Every time NASCAR shows up at a road course, the same question is asked. And no, it isn’t who is going to want to knock out Jacque Villeneuve afterward? Well, maybe there are two. The bigger question is should a road course race be included in the Chase for the Sprint Cup?
The resounding answer is yes. Fans want to see it. Yet, we keep going in circles, both literally and figuratively. We ask a question about change, the majority vote in favor of it and nothing changes. And then we do it again the next time one of the two annual road course races comes up. By the way, there were two road course races on the schedule in 1990, too. Nothing has changed.
Don’t expect it to in 2015, either. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France told the media in Daytona on July 7 that a “robust discussion” would be had about overhauling the Sprint Cup schedule, citing that it seemed like the perfect time with new TV partners coming in next year. About a week ago, France backed off that comment, saying only minor changes would take place. I’m sure they’ll be small, but robust.
That means 2015 will be another year with two road courses — outside the Chase — and another year we ask if a road course should be there. The question, much like France, isn’t going away, either. If there isn’t a road course in the 2022 Chase, the question will still be there. Why? It’s simple: fans want to see it.
Now, you’re probably asking, if fans want to see it so bad, why hasn’t it happened? Well, in the NASCAR world that would make too much sense. Decision-making isn’t a NASCAR official’s strong suit. For example, Denny Hamlin was recently docked 75 points for rule infringements from a race he earned 42 points in at Indianapolis. Seventy-five must have been picked because it was a pretty number.
With that said, here’s why a road course in the Chase makes sense. The Chase schedule needs an overhaul. It currently consists of five 1.5-mile tracks (Chicago, Charlotte, Texas, Kansas and Homestead), two flat 1-mile tracks (New Hampshire and Phoenix) a superspeedway (Talladega), a short track (Martinsville) and a banked 1-mile track (Dover). The only layout that is really missing is a road course.
The Chase also isn’t testing drivers enough. Shouldn’t the last 10 races be the most challenging races? Chicago isn’t cutting it. What’s more of a challenge than having to navigate 11 turns on a road course with a car on your bumper? The championship should go to the driver who succeeds under all disciplines, including turning right. Let’s make Jimmie Johnson really work for the title, instead of making the Chase 10 races that cater to him.
Talladega is advertised as the “wild card” each Chase because anybody can win and anything can happen, but as the second Daytona race proved, we’d be better off just throwing names in a hat and determining the results that way. Teams could save a lot of money. A road course in the Chase could be a true wild card, not a 35-cars-might-wreck-so-Timmy-Hill-wins wild card, but a race where anything can happen, but still takes a lot of skill to win. The playing field is leveled, but the race is still in the driver’s hands at a road course. Twelve drivers have combined to win the last 21 road course events dating back to the start of the 2004 season. And nobody that’s ever won at a road course, won just because they got lucky.
The beating and banging and different strategies on road courses have made for some of the best racing we’ve seen in recent years. Road courses have become the new short tracks. An addition to the Chase would certainly boost ratings. We don’t need a 37th race on the schedule, so we would need to remove a race from the playoffs to make it happen, but that shouldn’t be difficult. Take your pick out of the five 1.5-mile tracks or two flat 1-mile tracks, or vote to remove Talladega like me.
These are just pipe dreams, really. NASCAR can change the Chase format — the method for determining a champion — every two years or so, but schedule changes are out of the question.
A road course in the Chase just makes too much sense. That’s exactly why it may never happen.