With only two road courses on the NASCAR Sprint Cup season calender, is it time for that to change?

The year was 2012 and the scene was Race 22 at Watkins Glen International for the Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen: over 90,000 fans watched as 43 NASCAR drivers negotiated 90 laps of the historic 2.45 mile road course. After 89-laps of hard fought racing, however, the true battle finally began on the last lap.

Fighting like gladiators, Brad Keselowski and two-time V8 Supercars champion, Marcos Ambrose, engaged in a battle that was nothing short of epic. In fact, I’m willing to go so far as to say that their battle was some of the best racing NASCAR has seen in years.

Outside looking in

To be perfectly honest, I would be lying if I said I was a NASCAR enthusiast. As a road racing fan, the idea of watching cars driving in circles has never been terribly appealing to me. However, when NASCAR visits Watkins Glen or Sonoma, this Texas-based writer will be among the first ones to turn on the television.

In fact, some of the best racing I’ve ever seen has consisted of the door-banging and bumper-slamming of NASCAR on a road course. There’s always been something about NASCAR’s big and heavy V8s being hurled around a road course which makes me want to turn on the TV and do something I never do: watch a NASCAR race. With that being said, it’s always been a blazing question as to why NASCAR doesn’t visit more road courses considering the level of action that comes with it.

A plethora of optionssim-racing

With NASCAR being a predominantly American sport, the organization can avail itself of some of the best road courses in the world — Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Road America, the Circuit of The Americas and even the Daytona Road Course used for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, just to name a few. So why do we not see more road races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series?

Perception

When the world of motorsports thinks of NASCAR, they think of left-turns and ovals. The same goes with NASCAR fans in the United States, to the point the terms ‘NASCAR’ and ‘ovals’ are synonymous.

Recently, people have been demanding more action from NASCAR as was recently noted on Motorsport.com. One suggestion made by NASCAR Chairman and CEO, Brian France, was to make the races shorter which would force drivers to fight harder earlier.

However, this writer feels this is only a stop gap solution. What NASCAR needs is more road courses. They need to steer away from what many motorsports fans consider “cookie cutter ovals” and compete in a larger capacity on some of the challenging road courses in the United States.

Not only would this bring in an entirely new fan base from road racing fans around the world, it would also give existing NASCAR fans the action they’ve been craving.

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The Xfinity Series already visits road courses such as Mid-Ohio and Road America.

Heavy resistance

It may be a great idea, but it is likely to never come to pass. With most speedways visited twice during the NASCAR season, tracks owners are protective of their contracts with NASCAR and would more than likely heavily protest any loss of race dates in favor of additional road course events.

For example, how do you think that Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) President, Eddie Gossage, would feel if NASCAR decided to nix one of its two stops at TMS and go to the Circuit of The Americas instead? You can rest assured that Gossage would not be too happy.

Despite this, however, many in the motorsports community feel NASCAR needs to add more road race dates to ensure the Sprint Cup Series stays relevant to its next generation of fans. Even though doing so would surely step on some sensitive corporate toes, such a move would ensure that fans are engaged and more battles such as the one between Ambrose and Keselowski will be featured in highlight reels for years to come.

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One Comments

Every sport must maintain growth. If they do not pay attention to it, no matter how big the sport is, it will contract or fail eventually. Plenty examples of racing series that were great that collapsed.

I really think that NASCAR is going to have to make a major adjustment at some point. The reality is that they are going to need to package their racing in a more interesting and concise format.

Asking fans to give up 3-4 hours a weekend to watch them “drive around”, for most of that time, is an awfully big Ask. Asking them to do that on nearly all of the same track types and sometimes the exact same track twice a year is tough to generate excitement over.

NASCAR definitely has options. They have a tremendous advantage over most road racing series. Their aero package is not nearly as dominant as many of packages in road series. Aero certainly makes cars go faster, but the racing suffers tremendously as a result. Watch what happens when an F1 car catches someone (Vettel Hamilton Spain), and then watch Aussie V8’s.

Allowing for more road racing gives them a chance to penetrate over seas markets as well. Montreal Brazil Mexico are easy targets, but they could also do a few “fly away” races somewhat like the NFL does overseas.

I am certainly not suggesting abandoning oval racing. I am just saying that it would be a shrewd move to put these fantastic drivers in a format, that the world would recognize their talent. I think giving these guys that kind of credibility on a world stage would help draw the world in to appreciate what they do on an oval.

Of course, traditionalists aren’t going to like it. The reality is ALL of your fans leave at some point. They find other interests, pick other series, or they simply age out (to put it delicately). If you don’t have a plan to draw in new fans you are doomed to fail. “Let’s get all of the old fans back”, is always a lousy short term stop gap even if it all goes well.

Are they ready to do this yet? I think they aren’t. I just hope they do something sooner than later. I like NASCAR racing and I would hate to see it diminish or out right fail, as unlikely as that sounds.

Kevin K
May 14th, 2015 at 7:12 pm

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