Race Weekend Central

It’s Time to Admit It: The Chase Deserves a Road Course

After another set of thrilling road course races at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International, it’s time to admit it.

The Chase for the Sprint Cup needs a road course.

Once surrounded by a general feeling of awkwardness as the majority of the field attempted merely to survive and advance, the two road courses have become crown jewels on the Sprint Cup Series tour in recent years. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that the drivers in the field have all learned how to run at the facilities over the last two decades, no longer content to run quietly for 10th and advance to the next race.

However, another part of the allure to the road courses -and particularly Watkins Glen- in recent years is the thrill and potential Chase swings associated with the two races.

In the past, road course aces like A.J. Allmendinger looked at road courses as a brief reprieve from the norm – a chance to shine and show what they were made of. In the modern Chase, however, a win at Sonoma or the Glen can alter a team’s entire season.

(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)
The cries for a third road course in the Cup series continue to grow louder. (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

Case in point: Allmendinger’s 2014 triumph at Watkins Glen. In a year in which both Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose were struggling, their desperation manifested itself in a classic duel for the victory at the 2.45-mile circuit. California’s Allmendinger ultimately prevailed, and in doing so was able to celebrate not only the first victory for JTG-Daughterty Racing, but also the team’s first Chase berth in September.

Now, imagine that same level of desperation and will to win, and put it in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff.

Martin Truex, Jr., and Brad Keselowski  were ultra-aggressive in trying to pass Denny Hamlin for a normal race win in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at the Glen. If the stakes were even higher, if their season’s were on the line, imagine how wild the finish would have been.

The sheer excitement and wild card aspect of a road-course race would place it right along with the October races at Talladega Superspeedway and Martinsville Speedway as the wildest events in the Chase.  However, regardless of that, there are other reasons that the Chase deserves a few right turns.

The major reason that the Cup tour deserves a third road course, or at least one in the Chase, is the attendance. In a year in which NASCAR has struggled to get fans to the track, Sunday’s race at WGI was reported as a second-straight sellout for the New York circuit.

“What impressed me a lot was that crowd,” winning car owner Joe Gibbs said after the race. “To have a sellout crowd is huge for our sport.”

“This is a great testament to the passion and dedication our fans have for Watkins Glen International,” Michael Printup, WGI president said. “We’re looking forward to a great race and delivering an incredible experience that keeps out fans coming back year after year.”

If good road course racing has proven that it could add excitement to the Chase and brings fans out to see it, then it is only logical to ponder where such a race could be ran, or if it’s even possible.

Sadly, this isn’t a move likely to come within the next 3-4 years. With the current five-year deals in place with each track on the Sprint Cup tour, it would be a long shot for any race to be added or removed through at least 2020.

However, when that time comes NASCAR should take a long, hard look at the potential of swapping a Chase race with a road course, regardless of the difficulties attached.

As for a location, if neither WGI or Sonoma can be moved, perhaps an early September trip to Road America isn’t beyond reproach. After all, the Wisconsin track already plays host to a race for the XFINITY Series, and the track reportedly hosted at least 50,000 spectators during IndyCar’s return in June, per USA Today.

If not, other tracks such as the Circuit of the Americas in Texas and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course could potentially field an event of Sprint Cup’s stature.

Don’t get me wrong, I know realistically hoping for a road course to be added to the schedule -let alone the Chase- is likely a pipe dream at best. However, similar to the way drivers like Allmendinger ponder a victory at one of the road courses, I can’t help but wonder.

Wouldn’t it be nice?

About the author

A graduate of Ball State, Aaron rejoins Frontstretch for his second season in 2016 following a successful year that included covering seven races and starting the popular "Two-Headed Monster" column in 2015. Now in his third year of covering motorsports, Aaron serves as an Assistant Editor for Frontstretch while also contributing to other popular sites including Speed51 and The Apex. He encourages you to come say hi when you see him at the track.

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My suggestions for a Chase Road Course Race goes to either Road Atlanta, Lime Rock Park or Virginia International Raceway.

Drop that dog of a race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, move everything else up a week and add a road course to the Chase.

*Note: I am aware that neither of these tracks have a garage area since most series that run them have tents the teams work out of attached to the transporters.

Biff Baynehouse

RA, LRP or VIR do not have permanent garages, which are prerequisite for Cuppers. NXS & CWT do NOT need a garage, so then can og to such places, but Cup definitely requires a garage.
Expansion is a completely different topic than giving WGI a “chase” date. But in that discussion it should be noted the garage is the only reason Noma & WGI are in use. And that COTA, Laguna Seca, Morsport, & infields at Dona & Indy are the only viable candidates for expansion at this time.
Also, Lime Rock does not allow Sunday races.

bud sudz

Lime Rock would be the only logical answer for a Stock Car Race. While the green flag racing was interesting yesterday, the cautions and red flags were excruciating. For that fact alone, Road America cannot be the choice. Cautions over a 4-mile course, oh the agony.
Lime Rock would be great because it is the shortest.

