NASCAR fans want more road courses

NASCAR fans growing tired of watching cars drone around in circles on ovals
NASCAR fans growing tired of watching cars drone around in circles on ovals

Old-guard stock car enthusiasts used to thumb their noses at any event not held on an oval.

Suddenly, NASCAR fans can’t get enough of road course racing writes Lee Spencer of Motorsport.com.

“We’re absolutely aware of that," said NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I think it becomes the challenge of where we are on the schedule — with the 36 races we have. And then the fact that every race matters.

“Having those two road courses where they are is really important in the schedule–to see people have a chance to potentially make the Chase and go out there and run off a win."

From an entertainment value standpoint, it’s hard to beat a good battle on a short track. Restrictor-plate racing is an animal all to itself. And with the tweaks the sanctioning body has made to the current rules package, even the intermediate tracks have been competitive.

An increasing demand for more road courses

But time and time again, fans wonder why there aren’t more road courses on the schedule — particularly in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“We love the fact that we have road course racing on the schedule," O’Donnell added. “We do have some weather challenges when you look at road courses.

“But we’re definitely aware of the desire for the fans — it’s not NASCAR ignoring it. There’s a lot of logistics involved. When you talk to (WGI president) Michael Printup or (Sonoma president) Steve Page, they like where they are in the schedule. It really works for them and we have to take that in mind as well."

Page has often said he doesn’t want to compete against the football in the fall. That’s understandable, given the rich history of the San Francisco 49ers and the University of California across the bay in Berkeley. However, it’s hard to beat wine country in autumn during grape-picking season.

The weather at the Glen last weekend was absolutely ideal. And an early fall date would be lovely as well. But weather isn't the same kind of issue on a road course that it is on an oval since Goodyear provides rain tires to the teams in case of inclement weather.

Still, the dilemma really isn’t about moving Sonoma or the Glen into the playoffs as much as it's about the challenge of finding another road course with adequate infrastructure to support the Sprint Cup Series. But chances are that won’t happen for the next five years. Last October, NASCAR announced the same 23 venues will be on the Cup schedule through 2020.

Ovals that double as road courses

While that’s great for the track operators, it’s likely not what the fans want to hear.

Now, several venues have the capability of transforming an oval into a road course. Indianapolis and Daytona modify their facilities for IndyCar and IMSA, respectively. So why not for NASCAR?

As NASCAR evolves into more of a made-for-TV sport, the sanctioning body must give credence to the entertainment value of the on track product. Short of creating an Indy-specific package for the Brickyard 400, the race will never regain the status it enjoyed prior to the 2008 tire debacle. But the event could certainly benefit from something fresh.

For now, the fans will have to wait patiently until the Cup tour rolls into Sonoma — 10 months from now.

Rave reviews

Overall, the Glen was a huge success. The proof was in the number of campers — both inside and out of the circuit — the fans in the infield and grandstands as well as the traffic on Saturday and late into Sunday night.

Although there were some concerns regarding the newly-paved track, with two test sessions and a conservative tire, the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen went off without a hitch. Lee Spencer/Motorsport.com

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