Historically, NASCAR ran between 2 and 3 road course races per year. As of 2022, that number is much higher. You may not know which NASCAR races are road courses, given the number of scheduling changes NASCAR made starting in 2020 that only expanded in 2021.
NASCAR currently has 6 races on road courses. The current road course races occur at Sonoma, Watkins Glen International, Circuit of the Americas, Road America, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval. NASCAR has also run races on the Daytona Road Course.
Below we will explore which NASCAR races were run on road courses in the past, including the historic Riverside International Raceway. We will also describe the current road course races in detail before we reveal whether NASCAR will expand its road course schedule in the future.
Has NASCAR Always Raced On Road Courses?
In 2020, the Charlotte Motor Speedway posted an article stating NASCAR raced on 14 road courses since its earliest days. However, 2021 saw the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course configuration, Circuit of the Americas (COTA), and Road America join the circuit. This brought that number to 17.
Some of these road courses were just one-off races. 2 of them, those being Watkins Glen International and Road America, saw one-off events early in NASCAR’s existence, only for the sport to return in 1986 and 2021, respectively. So where were these road courses and when did NASCAR race there? Let’s take a look at those that have long since faded into NASCAR’s rearview mirror.
America’s oldest permanent road course, Willow Springs’ layout has stood the test of time, as it remains virtually unchanged to this day. NASCAR held 2 events there in 1955 and 1956. Chuck Stevenson and Marvin Panch won those races.
The track also hosted the NASCAR Winston West Series, known today as ARCA Menards, 5 times. The first 2 in 1955 and 1956, and 3 more between 1984 and 1986.
This race was a one-off event that saw Fireball Roberts take the checkered flag. The road course event occurred on the runway, on December 30th, 1956. But, since the race was in Florida, inclement weather was not an issue.
Located near the Kennedy Space Center, the location is known today as Space Coast Regional Airport.
Riverside International Raceway
Arguably NASCAR’s most famous road course, Riverside’s 2.62-mile/4.2 km layout once served as the series’ season opening race. Comprising 9 turns, it served as one of NASCAR’s toughest tracks to master during its time on the series circuit.
Road course ringer Dan Gurney scored 4 straight victories at the track between 1963 and 1966. He collected another win in 1968.
Some of NASCAR’s most famous legends also won here, with names like Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bill Elliott, Tim Richmond, and Rusty Wallace all scoring wins at the legendary track.
Orange County Airport
NASCAR raced at airports during its formative days, and on July 17th, 1960, they visited the Army training field in the historic Hudson Valley. Like the Titusville-Cocoa race, this was a one-off event. The race became a battle between Richard Petty and Rex White, with the latter besting the King.
This was a historic event on many levels. But perhaps what distinguished this race the most was that a Jaguar found itself in victory lane for the manufacturer’s sole NASCAR win as of 2022.
However, the race also marked the first official road course race in the sport’s history. Al Keller won the event after fending off furious competition that included Joe Eubanks and Buck Baker.
Kitsap County Airport
This track was a hybrid short track slash road course and it was perhaps the smallest in NASCAR history, clocking in at just 9/10th of a mile/1.4 km. Parnelli Jones won the event. While neither NASCAR nor any auto racing organization has raced there for some time, the airport remains in operation.
Daytona Beach And Road Course
Before they built Daytona International Speedway, drivers ran races right on Daytona Beach. This track was listed as a road course, but it lacked the features of an official road course, given its simplified paperclip shape that gave it the appearance of a 4.1-mile/6.6 km version of Martinsville Speedway.
Half the course took place on the beach while the other half was located on Highway A1A. Tim Flock and Marshall Teague won multiple races here, which held NASCAR events from 1949 until 1958.
Bridgehampton Race Circuit
Located at Sag Harbor, New York, this road course hosted several NASCAR events in the late 1950s and early-to-mid 1960s, with the final event occurring in 1966. The track’s most distinguishing trait was its hairpin turn, but the entire 2.85-mile/4.6 km course left little room for error.