Also, why not run both the road course and the ovals for the All-Star Race in Charlotte next year.’
30 laps on the Road Course, 10-minute Break with unlimited changes, then a 50 lapper on the oval.
Let the cars roll off pit road under green for the 50-lapper based on the time interval where they finished on the road course. No mandatory pit stops (the changeover will get the crews involved), no inversions, no competition caution and no lucky dogs.
Also, no re-bunching the field for any caution during the road course segment. Let them leave Pit Road in the accumulated time, if there is a caution.


A possible answer to the five year track deal and road courses? Use the infield road courses at the oval tracks. Fans can see the entire course, and to typical aero yawners that most cookie cutter tracks have would be transformed into real contests.

Biff Baynehouse

A fantastic idea I think. They already to the whole speed weeks thing at Tona in February, so I would not mess with that. But there is Indy. Imo, that has been a somewhat lack luster weekend since IMSA walked off the undercard.
So, especially with Indy being somewhat of a flop with regard to attendance dropping every year. Imagine a weekend featuring a Cup double with the Indy infield Saturday & oval on Sunday. Only thing is it would be next to impossible & take the better part of a week to get both styles of practice & qualifying in. But I would love to see them try!

Capt spaulding

Need to use the same car to compete in the double with no overnight modifications. ..make it interesting.


The simplest road course would be at Kansas. It has been used by IMSA, so you can assume it’s mostly functional for NASCAR. It’s an ISC and chase track, so no problems with the business end of dumping and switching properties to make it work. Then you find out if fans like all road racing, or only like it on road course built tracks with character, not over flat rovals

John Smith

I don’t know how you can say this race was a good advert for road racing in The Chase. 2 red flags, 8 cautions covering 20 of 90 laps. Over half the race by time was stopped or a pace car parade. Everybody was driving like it was a demolition derby.
It was a terrible race.
NASCAR needs to re evaluate it’s road course rules

Biff Baynehouse

[Preface – because of home town heroes Geoff, Brett & Todd Bodine, I was born a life-long & avid Nascar advocate. And being native to the Upstate NY “Finger Lakes” [WGI] region, I grew up watching them learn their chops on local short tracks & also worked extensively at WGI as a tire-test & club course flagger.]
First, allow me to remind Mr. Aaron [author] & whom it might concern, that, similar to F1, permanent garages are prerequisite for Cup events. There-fore, Road American (Elkhart Lake), Road Atlanta, Lime Rock Park, Virginia International Raceway & most American road courses are NOT viable considerations as they now stand. There-in & as they now stand COTA, Laguna Seca, infields at Daytona, Indy & Kansas &, I believe Mid-Ohio (recently added new garages), also Mosport …are the only viable candidates for expansion. I listed these in order not only of my preference, but also marketing viability, as well as Cup behemoth race-ability. I think COTA would be phenomenal venue for Cuppers. I believe COTA should be swapped with one of the uninspiring TMS’s. Also, given the recent attendance struggles at Indy, seemingly since IMSA left the undercard, I think a Cup double weekend at Indy would be invaluable addition to the weekend & CUp season. Which is to say have Cuppers run the Indy infield on Saturday & the Indy oval on Sunday.
Since the era of fascination with 80’s & 90’s new cookie cutters [Chi, Miami, KS, LV, LA, TX, etc.] has come to pass & road courses are a trend that seems to be gaining momentum, I advocate any & all consideration in this direction. Nascar always has & always will be a series that is predominately oval-based. But of the 36 [or so] races I believe 5 – 6 road course races would be a good balance. Having said that, please realize the “expansion to new road course venues” & the “giving WGI a chase date” …are two separate & distinct points. And that convoluting & intertwining these two topics does not do justice or lend clarity to either discussions.
Regarding a WGI “chase” date, as I have said since the inception of the “chase”, NO BRAINER! FACT: Having a sporting championship the least bit dependent on a [Talladega] craps-shoot is a sever injustice & disservice to fans, race teams, drivers & the championship itself. This is & always has been ABSOLUTELY ridiculous! Where-as, WGI is a consummate trial & test of championship caliber drivers, driving & teams. Dega results are wildly beyond control & using such a race to decide a championship is not only highly counter-intuitive, it greatly de-values the championship & the sport as a whole.
There-in, considering that WGI, Chicagoland & Talladega …ARE ALL ISC [Nascar owned] VENUES, these can, essentially, be swapped at ISC’s convenience. But the onset of fall weather in the WGI region would need to be considered. So a 1-for-1 swap of WGI & Dega would be questionable given Upstate NY weather concerns in late Oct. So, I think playing a shell game with WGI, Chi & Dega would be viable & I submit the following. Shuffle first 6 “chase” races from CHI, NH, DIS, CMS, KS, DEGA to CMS, WGI, NH, CHI, DIS, KS (with Dega moved to WGI’s present in mid-August date & OUT of the “chase”).
Finally & ultimately, I think they should **it-can the “chase” abomination all together, but that is a discussion for another day…

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