NASCAR crowd big at Road America
By all accounts, NASCAR's first trip to Road America in 55 years was a success Saturday.
"It was a great event," George Bruggenthies, track president and general manager, said after the inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series Bucyrus 200. "Look at all the people it attracted. I think we attracted a lot of new people.
"I want to do it again."
NASCAR makes its schedule year-by-year, so there's no guarantee of a return, but officials from the sanctioning body and South Milwaukee-based title sponsor - as well as Bruggenthies - have all said they have talked about next year.
Road America held a race in 1955 for the series that has evolved into the premier Sprint Cup division.
An accurate attendance figure couldn't be determined yet, Bruggenthies said, because of tickets sold through sponsors such as Menards, Harley-Davidson and Anheuser-Busch.
He stood by his pre-race prediction of 50,000 people or more, which would be about 25% greater than the race at the Milwaukee Mile that Road America replaced.
Drivers, teams and NASCAR officials - most of them first-time visitors - were complimentary toward the facility throughout the weekend.
The complaint most often heard was the length of the race. Including a half-hour red-flag period for cleanup of the big accident and a total of seven cautions for 14 laps, the 50-lap event lasted 3 hours, 29 minutes.
"If they'd pave the runoff areas, then you wouldn't have those cautions," winner Carl Edwards said. "Guys could just keep going and that would change the whole race.
"I'm not a track operator, so they might have a perfectly good reason for not paving out there, but just racetrack and then gravel, and gravel is good when you have racecar drivers that don't run off the racetrack, but we run off the racetrack a lot."
The difficulty with that, Bruggenthies said, is that the track is used for everything from go-karts to 200-mph sports cars to the heavy stock cars, and what works for one might not work for another.
"We still have three big straightaways and you have brake failures that pavement does nothing for," Bruggenthies said. "Last year we added, we added more this year. Just paving the whole area I know would not work for a lot of things. We have a brake failure at least once a month at (Turn) 12; that gravel does its job."
The big one: While Road America is hardly a Talladega or Daytona, it's perfectly capable of producing a pile-up. Saturday's came on the 30th lap.
In all, nine mid-pack cars were involved in the mess in Turn 6, a nearly blind left-hand turn. Tony Raines lifted off the gas for slower cars ahead and got rammed hard enough by Robb Brent to lift his car three feet off the ground.
"As I came down, it came out into the left lane and (Jason) Leffler was coming and side-swiped the whole front end," said Raines, a onetime Milwaukeean. "I just can't believe how hard he hit me, but it took care of their car, too.
"It was a mistake on his part, but I make plenty of mistakes, so I'm not necessarily blaming it all on him; it's just a surprise I got hit that hard."
Of those involved, Leffler managed the best finish, eighth. Brent ran another 13 laps to place 30th. Only Raines and Kyle Kelley were eliminated.
Another chance: Hurley native Tony Ave lost a chance for a top-five finish when he spun off the track in Turn 5 on the final lap. He dropped 15 positions and ended up 20th.
Ave, who has won at Road America in Formula Atlantic and Oldsmobile Pro Series competition, has one more opportunity at the track this weekend. He'll start from the pole in the 100-mile SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am Series race at 1 p.m. Sunday.
What a weekend: Australian Owen Kelly, who had neither seen Road America in person nor driven a Nationwide car before Thursday, finished fifth. Kelley has driven late-model stock cars for Sprint Cup star Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Tough on equipment: High speeds and hard braking put unusually great stresses on the cars, and the bone-jarring curbs took their toll, too.
Less than one-third of a lap, Justin Allgaier fell victim to a broken track bar mount that left him stranded at the exit of Turn 5. Chris Cook, driving in relief of Eric McClure, tiptoed around for most of a lap with the rear of his car wobbling from side to side because of a broken track bar bracket. JSOnline.com