It’s no wonder that NASCAR legends like Richard Petty, Jack Smith, and David Pearson dominated the events held here. Billy Wade also scored a win here in 1964, but just 6 months later, the rising NASCAR star would die from injuries sustained in a tire test drive at Daytona.
Augusta International Raceway
The 3-mile road course hosted a one-off race for NASCAR in November 1963. Fireball Roberts won the 400-plus mile event, although Richard Petty dominated for most of the afternoon.
Outside of NASCAR, the track hosted 12 major auto racing events during its short life span that lasted until 1970. The track has since become part of Diamond Lakes Park, with a memorial standing at the former location.
Which NASCAR Races Are On Road Courses?
Current, NASCAR road races take place on the following road courses: Sonoma, Watkins Glen International, Circuit of the Americas, Road America, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval.
Historically, NASCAR only raced on between 2 and 3 road courses. From 1989 until 2017, those road courses were the Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International. In 2018, NASCAR added the Charlotte Roval and in 2021, they expanded their road course schedule even further, adding races at COTA, Road America, Indianapolis, and Daytona.
NASCAR held road course racing for over 2 decades at Riverside International Raceway. They raced at Riverside twice per season between 1970 and 1987. They also raced at the track regularly starting in 1963, with one-off races dating back to 1958.
In the present landscape, NASCAR races on road courses 6 times per season. Although in 2021 that number temporarily hit 7 because of restrictions made during the COVID-19 pandemic. This necessitated a points-paying event at the Daytona Road Course.
In 2022, NASCAR cut their number of road course races to 6. Below, we will describe the layout and history of each current road course on the schedule, starting with Watkins Glen.
Watkins Glen International
NASCAR traces its roots in Watkins Glen International back to 1957 when Buck Baker won the one-off race. They returned in 1964 and 1965 with substantially faster rides whose speeds averaged 98 mph/158 km/h, 15 mph/24 km/h faster than Baker’s ride.
After a 31-year hiatus, they returned to the Glen, where NASCAR legend Tim Richmond won the race. It was the 3rd of 5 road course victories in Richmond’s career.
Tragedy struck the track in 1991 when J.D. McDuffie was involved in a fatal crash with Jimmy Means. This necessitated NASCAR and track officials to make drastic safety changes to the course’s layout. Changes like chicane prevented cars from hitting retaining walls at full speed.
1993 to 1999 saw Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon score 3-peats, with Martin taking the honors between 1993 and 1995. Gordon followed suit between 1997 and 1999. From 2002 until 2009, Tony Stewart won 5 races while Marcos Ambrose captured his only 2 career wins in 2011 and 2012.
In the late 1980s, NASCAR needed to find a replacement for its Riverside event. They found one in California’s scenic Sonoma Mountains. And in 1989, Ricky Rudd won the annual event. Jeff Gordon scored the first 3-peat between 1998 and 2000. Gordon would go on to win the event 5 times.
Other multiple winners of the event included Ricky Rudd, Ernie Irvan, Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr.
Sonoma had also come under some scrutiny since it arrived on the NASCAR circuit given its pit stalls. With just 34 stalls and 40-plus drivers, teams were forced to share amongst themselves while others had to set up makeshift stalls in the garage area.
Eventually, NASCAR set up a makeshift pit lane in Turn 11. Nicknamed Gilligan’s Island, the 9 slowest qualifiers were forced to pit there, and it held several inconveniences. Some of which included teams being stuck there for the race’s duration, plus 15-20 second layovers for drivers pitting there.
NASCAR held a second, 400-mile/644-km event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway dating back to 1960. However, when NASCAR started dwindling in popularity over the 2010s, they knew something drastic needed to be done. Enter the Charlotte Roval, which saw its inaugural event in 2018.
Ryan Blaney won that race before Chase Elliott won back-to-back events in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Kyle Larson won the 2021 event, which gave Hendrick Motorsports a 3-peat.
