Sprint Cup Teams Hit the Road Course at Sonoma from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman
There’s really nothing new about stock cars running the Road Racing circuit at Sonoma – it’s been going on for a long time. Even though there is nothing new about it, it doesn’t change the fact that it is a pleasant change from watching them go around in circles all the time. Not only do the fans enjoy it but most, if not all, of the drivers seem to enjoy it too.

Of course there are those that don’t know why they have to do the road course thing but they are becoming less and less prevalent in the series and it seems there are fewer and fewer “ringers” employed just for the road races. In this fan’s opinion the regular Cup drivers like the challenge of the Road Races even if they’re not all that good at it. Just because they’re not good at it doesn’t mean they don’t try to improve their ability to road race better. If they are supposed to be the best race car drivers in the world, this fan wonders why they wouldn’t want to be better at this part of their craft.

Some make the excuse for not liking road racing (or at least used to) because they only do it a couple of times a year and there is no road race in the Chase so they see no point in becoming better at it. Fortunately, more and more of them just look at the challenge rather than the purpose when it comes to these races and, in this fan’s opinion, it is good for them to mix in a few right turns with all those left ones.

Just as a side note, we as fans often hear the drivers complain about restrictor plate racing in much the same way. Restrictor plate races are definitely a different beast when it comes to the racing part but they don’t get the same treatment as the road circuits. In the Chase format there is still a restrictor plate race and many call it the throw away race simply because anything can happen. At a restrictor plate race much of what happens can often be determined more by circumstances rather than driver performance simply because the cars are very well matched. At a road course the driver is generally a more important factor in the results. Consistency on a lap after lap basis often shows better results in the end at a road course. At a restrictor plate race, generally but not always, we are waiting for the last 50 miles or so to see the real racing take place.

Personally, I really like it when NASCAR goes to the road racing circuits. I am also more and more becoming one of those that thinks there should be a road race in the Chase. After all, it is one that really separates the best from the better when it comes to ability and could be an exciting addition to the Chase. In one sense, the road races could be just one more equalizer in the Chase but there are many that disagree with that thinking. Perhaps from their view, and this is just this fan’s opinion, stock car racing takes place most of the time on an oval track and that’s the way the Chase should be. Still I wonder, could the Chase be made even more interesting if a road course was included?

Well, that’s enough ranting about road racing courses, restrictor plates and whether or not a road course should be in the Chase and get back to talking about the ones that will be competing in the Toyota/SaveMart 350.

I don’t know about you but it has seemed to me the drivers are a bit more relaxed this weekend. I don’t know if it’s because they had a week off or because of the road course racing they will be doing this weekend. I can’t say the intensity isn’t there it’s just that the “feel” is different this weekend. If you ask some of the talking heads you will hear them say it’s because they’re in “wine country.” I don’t know about that but even they have noticed a little bit less tension in the air this weekend. In fact, even the interviewers and interviews have been more relaxed, too.

First of all let me say that practice is a lot different than the race. In practice a lot of the runs they make, the cars are either by themselves or around very few other cars. When it comes to the actual race there will be many more cars to contend with and their mistakes can make a big difference on someone that is running good. It wouldn’t be the first time that someone with an opportunity to finish out front or at least in the top five got taken out of contention by someone that just loses it or gets tired of waiting for an opening. Of course there are those pit stops and the strategy that goes along with that part of trying to come away with a win. One bad pit stop or a caution coming out at an inopportune time can make the difference between finishing up front and being an also ran.

There are a lot of good road course drivers in the field these days and not all of them are on some of the better known and better financed teams. Although they don’t necessarily have high odds of winning, they can surprise a lot of people by finishing in the top ten. I’m not saying they can’t or won’t win, I’m just saying their chances are a little bit lower than the better known drivers and teams.

When it comes to mentioning some of those better known drivers, at the top of the list would be names like Dale Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Bush, Tony Stewart and a host of others. All of them have struggled on road courses in the past but all of the above mentioned ones (along with others) have found reasonable success at them and people expect them to make a good showing. Some of them are expected to win while others need to win.

One that needs to win whether it is this weekend or very soon would be Tony Stewart. He is very capable of winning on any racetrack and his chances are especially good on a road course. He still has a few hurdles ahead of him and he can’t really afford to have a bad race especially at a track like Sonoma where he can finish at or near the front by the time the checkered flag drops. At the moment, he is 35th in points but only 48 points out of 30th. He has a good chance at making the Chase if he can get to 30th in points but will need a win to do so. He needs nothing less than a good finish this weekend and winning would almost kill two birds with one stone… He still has time even if he doesn’t but winning would definitely take a lot of pressure off of him and his team…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© June 25, 2016 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
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