Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Should Cup Race at Portland?

The NASCAR Xfinity Series race this past Saturday (June 3) had about as much action as could be squeezed into the Pacific Northwest.

Ruffled feathers are one thing, but when do you have teammates needing to be separated after a race?! Oh yeah and Jeb Burton tuned up Chandler Smith – making sure everyone on Twitter knew about it for about 18 hours straight.

Following the dreary 72 hours of Charlotte, it was the perfect palette cleanser.

As we are wont to do in NASCAR, once something is successful, the natural inclination is to force it across the other series immediately. With the anticipation of the upcoming street circuit race in downtown Chicago feeling a bit lacking coupled with a few other tracks reportedly to be at risk in the coming years, would Portland make a logical stop for the Cup Series to visit next?

This week, Mark Kristl and Chase Folsom breakdown the pros and cons of a PacWest stop in 2-Headed Monster.

NASCAR, Go to Portland. Make It Happen

Another road course on the Cup Series schedule?! Are you kidding me?

Yes, Portland International Raceway deserves to host the Cup Series. No, I’m not kidding you. Please, just hear me out.

NASCAR has avoided the Pacific Northwest primarily due to its distance from the epicenter of race teams in Charlotte. Understandably, it is a long drive there – just ask Alpha Prime Racing.

In 2023 though, many race team personnel do not travel to the racetrack by driving, but rather by flying. So, the time to transport many people there is reduced from a multiple day’s drive to a few hours on an airplane.

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Admittedly, transporting the equipment from the race shops in Charlotte is time consuming. NASCAR, therefore, could continue to follow its current schedule of having the Portland race weekend follow the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway so race teams can be fully prepared to travel out west.

Although race purses are not released publicly or to media members, Cup purses are still well north of $1 million per race.

The total purse at the Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway was almost $7.5 Million. Comparatively, the NASCAR Xfinity Series purse at Portland was $1.3 million.

So, money is still plentiful. Furthermore, with the forthcoming TV contract in 2025, hopefully race teams will receive a larger percentage of the TV money, thereby making it even more worthwhile to trek to Portland.

But why Portland instead of a Cup race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the Daytona International Speedway road course or another road course?

For starters, Portland is a major venue, hosting the Xfinity Series, ARCA Menards Series West and the NTT IndyCar Series. IndyCar has visited there four times and CART/CCWS visited there 22 times. If the biggest open wheel series visits there annually, Portland certainly can host the Cup Series.

Portland also is home to two major sports teams, as well as it is the 24th-most populous city in the country, ahead of Detroit, Atlanta – whose racetrack hosts two Cup race dates – and Kansas City – whose racetrack also hosts two Cup dates.

OK, so the Portland market and the racetrack can sustain a Cup race weekend. However, does NASCAR need to add another road course to its Cup slate?

No. Rather, Portland should be the replacement racetrack for the Chicago Street Course.

As a current citizen of the Chicago metropolitan area, I can assure you the street course makes the nightly news quite often, unfortunately not to hype it up. Politicians continue to grill NASCAR officials about the event. Citizens are venting their frustrations about the preparations needed to host the event.

Even if the street course race is a ratings bonanza and the event brings massive revenue to both the city and NASCAR, I do not foresee Chicago wanting NASCAR to return. The pushback is already steep and the race weekend is still a little under a month away. Frankly, NASCAR ought to ditch the street course and the headaches the city is causing it.

Where should it head instead? Portland.

Under the current NASCAR national series schedules, the Xfinity Series goes from Charlotte to Portland to Sonoma Raceway. The Cup Series went from Charlotte to Gateway to Sonoma.

Based on the fan turnout, Gateway should not be removed from the Cup schedule. Yet, the Cup Series should follow suit with the Xfinity Series going from Charlotte-Portland-Sonoma.

Auto Club Speedway will not host the Cup Series in 2024, so if NASCAR opted to move everything up a week on the schedule, it could conceivably fit Gateway into the schedule without needing to cut a race weekend from any racetrack.

NASCAR creatively adjusted its 2020 schedule, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to have all 38 events. Now it must continue its trajectory of schedule changes by adding Portland to the 2024 Cup Series schedule. – Mark Kristl

Cup Series Needs Less Road Courses, Not More

Portland provided no shortage of on track and post-race chaos on Saturday with the Xfinity Series – from haulers breaking down on the way to the track to fistfights in the pits afterwards.

If the Chicago Street Circuit doesn’t deliver in July, should Portland get a shot at a Cup date?

Despite all of the on- and off-track action, no, I do not think Portland should get a shot at a Cup date.

