By admin | August 13, 2008
By Richard Allen
With this week’s race in Michigan coming up, it got me thinking about the tracks NASCAR runs on. While they may vary in length from 1 ½ to 2 miles, the basic shape of so many tracks is essentially the same. So, it got me wondering if NASCAR needs another road course added to the schedule.
Road course racing has never been a favorite part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule for me. As a matter of fact I have written columns detailing my opposition to the practice. However, I am wondering if it may be time for a change of heart.It seems that of late there is too much sameness in NASCAR. The drivers all look, sound and drive the same. The cars look the same. And, many of the tracks are the same size and have the same shape.
In particular, it is the tracks that are the subject of much scorn among fans. They look alike and they produce the same follow the leader type racing. The term ‘cookie cutter’ is often used to describe the most common of NASCAR tracks, the 1 ½ mile D-shaped oval.
One thing I have come to find appealing about road courses is that they are not all the same. As a matter of fact, they are all different. Each one has its own unique character and presents its own challenges for drivers and crews.
Recently, the racing on these tracks has become more enjoyable to watch. Sprint Cup regulars are spending more and more time honing their skills on the twisting tracks. And, consider that each time NASCAR stages one of these races, a number of road course “Ringers” or road racing specialists compete, which raises the overall talent level.
Another thing that has begun to intrigue me about races like the one held this past Sunday in Watkins Glen, New York is the pit strategy involved. With the obvious goal of being the first to reach the finish line in mind, teams employ a myriad of plans which may include trying to pit at different times than the competition or employing unusual tire and fuel strategies.
It was poor pit strategy which cost Dale Earnhardt, Jr. the race on Sunday and good strategy which allowed Kyle Busch to win. On road courses, the whole team is very much involved.
This is very much unlike oval track racing. On the more standard of NASCAR’s tracks, the strategy is basically always the same, pit every time there is a chance to do so and take four tires and fuel in the process.
I am not advocating that NASCAR suddenly do away with oval track racing and become a road course series. However, I am now beginning to believe that one or two more of these type races could add some much needed variety and spice to the long schedule.
Over the course of a 36 race season it would seem that two road course races is too small a percentage. If NASCAR is going to have these races they should have enough of them to allow drivers and crews to become more proficient. Also, if the season champion is to be determined by the Chase for the Championship format, it would seem logical to include a road course race within the ten race playoff.
While I have softened my stance on road racing in NASCAR I do have some of the same misgivings. I believe the cars are too heavy and many of the technologies in NASCAR are outdated. However, these issues could be easily overcome.
A recent rumor has implied that the auto manufacturers have recently begun to lobby NASCAR to include more road courses on the schedule. As little as a year ago I would have been very upset to hear that. And although I am still very much a fan of seeing cars turn left most of the time, I would not mind if a few more right turns were added.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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