Since the Next Gen NASCAR Cup Series car is designed for road racing, can they finally run the boot at Watkins Glen International? – Grigori S., Sarasota, Fla.
NASCAR can, but it shouldn’t.
Watkins Glen has seen only one layout change since NASCAR began its annual visits in 1986: adding the inner loop bus stop chicane after the tragic death of JD McDuffie. This is the short-course layout, the 11-turn, 2.45-mile superspeedway of road courses, as close to a perfect racetrack as the world will ever see.
Some people (who are wrong) want to change that. Tony Stewart is one of the most vocal appreciators of the Boot, an additional complex of four corners that lengthens the Glen by exactly 1 mile, composing the full grand prix layout used by IMSA and, in previous decades, the NTT IndyCar Series and Formula 1.
Every time Watkins Glen weekend rolls around, voices cry out for NASCAR to run the Boot.
For three reasons, that would be a mistake.
First, as Bob Pockrass pointed out on Twitter, lengthening the track by 1 mile would almost certainly force NASCAR to reduce the lap count. Because Watkins Glen is a natural-terrain road course, fans at the track can’t see the cars at all times. Taking away laps then means fewer times the cars pass by at full tilt. It’s not a huge deal, but if I were a loyal ticketholder, I’d feel a little stiffed.
to add an extra mile with the boot, the feeling is there would need to be fewer laps, meaning fewer times that fans see the cars. Plus not convinced much passing would occur in that area. Also would need to adjust camping in that area, I believe. https://t.co/EZWmLiJs0C
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) August 16, 2022
Secondly, the longer the track length, the longer the caution laps. With two planned stage cautions on top of any natural cautions caused by the tricky, old-school course and current no-holds-barred Cup driving style, NASCAR would be lengthening the amount of time and distance spent behind the pace car.
Most importantly, running the Boot would take away one of Watkins Glen’s best passing zones: from the exit of the Carousel, down the straight into turn 10. This is where Brad Keselowski tried his last bump and run on Marcos Ambrose in the 2012 Cup race, the climax of the greatest single lap in the history of motor racing (which our own Adam Cheek covered in detail earlier this week).
Running the Boot stitches the Carousel to turn 6, a fast, flowing, truly spectacular corner … that isn’t anywhere near as good a passing opportunity as the run directly into turn 10. Then, the Boot rejoins the short circuit just before the penultimate corner, so the straight isn’t really long enough to set up a pass.
Sonoma’s Cup race was moved to the full course in 2019 but ran the layout just once more in 2021 before returning to the short course in 2022.
NASCAR won’t make the same mistake twice. It isn’t going to run the Boot, and that’s a good thing.
With Auto Club Speedway already being reconfigured, and Texas Motor Speedway probably next in line, what track will be next? – Charlotte H., Knoxville, Tenn.
Ah, NASCAR. The sport where if it ain’t broke, fix it ‘til it is.
I kid, I kid … sort of.
After all, the current Texas Motor Speedway fans love to hate is the result of a 2017 reconfiguration meant to address the problem that TMS was no more than a clone of Charlotte Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway. That gave us asymmetric turns, a one-groove racetrack and enough PJ1 slathered on the asphalt to ruin every IndyCar race at the venue from now until the inevitable heat death of the universe.
But I’m a card-carrying member of Team It-Can’t-Hurt-To-Try-It, so I’m on board with the Auto Club short track and whatever the powers that be cook up for the fifth version of Texas in 25 years. My pessimism at this question is due to the fact that the most likely candidate for America’s Next Top Track Revamp is Richmond Raceway.
For some reason, according to Jeff Gluck’s poll, only 70.5% of fans thought Sunday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 was a good race, and much of the social media buzz (both before and after the race) was negative. I guess nearly 30% of fans don’t like races where three different drivers duke it out for the win in the final green-flag run and the margin of victory is measured in tenths of a second.
Was Richmond a good race? 70.5% of voters said Yes.
That beats the spring race, which got 63.1%. Overall, that ranks No. 5 out of 13 Richmond races in the poll (best: 2016 spring race when Edwards bumped KyBu for win, 85% … worst: 2020 race, 44.3%).
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) August 16, 2022
Yes, these days, Richmond races more like the similarly flat-ish, short-ish Phoenix Raceway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway than its fellow true short tracks in Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway, but with the Next Gen car, these races have been competitive and exciting — and from what I understand, particularly so in person.
So please, NASCAR, don’t ruin Richmond trying to make it Bristol. If you’re going to take reconfiguration madness somewhere else, my suggestion is Sonoma Raceway.
As I said earlier, returning to the Chute for ’22 was a great call, giving us back the passing opportunity into turn 4a that allowed Daniel Suarez to make the crucial move past Chris Buescher for the win. Buescher’s difficulty running in dirty air, however, meant Suarez went unchallenged late in the race. Instead, NASCAR should use a section of the old IndyCar layout, incorporating the straight that bypasses turn 9 to create a new braking zone into the turn 9a chicane.
This preserves just enough of Sonoma’s distinctive esses without forcing a following car to spend the entire back half of the track struggling for grip in dirty air. This won’t make Sonoma into Martinsville, but it could turn it into the best possible version of itself.
Seriously, we’re just a few underbody tweaks away from the best all-around racecar the Cup Series has ever seen. Let’s hold off on any more major track changes until we really know what we’ve got.
About the author
Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast, but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.
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