With the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ visit to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, it marks one of two road course races on the MENCS schedule for 2017. In 2018, the Charlotte Motor Speedway “roval” will be added, making the total number road courses on the schedule jump to three.
Should NASCAR add more road courses to the Cup Series schedule, or keep it as is?
Entertainment > Boredom
Everybody has their own opinions. But from the NASCAR fans that I have talked to over the past few years, the overwhelming majority of them want more road courses on the MENCS schedule.
“Wait, you mean all those Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans actually like seeing him run toward the back of the pack twice a year?!” Jokes, people. Jokes. Besides, Junebug will be put out of his misery after Watkins Glen this season and won’t ever be forced to race on a road course again.
But back to the matter at hand: left and right turns present special opportunities for drivers and fans every season. To do it only twice this season and three times next? Nah, not enough for me.
It’d be one thing if there were only a couple road courses that were feasible to run on in a stock car. But the fact of the matter is that there are more than just a couple: there’s a plethora of ’em.
Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin has been a staple of the NASCAR XFINITY Series schedule for years and has put on a great show week in and week out. Why not bring the Cup Series there, give those Cheese-Head NASCAR fans a reason to save up and get out to a race every year and put on a great show for the fans at an established, capable road course that isn’t boring?
Or how about Road Atlanta? Georgia is rich with NASCAR fans, and having a second track in the state as well within close proximity to Charlotte could be a win-win for everyone involved. How about Mid-Ohio, another track the lower series have raced on for a few years? That’d give the state of Ohio, a state rich in racing and close to every major market in the Midwest, a Cup race. The race would be, again, on an established, capable and solid road course that continuously puts on a show.
Oh, if only NASCAR was able to expand their reach and race outside the United States of America…
Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Circuit Gilles Villenuve in Montreal, Canada, Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City? Any of those ring a bell?
Well if they don’t, they should. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races annually at CTMP and had one of the craziest finishes between Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek last season. It’s beyond me as to why NASCAR doesn’t send at least one of its series to either Montreal or Mexico City, because those tracks produced nothing but fun racing year after year.
It’s not like NASCAR can race at any road course in the world, though. They’re heavier and act much different than Formula 1, IndyCar and IMSA cars do on specific tracks in specific places. Could you imagine Kyle Busch sawing on the wheel through the streets of Miami on a street course? Well, if you had any dreams, wake up, Because that ain’t ever happening.
Nonetheless, road racing is a good thing. Yes it’s unique, and we need to keep it that way, but that doesn’t mean to take away or limit races in this case. If something works, do more of it.
And road course racing works. Should it take up 30 percent of the schedule? Absolutely not. But maybe 10 or even 15? Sure, why not. Why race at some of the more mundane intermediate tracks twice when you could race at a new road course, in a new market with new fans and an element of unpredictability?
To win a championship nowadays, you need to be able to do it all. You need to be able to win on short tracks, intermediate tracks, superspeedways and road courses. I’m glad NASCAR put one into the 2018 playoffs, but there’s still room for improvement.
With the state of NASCAR racing on ovals, there is just about as much passing on road courses as there is on some ovals. Road courses present an increased element of strategy, precision and strain on equipment. A.K.A. they’re harder to win. We want to see our driver and teams pushed to the limits, right? So why not have that, with some great racing to go along with it.
– Davey Segal
Ease Off the Road Rage
I am all for adding a road course to the playoffs, but three road courses should be the maximum for the MENCS schedule.
I love it when NASCAR goes road racing; those types of tracks have provided some of the most exciting races in recent years. Plus, it is the only occasions of the season where the league can shake the stereotype of drivers only doing left turns.
Three is the perfect number though because a large part of what makes road racing in NASCAR awesome is that it is so unique. If more road races are added to the schedule then it will lose that appeal and fans will tire of it.
Too much of anything is a bad thing. Fans are always asking for more short tracks and road courses to be added to the schedule and are sick of seeing races at the “cookie-cutter” 1.5-mile tracks.
The large reason fans are so tired of intermediate races is that there are so many of them on the schedule. If the schedule was reversed so that short tracks or road courses held a majority of the tour, then fans would likely want to see more races at the 1.5-mile tracks.
The amount of road courses on the schedule for next season is perfect because it will leave the fans wanting more. When it boils down to it, road course racing is not all that it is hyped up to be, but we get such a slim view of it that we over-exaggerate its greatness.
Think about the leagues that primarily or semi-regularly race at road courses, such as Formula One and Indycar. The racing is extremely boring. There is hardly any passing.
Watkins Glen International is one of the better road courses for passing, but it is nearly impossible to pass at Sonoma Raceway. NASCAR will find the same problem next year at the Charlotte Motor Speedway roval. Adding more road racing will only highlight this problem.
Road courses are also not very grandstand-friendly compared to other NASCAR tracks. Someone that buys a ticket to a road course race cannot see the entire track. They can typically only see the cars when they pass by the grandstands. With road races featuring less laps than normal races, ticket buyers are getting less bang for their buck.
A fan that buys a ticket for a race at Darlington Raceway or Bristol Motor Speedway can view the entire track with limited visibility problems.
Fans have been buying tickets for road races recently, as indicated by Watkins Glen’s string of sellouts. The catch is though that Watkins Glen only has just over 38,000 seats. Richmond International Raceway had about the same amount of people turn out for its spring race this season and that was considered a horrific figure compared to what the track usually attracts.
The point is that adding more road courses to the schedule will not only ruin the uniqueness of the events (and will likely cause less to buy tickets at the Glen), but it will also keep more fans from attending races.
Another awful detail of road course racing is how miserably long it takes to clean up the track when there is a yellow flag. Caution laps feel like an eternity at a road course. If it takes NASCAR five laps at an intermediate track to pick up a piece of debris that no one can actually see, then remember how long it takes to remove a wrecked car from the dirt and the repair the tire barrier.
Add in the excruciatingly long breaks that stage racing throws in and a race at a road course is dominated by lengthy caution laps. Viewers will sit through that kind of thing for two or three races a season, but it will get old fast if more of these types of races are added.
If more roads races are added then it will spell the end for road course ringers. How fun was it in the 2000s to watch guys like Boris Said, Ron Fellows and Scott Pruett come in a couple times a year and steal some top-fives in MENCS, as well as win in the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series?
More road races on the schedule will mean that Cup drivers will spend more time prepping for these types of tracks in the simulators and get better at road racing. This will essentially eliminate some teams’ need for ringers.
There are a lot of things that I do not like about NASCAR’s 2018 schedule, but I think the governing body hit the nail on the head with three road courses. It should be no more and no less.
Now we just need for that third road race to get away from the Charlotte roval.
– Michael Massie
About the author
Davey is in his fifth season with Frontstretch and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the "NASCAR Mailbox" column, spearheads the site's video content and hosts the Frontstretch Podcast weekly. He's covered the K&N Pro Series and ARCA extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as an associate producer for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and production assistant for NBC Sports Washington. Follow him on Twitter @DaveyCenter.
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