficulties attached.
As for a location, if neither WGI or Sonoma can be moved, perhaps an early September trip to Road America isn’t beyond reproach. After all, the Wisconsin track already plays host to a race for the XFINITY Series, and the track reportedly hosted at least 50,000 spectators during IndyCar’s return in June, per USA Today.
If not, other tracks such as the Circuit of the Americas in Texas and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course could potentially field an event of Sprint Cup’s stature.
Don’t get me wrong, I know realistically hoping for a road course to be added to the schedule -let alone the Chase- is likely a pipe dream at best. However, similar to the way drivers like Allmendinger ponder a victory at one of the road courses, I can’t help but wonder.
Wouldn’t it be nice?