Recently, members of the press asked any driver who would/had to listen if there should be more road races in NASCAR’s top series. The next day, Jack Roush suggested not only there should be more than two, but Watkins Glen International ought to have a pair of Sprint Cup Series dates annually.
Recently, members of the press asked any driver who would/had to listen if there should be more road races in NASCAR’s top series.
The next day, Jack Roush suggested not only there should be more than two, but Watkins Glen International ought to have a pair of Sprint Cup Series dates annually.
On race day, after the most attention-grabbing lap of the season (or any season), social media sites exploded with fans begging for more road courses on the Cup schedule.
The 1998 me couldn’t believe his ears. He also couldn’t believe you can carry your entire music library in your pocket, couldn’t smoke in bars or could surf the Internet on the toilet.
All of the sudden, people are actually clamoring to see stock cars on road courses. In America. It’s something a small band of us race fans always longed for, but the mainstream believed the best racing on the planet was NASCAR on bullrings. Some funny things happened in the last 15 years.
The bullrings/smallish superspeedways were rooted out of the schedule to accommodate palatial 1.5-to-2-mile tracks in major markets. The racing sucks by comparison, but hey, they’re near Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles now.
The drivers come from every discipline imaginable, hence have greater/more diverse skill and tend to be more open-minded.
The cars have undergone major changes, and gray areas once open to interpertation are now the width of a No. 2 pencil.
The engineers hired to work within said gray areas are some of the best on the planet, even getting recruited from Formula One teams.
The championship format, depending on one’s finish, now severely punishes or greatly rewards teams in the first 26 races – thus encouraging drivers to push that little bit harder than they might have before.
Do you know what hasn’t changed? The road courses.
For the most part, America’s venerable old twisty tracks haven’t been chopped up by chicanes the way some gems in Europe have. OK, there’s Sonoma, Calif., but it clearly states above “for the most part.”
We’re in a harmonic convergence right now, where big, heavy race cars with mucho horsepower on skinny tires driven by a deep and extremely talented field of drivers synchs up with what domestic road courses offer. In the past, maybe the cars’ configuration didn’t quite mesh; the engineering wasn’t up to the challenge; the drivers, by and large, didn’t care for it; and the points structure was much too forgiving.
Now, the planets have aligned.
Obviously, The Glen is, and to a degree always has been, a great fit for the tin tops, but suddenly people want to see the Sprint Cuppers at Road America, Road Atlanta, Laguna Seca (sorry, Mazda Raceway) and even in Montreal. When’s the last time NASCAR fans lobbied for a race outside American borders? The year was 1960-never.
The time is now for NASCAR to look beyond its small collection of ovals owned by two principle entities which struggle to sell tickets. Just look at the finishes at The Glen since 2007 (albeit the most gripping was created by an invisible 2.45-mile oil slick). Watch the racing through the pack, the on-edge driving and, yes, the temper tantrums people seem to love so much.
It’s worth a shot to take America’s most popular form of auto racing to some new, windier places. If it doesn’t work out after a few years, at least NASCAR tried. There’s never been a better time for exploration.
Good/bad picking: The last two years, I’ve picked Kyle Busch to win at The Glen, and for the last two years have been thwarted by bizarre happenstance.
In 2011, during a green-white-checker finish (which, by the way, I’ve loathed since inception) Busch tried braking too late to hold off his challengers with two laps to go and finished third. This year, an oil slick with one lap remaining spoiled his chances. Both times Marcos Ambrose was the beneficiary. As Busch’s luck goes, as does mine.
Just sayin’: Melky Cabrera: Fantasy baseball season killer. ... Negotiations between the National Hockey League and the players have hit wall. For a sport that languishes behind NASCAR in popularity, I expected common sense to prevail on some level – then I remembered Don Fehr represents the players. ... Only 21 cars practiced for this weekend’s Grand-Am Rolex Series race in Montreal. Ouch.
Chris Gill, who covers auto racing for The Leader, can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @TheLeaderGill.