Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Road Courses And Ringers - Why?


The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway has come and gone.  And once again we had our infiltration of road course ringers, or drivers from outside the NASCAR circuit who are good at what they do, and that's run road course.

Albeit, they're good at their own series that they compete in, which is usually road courses.  But they're also good in a different kind of car that handles different and weighs out differently and other such aspects that we non-drivers don't get.

My point is... 

When was the last time a road course ringer actually stepped up to the plate and took a trophy from a NASCAR Cup Series driver?

Oh sure, they have come close sometimes.  But if you dwell on it, why ringers?

Back in the day, ringers were brought in to fill in for some teams whose drivers weren't chomping at the points bit, hoping to get some car owner points.  And sometimes they'd come close to taking the trophy.

But they never have.  In recent years.

Back in the 60's Dan Gurney did dominate.  But not of recent time.  Boris Said has never finished in the top-5, as one example, at Sonoma.  And other opportunities are dwindling for aces like Ron Fellows and Scott Pruett.

This last weekend Martin Truex Jr. won the race.  Before him, it was Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Juan Montoya, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon, Ricky Rudd... hang on, I'm looking for a non-Cup or non-regular Cup driver...  Tony Stewart in 2001, Jeff Gordon in 2000, 1999, 1998...  Ah... never mind.

As you can see...  road course ringers are more the novelty press moment than they are the points netters.  Sure, they might do better than their Cup series counterpart they're driving for, in some cases, but no longer are they looked at as the threat.

Over the last several years in fact, teams hired the road course experts to train their own drivers at handling road courses, and that has met with some huge successes.

One driver I thought would show capable talent at the track was Danica Patrick.  But unlike the other drivers who were berm-hoping on corners, she avoided them all and kept the car on all four wheels.  At least at the corners I was sitting at, I never saw her get any air under the tires like the top-finishers were.  (She needs to get a wee bit more aggressive on that one.)

For now, most of the road course aces get opportunities in less than stellar equipment.  And even if they did get good equipment, they're competing with Cup drivers who have the talent and don't fear road courses any more.

I like seeing the fresh faces at the track.  I just wonder how long we'll continue to see them there at road courses?

--
-Bruce
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