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Stat Sheet: Is NASCAR’s Road Course Obsession Officially Over?

Just two years ago, the NASCAR Cup Series put a record number of road courses on its schedule. Those seven races were some of the most competitive we saw all year, starting with a first-time winner in Christopher Bell (Daytona International Speedway road course) and ending with a wild Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL race. Kyle Larson won it while behind him, Kevin Harvick attempted to take Chase Elliott out of title contention – only to psych himself out in the end.

The 2023 races, by comparison, would have begged for that type of ending. AJ Allmendinger’s win at the Charlotte ROVAL Sunday (Oct. 8) was arguably the second-best race on road courses this year, and that’s not saying much. Shane van Gisbergen’s win on an unforgettable Chicago street course debut weekend did a lot to distract from what’s been an otherwise miserable two years on this track type with the Next Gen car.

See also
Monday Morning Pit Box: Return of Stage Cautions Shapes ROVAL Strategy

Just how bad has it gotten on right-turn tracks? Five of the six races with the fewest lead changes have been on road courses this year.

2023 NASCAR Cup Series

TrackLead Changes
Bristol Dirt4
Watkins Glen6
Chicago7
Charlotte ROVAL7
Sonoma10
Indianapolis Road Course10
Four other oval tracks with10

It’s not a good chart to be on; just ask the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track, not returning to the schedule in 2024 after a three-year experiment. Indianapolis Motor Speedway will follow suit, switching back to the 2.5-mile oval track where the Brickyard 400 was run from 1994 to 2020.

Even if you bring in Circuit of the Americas (16), all six road courses combined add up to just 56 lead changes. By comparison, the Talladega Superspeedway race held earlier this month had 70 within a single race.

Now, this statistic isn’t the only determining factor in what makes a good race. (If you didn’t enjoy SVG’s aggressive march through the field at Chicago, I’d be checking to see if you still have a pulse). But it’s often an indicator of how difficult it can be to pass. All too often, road courses have become a track position race at a track type drivers used to feel their talent made the largest impact.

That’s limited their ability to recover from poor qualifying efforts, especially earlier this year when NASCAR eliminated stages on road courses. What resulted were two races (Indianapolis and Watkins Glen) that had just one caution flag apiece; drivers starting in the rear in those events were lucky to climb into the top 15 at the race’s end. (See: William Byron’s drive at Indy).

Rather than tweak the Next Gen car, costing millions for everyone involved, the solution has been to simply tweak the schedule. Only five road and street courses are left on the docket in 2024 although two of them, Watkins Glen and Charlotte, will be run inside the playoffs.

What driver gets hurt (or helped) the most by a move away from this track type? Here’s a look at who performed the best on road courses in 2023 (minimum 2 starts).

2023 NASCAR Cup Series Road Course Stats

DriverAvg FinishWinsTop 5sTop 10sLaps Led
Chris Buescher7.80151
William Byron8.213394
Chase Elliott10.203423
Kyle Busch10.304425
Ty Gibbs10.30231
Kyle Larson12.20230
Tyler Reddick13.312476
Ross Chastain13.50131
Martin Truex Jr.13.811351
Christopher Bell14.202358

Buescher has been a standout this year, never finishing lower than 11th on any road course. You would think Chase Elliott, with seven career road course victories, will be hurt by the upcoming schedule reduction.

But it’s notable that eight of the top 10, as you might expect, are playoff drivers in 2023. Elliott would have almost certainly been nine had he run all regular season races; rookie Ty Gibbs just missed the cut. It’s a sign on paper how homogenized the majority of these road course events have become, the same drivers contending just like they would on NASCAR’s bread-and-butter intermediate tracks.

See also
The Good, Bad & Ugly of 2024 NASCAR Schedule

Inside The Numbers

8.0

Chase Elliott’s average finish through six playoff races. He’s collected five top 10s, not finished worse than 11th and quietly steered the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports program into the Round of 8. The team Elliott knocked out? The No. 19 and championship favorite Martin Truex Jr., making it a realistic possibility the Cup driver and owner titles could be won by different teams for the first time since the current elimination format began in 2014.

18

Laps led by Allmendinger all season in the Cup Series before Sunday’s victory at the Charlotte ROVAL (he led 46). The ‘Dinger, meanwhile, racked up two wins and 81 laps led in a five-race, limited NASCAR Xfinity Series stint. (Wonder why Kaulig Racing may still want to send him back there…)

43

Career Cup starts for Brad Keselowski without a road course victory.

Follow @NASCARBowles

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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DoninAjax

Keep the real road courses and get rid of the gimmick infield courses. There are a lot of road courses NA$CAR can go to but that won’t pay NA$CAR’s ransom fee.

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