The Charlotte Roval also differs from its road course cousins as of 2022. It is the only road course event on the schedule to take place during the NASCAR playoffs, serving as the final event in the Round of 12.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
NASCAR started racing a Crown Jewel race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994 and for 15 seasons, the Brickyard 400 started to rival the Daytona 500 in popularity. That changed in 2008 when NASCAR ran what was arguably their most infamous race in recent memory.
Popularity dwindled over the 2010s before NASCAR pulled the plug on the event following the 2020 season. In 2021, they started racing at the speedway’s road course configuration, where road course ringer A.J. Allmendinger won the race.
NASCAR ran its first event at Road America in 1956, where Tim Flock won the 63-lap race. While the Cup Series left the track for decades, the Xfinity Series started running events in 2010.
NASCAR returned to Road America on the Fourth of July Weekend in 2021, where Chase Elliott took the checkered flag. They brought the event back for 2022, and it appears to be a new staple in NASCAR’s schedule.
Circuit Of The Americas
COTA ran its first events in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2021 that NASCAR added the road course to its schedule. While fans called for an event at the track as early as the mid-2010s, the bi-annual events at nearby Texas Motor Speedway stood in the way.
To accommodate, NASCAR moved its All-Star Weekend to Texas Motor Speedway, which gave it 3 events: The All-Star Open, the All-Star Race, and a fall event that opened up the Round of 12 in the NASCAR playoffs.
This allowed COTA to take over the spring race, called the Texas Grand Prix. Chase Elliott brought home the checkered flag at the 2021 race.
Will NASCAR Add More Road Courses In The Future?
Ultimately, NASCAR will add more road courses in the future if the races go well with the fans. Regardless of whether NASCAR adds more road courses, you can expect the higher number to remain.
Since NASCAR’s ratings were in sharp decline throughout the 2010s and fans clamored for more road course events, NASCAR saw 2021 as a golden opportunity to revamp their schedule. This, they hoped, would drive fan interest either in bringing old fans back into NASCAR spheres or welcoming in a new generation of followers. Ideally, they would get both.
One reason is that road course races tend to give NASCAR fans something different. You will notice that they put drivers on more equal playing fields. Marcos Ambrose is a fine example, scoring his only 2 wins at road courses. A.J. Allmendinger also saw limited success at the NASCAR Cup Series level, but had 2 wins at Watkins Glen and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
One Driver’s Take
Brad Keselowski had a different take on the subject in February 2021 when he stated he did not believe stock cars were meant to race on road courses. He further cited that fan interest stemmed from the drivers driving so badly that it made for interesting races.
Another Driver’s Take
Unlike Keselowski, Logano thought NASCAR was heading in the right direction regarding its road course races. Logano loved the event’s unpredictable factor, in which he cited that the fastest car doesn’t always win the race, but the car whose driver and team concocts the best strategy.
Further, he stated that just because an unfortunate event may happen during a race at road courses, the driver is never completely out of it. And at short to intermediate oval tracks, if a driver goes just a lap down, it might end their chances to win the race.
So who did the fans side with? Per a Good Race Poll conducted by Jeff Gluck, 80.1 percent of the fan base sided with Logano.
Future Of Road Course Racing
If the fans want it, NASCAR will provide it. The fans wanted more road course races on the schedule and NASCAR provided that. Fans have also wanted more classic races, which explains the Bristol Dirt Race event and a potential return to the Nashville Fairgrounds.
NASCAR has also contemplated the possibility of adding a street race to the schedule, with the streets of Chicago serving as the frontrunner. For the immediate future, expect NASCAR to hold even at 6 road course races, but don’t be surprised if that number grows with positive fan feedback.
NASCAR holds 6 races at road courses in 2022, but that number can rise or fall in the future. NASCAR may also hold a street race, which will also qualify as a road course. While the number of road course races has grown, NASCAR’s history racing at road courses goes back to its formative days.