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Racing to the Point: The Never-Ending Road Course Chase Debate
Credit: CIA Editorial Photography

Racing to the Point: The Never-Ending Road Course Chase Debate

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.

Credit: Phil Allaway

Brian France once hinted that major changes could be coming to the Sprint Cup schedule, but he has since backtracked. Credit: Phil Allaway

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.

About Brett Poirier

Brett Poirier
Brett starts his fourth year with the Frontstretch in 2014, writing the popular Racing To The Point commentary on Tuesdays. An award-winning Connecticut Sportswriter and Editor, Brett resides in the Constitution State while working towards his dream of getting involved in racing full-time.

13 comments

  1. I’m in favor of a road course in the chase ONLY if there are more added to the schedule elsewhere. The races in the chase should reflect the bread and butter of the series, don’t throw in a gimmicky event that isn’t what the sport’s based on. Nascar is currently a primarily oval-based series, so the chase races should be ovals. If the oval-road course split in the schedule wasn’t so one-sided, I could see it. But with just two road course on the schedule, turning right during the chase doesn’t make sense to me. And I know there are only 4 plate races a year, but they’re still ovals. The chase schedule reflects all types of ovals nascar races on, as it should. I say leave out the road courses, and add more short tracks. I also have a problem with the heavy pit strategy at play in road course races. The chase should be about out-performing the competition for the championship on the track, not a crew chief’s pit schedule. Imagine the fussing if road course strategy was the deciding factor in the championship.

  2. This is about race track company politics (ISC and SMI). Either the Glen or Sonoma could host a Chase race, but the ISC and SMI don’t want it to happen. They see each race in and of itself in terms of what date(s) is best for ticket sales not the season as a whole. Each track and its dates are their own little feudal state and it appears none of them will give anything up for the good of the schedule or the Chase schedule as a whole. My sense is that NASCAR (the sanctioning body) would like to make changes, but ISC and SMI are so dug in that nothing happens.

    • well, its always been a tug of war between the tracks ISC (owned by the France family) vs SMI (owned Bruton Smith) with no one willing to really give anything up. NASCAR being owned by the France family has NO vested interest in doing anything against the interests of ISC or giving anything up to SMI. It’s all about the $.

      So no, I don’t expect there will be any changes unless it benefits ISC/NASCAR in some way.

    • Upstate24fan,
      You almost make it sound like there is a difference between NASCAR (the sanctioning body) and ISC.
      And that is the problem.

  3. LOL. All those years and jokes about how road racing wasnt real racing. Now the hew and cry or more road races. Wonder why?

  4. You don’t expect the pea brains running NASCAR to make logical decisions do you? They own Road Atlanta now and its probably one of the three best road courses in the country.

  5. The last 10 should have a combination of all the tracks from the year. Maybe even throw in a track that they don’t normally run to test the abilities of the team as a whole. No notebook info so they all start with a blank slate. Road courses are a good test. If you are a pro at one but not the other then you have to cope with that.

  6. I’d like to see a road course in the last 10 races, it would be a fun event. I’d replace the Talladega crapshoot with it but I’m probably one of the few who doesn’t care for RP races.

    What will the chase look like in 2022? Wow, well, by then I doubt that I will be following NASCAR and more than likely will not give a rat’s patoot which tracks are part of the joke, I mean, chase. Nope, I was right the first time.

  7. Michael in SoCal

    I think the road course at Homestead Miami should be used as the third road course for the Sprint Cup series. Probably not as the Chase finale though.

    • Michael in SoCal

      And I’d use turns 3 & 4 of the oval as part of the course, instead of the zigzags that cuts the turn. Imagine having to set a car up for that!

  8. OK, shame on me for not researching first. ISC owns Watkins Glen, SMI owns Sonoma.

  9. Do SMI or ISC own any true road courses that could handle a sprint cup event? If not, there’s your answer why there is no road course in the stupid chase and why there may never be one no matter how much sense it makes.
    Because, it’s not about sense, it’s about dollars.

    • Every time baseball or football make a rules change I don’t find myself sniffing around it looking for a whiff of corruption. I’m not a conspiracy theorist (more of a stupidity theorist), but I’m always looking for that stench of manipulation in everything NASCAR does. If there ever is a road course added to the farce that is the Chase it will be because there is some financial benefit to someone named France. I hate to think that way but absent any evidence to the contrary I can’t help it.