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As exciting as the Xfinity race was on Saturday, I’m just not sure how well that would transfer to the Cup Series, especially with how different the cars are – even on a road course. Don’t get me wrong, I think Portland is a great track, and I absolutely think not only should the Xfinity Series keep going there, I’d love to see the Craftsman Truck Series go there as well.

However, if the Chicago Street Course fails in July, I think that’s a sign that we might need less road courses, not just a different one. Looking at the seven road course races that have been run with the Next Gen car thus far, it has left something to be desired for sure. 

For starters, like the short tracks, it’s just so hard to pass. Going back through each of those races, there were only 11 on-track passes for the lead out of seven races, not counting passes made within two laps of a restart or lead changes due to pit stops.

On top of that, four of those passes were in this year’s Circuit of the Americas race alone, and all were by Tyler Reddick. Looking further into those numbers, three of those passes came from Watkins Glen International, one of which was in the rain. Take out those two races, and you have four races with a single pass for the lead, and then Sonoma Raceway, which had zero.

Combine that with a track that only has one, maybe two real passing zones at Portland in a Cup car, those being turns 1 and 10, and I don’t think the results will be much different.

Another reason I disagree with taking Cup cars to Portland is one specific corner: Turn 1.

While turn 1 provided action time and time again last Saturday, it’s awfully similar to a couple other tracks we have in the Cup Series. Those tracks are COTA and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. These three tracks, while all vastly different, have one thing in common: a long frontstretch that leads into a narrow, funnel-like turn 1 with hard braking.

As we’ve seen in three combined Next Gen races at COTA and Indy so far, these races seem to turn into a pinball free for all at the end, and personally, I don’t find that particularly entertaining to watch. Considering how good the brakes are now on Cup Series cars, drivers tend to just send it off into turn 1 with no regard for anything else, and I don’t think Portland would be much different in that aspect either. 

I also went back and looked at four previous Next Gen races on road courses with a spree of cautions at the end. Those four races were the 2022 races at COTA, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, and the Charlotte ROVAL, as well as the 2023 race at COTA. In the final 10 laps of regulation, plus any overtime laps, those races had seven, eight, 12 and 13 cars spun out in the first lap after a restart, mostly due to drivers just running each other over.

With the narrow layout of Portland combined with cars that are hard to pass in, I can only imagine what the turn 1 pileups would be like heading into the first turn from the wide frontstretch there. 

With all that being said, I don’t expect the Chicago race in July to deliver the goods or live up anywhere close to the hype. Now if they are to replace it, my vote would go to either the Milwaukee Mile or Rockingham Speedway, but both of those are unlikely to happen — then again, the same thing was said about North Wilkesboro Speedway only a few years back.

Oh, and one more thing; send the 4th of July race back to Daytona… – Chase Folsom

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

Chase began working with Frontstretch in the spring of 2023 as a news writer, while also helping fill in for other columns as needed. Chase is now the main writer and reporter for Frontstretch.com's CARS Tour coverage, a role which began late in 2023.  Aside from racing, some of Chase's other hobbies include time in the outdoors hunting and fishing, and keeping up with all things Philadelphia sports related.

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George Webster

Re Portland vs Chicago.
First you need to make a distinction between a proper road course like Watkins Glen and a Micky Mouse street course like Chicago
For sure the road course at Chicago looks like being an unmitigated disaster and it should never have been contemplated
As for Portland it is far from a classic road course by any measure. I cannot understand why any race series would go there so long as they have that insane first turn abomination.
My vote for a replacement for Chicago would be Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, near Toronto, Canada’s largest city.

Kevin in SoCal

Portland’s political climate is similar to Chicago’s, I can’t see how they would be any more welcoming.
Doesn’t Circuit Villenueve have a sharp turn 1 as well?
But I agree with the suggestion of going to Toronto, by George.

Kurt Smith

I would like to see walls put in the first turns of road courses. Too many times especially with the NextGen car, a dozen drivers get taken out as they go eight wide into the first turn especially at the ends of races. Simple enough to do and it would put an end to that.

Do that and I’m cool with adding another road course to the schedule. Otherwise no thanks.

DoninAjax

I have said for years that Cup cars should run at Mosport. Montral is a Mickey Mouse track compared to Mosport. It is fast and one of the scariest and fun tracks in the world even after they lowered the elevation change on the Mario Andretti Straight. I don’t think the track could hold all the people who would attend. I was at the first F1 race in 1967 and it would be nice to go to the first Cup event there. There is a story behind the naming of turn 5 as Moss Corner. The designer of the track sent the plans to Sterling and asked his opinion and his only change was lengthening the hairpin at turn 5. It became 5A and 5B. The back straight is named after Mario because they held Indy car races and the back straight would be named after the driver with the fastest speed and Mario edged out A.J.

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