Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: (Don’t) Run the Boot

Since the Next Gen NASCAR Cup Series car is designed for road racing, can they finally run the boot at Watkins Glen International? – Grigori S., Sarasota, Fla.

NASCAR can, but it shouldn’t. 

Watkins Glen has seen only one layout change since NASCAR began its annual visits in 1986: adding the inner loop bus stop chicane after the tragic death of JD McDuffie. This is the short-course layout, the 11-turn, 2.45-mile superspeedway of road courses, as close to a perfect racetrack as the world will ever see. 

Some people (who are wrong) want to change that. Tony Stewart is one of the most vocal appreciators of the Boot, an additional complex of four corners that lengthens the Glen by exactly 1 mile, composing the full grand prix layout used by IMSA and, in previous decades, the NTT IndyCar Series and Formula 1. 

Every time Watkins Glen weekend rolls around, voices cry out for NASCAR to run the Boot.

For three reasons, that would be a mistake.

First, as Bob Pockrass pointed out on Twitter, lengthening the track by 1 mile would almost certainly force NASCAR to reduce the lap count. Because Watkins Glen is a natural-terrain road course, fans at the track can’t see the cars at all times. Taking away laps then means fewer times the cars pass by at full tilt. It’s not a huge deal, but if I were a loyal ticketholder, I’d feel a little stiffed. 

Secondly, the longer the track length, the longer the caution laps. With two planned stage cautions on top of any natural cautions caused by the tricky, old-school course and current no-holds-barred Cup driving style, NASCAR would be lengthening the amount of time and distance spent behind the pace car.  

See also
Only Yesterday: 2012 Duel at Watkins Glen, 10 Years Later

Most importantly, running the Boot would take away one of Watkins Glen’s best passing zones: from the exit of the Carousel, down the straight into turn 10. This is where Brad Keselowski tried his last bump and run on Marcos Ambrose in the 2012 Cup race, the climax of the greatest single lap in the history of motor racing (which our own Adam Cheek covered in detail earlier this week). 

Running the Boot stitches the Carousel to turn 6, a fast, flowing, truly spectacular corner … that isn’t anywhere near as good a passing opportunity as the run directly into turn 10. Then, the Boot rejoins the short circuit just before the penultimate corner, so the straight isn’t really long enough to set up a pass. 

Sonoma’s Cup race was moved to the full course in 2019 but ran the layout just once more in 2021 before returning to the short course in 2022.

NASCAR won’t make the same mistake twice. It isn’t going to run the Boot, and that’s a good thing.

With Auto Club Speedway already being reconfigured, and Texas Motor Speedway probably next in line, what track will be next? – Charlotte H., Knoxville, Tenn.

Ah, NASCAR. The sport where if it ain’t broke, fix it ‘til it is. 

I kid, I kid … sort of.

After all, the current Texas Motor Speedway fans love to hate is the result of a 2017 reconfiguration meant to address the problem that TMS was no more than a clone of Charlotte Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. That gave us asymmetric turns, a one-groove racetrack and enough PJ1 slathered on the asphalt to ruin every IndyCar race at the venue from now until the inevitable heat death of the universe. 

But I’m a card-carrying member of Team It-Can’t-Hurt-To-Try-It, so I’m on board with the Auto Club short track and whatever the powers that be cook up for the fifth version of Texas in 25 years. My pessimism at this question is due to the fact that the most likely candidate for America’s Next Top Track Revamp is Richmond Raceway. 

For some reason, according to Jeff Gluck’s poll, only 70.5% of fans thought Sunday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 was a good race, and much of the social media buzz (both before and after the race) was negative. I guess nearly 30% of fans don’t like races where three different drivers duke it out for the win in the final green-flag run and the margin of victory is measured in tenths of a second.

Yes, these days, Richmond races more like the similarly flat-ish, short-ish Phoenix Raceway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway than its fellow true short tracks in Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway, but with the Next Gen car, these races have been competitive and exciting — and from what I understand, particularly so in person. 

So please, NASCAR, don’t ruin Richmond trying to make it Bristol. If you’re going to take reconfiguration madness somewhere else, my suggestion is Sonoma Raceway. 

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Uncle Mo is Very Real in NASCAR

As I said earlier, returning to the Chute for ’22 was a great call, giving us back the passing opportunity into turn 4a that allowed Daniel Suarez to make the crucial move past Chris Buescher for the win. Buescher’s difficulty running in dirty air, however, meant Suarez went unchallenged late in the race. Instead, NASCAR should use a section of the old IndyCar layout, incorporating the straight that bypasses turn 9 to create a new braking zone into the turn 9a chicane. 

This preserves just enough of Sonoma’s distinctive esses without forcing a following car to spend the entire back half of the track struggling for grip in dirty air. This won’t make Sonoma into Martinsville, but it could turn it into the best possible version of itself. 

Seriously, we’re just a few underbody tweaks away from the best all-around racecar the Cup Series has ever seen. Let’s hold off on any more major track changes until we really know what we’ve got.

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Charlie

Run the boot. I trust Tony Stewart’s ideas more. When you go to a road course, you may lose sight of the cars. Heck, that can happen at Pocono, Daytona, Talledega, Charlotte, and who knows how many other tracks, depending on your seat.
Even Darlington has some spots you can’t see.
Second, it changes the strategy. Don’t reduce the laps, fans deserve a show.
Third, if Pokrass, who has some strange opinions, is against adding it and fans and Tony Stewart are for it, add it. Period.

Sally Baker

The most convincing argument for NOT running the Boot thinking of how long the yellow flags would be, since Nascar seems incapable of using a local yellow.

DoninAjax

In October 1978 I was at Watkins Glen for an ASA/NASCAR Modified (Back when it was NASCAR) show and they used the long circuit. I was on the frontstretch and it took a long time for the race laps and what seemed like forever for the caution laps. It’s Still The Same now.

gbvette

While adding the Boot would eliminate the Turn 10 passing zone, you’d gain the Boot’s Turn 8 passing zone. It’s not easy, but it is possible to pass in the Chute too, going into Turn 6. It’s not Monterey’s Corkscrew, but The Glen from the Outer Loop, downhill through the Chute, and around Turn 6 into the Boot, is one of the best sections of track in the country.

A single lap around the Long Course does take a while. Indy Cars lapped it in the high 1:20’s, and a modern tube frame Trans Am car laps it in the 1:50 range. I’m guessing a Cup car would probably be in the 1:40’s? That could become a 4-5 minute lap under caution, but a switch to local cautions could help with that. The Glen flaggers are experienced enough that they could easily handle local cautions.

We run an SCCA Club race at The Glen every year that races on the long course one day, and the short course the other. NASCAR could do something similar, alternating between the short and long course, every other year. Or better yet do the same thing, make the Glen a double header weekend, running the short course one day, and the long the other! That could become the hottest ticket in NASCAR.

Tom B

I don’t think so.

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