For years, NASCAR raced on road courses between 2 and 3 times per season, but the 2020s has seen an increased number of road course events and that trend may continue. You may wonder why NASCAR has road courses when oval tracks distinguish the organization more than anything.
NASCAR has road courses because they want to challenge the world’s best stock car drivers with a variety of tracks. These road courses feature moderate hills, narrower turns, varying banking, and even right turns. These obstacles provide a shock to drivers used to making primarily left turns.
Below, we will outline the traits NASCAR road courses have. We will also reveal when NASCAR started racing on road courses and discuss how popular road course racing is with drivers and fans. Finally, we will touch on what a road course ringer is, and their role in NASCAR.
Road courses are NASCAR tracks that can either be held on a real, closed public road, or simply tracks that involve both left and right turns. In NASCAR, these races have primarily been held on closed circuits. Road courses comprise multiple right turns, the occasional hill, and different banking.
Daytona Beach and Road Course is the only track to take place on a real road. However, it comprised 2 to 3 left turns, so is not considered a road course. Road courses in NASCAR comprise just 17 percent of the schedule as of 2022. However, that might change in the future, depending on fan reception.
While it seems as though the road course frenzy has picked up in NASCAR, the truth is, NASCAR has run on road courses for decades. However, they often ran no more than 3 road course events until the 2021 season, when that number became 7.
The NASCAR Cup Series currently runs on several road courses, including Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Circuit of the Americas (COTA), Sonoma, Watkins Glen, Charlotte Roval, and Road America. NASCAR also raced on the Daytona Road Course in 2021.
NASCAR’s lower levels also run on road courses. Some past and current courses include the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Heartland Motorsports Park, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez track in Mexico City, and Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
NASCAR started racing on road courses in the 1950s. One prominent race occurred at the Willow Springs Raceway in late 1955, won by Chuck Stevenson. Another notable road course event occurred at Road America, which became a permanent staple on the NASCAR schedule over 6 decades later in 2021.
Some may claim the first road course races occurred on the Daytona Beach and Road Course. However, this track, although it occurred on both the beach and 4511 South Atlantic Avenue, Ponce Inlet, was not a road course in a traditional sense, given its simplistic layout.
A few have even claimed Watkins Glen International held the first road course race in 1957. However, it occurred 1 season after the events at Willow Springs and Road America. Buddy Baker won the inaugural race at the Glen, which joined the NASCAR schedule permanently in 1986.
NASCAR also ran at Riverside Raceway for decades, starting in 1958. However, it did not become part of the permanent schedule until 1963, when NASCAR ran the Winston Western 500. Another race was held at Riverside from 1970 until 1988.
Finally, in 1989, the Sonoma Raceway replaced Riverside. For the next 3 decades, Sonoma (also known as Sears Point and Infineon) and Watkins Glen were predominantly the only 2 road course races on the schedule until the Charlotte Roval became part of the schedule in 2018.
Road courses are popular with fans. While purists state that the ovals are what makes NASCAR unique from IndyCar and F1, many fans welcomed the new challenges for their favorite drivers. After experimenting with an extra road course in Charlotte, even more were added in 2021.
In 2021, NASCAR added 7 road course races to their schedule. 8 if you count the Clash at Daytona. In 2022, that number was cut down to 6, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced NASCAR to get a little creative with the schedule, which explains the additional road course event in 2021.
NASCAR, which had been declining in popularity for years, sought to find ways to resurrect that popularity. One strategy was to add more road courses to the schedule, starting with the Charlotte Roval. After 3 seasons with the Roval, NASCAR further increased the number of road course events.
The higher number of road courses received a mixed to positive reaction. Most fans embraced the increased number, as they were sorely lacking when compared to the oval-dominated series. Other fans were unhappy, stating ovals were what distinguished NASCAR from its IndyCar and Formula 1 competitors.
Both IndyCar and Formula 1 run most of their races on road courses while limiting ovals. However, with NASCAR looking to continually evolve their product, it is possible they may race on more road courses in the future,assuming generally positive feedback continues.
Many fans want to see more road course races. This indicates that, overall, road courses are generally popular with NASCAR fans.
Road courses are popular with some NASCAR drivers. Generally, those who do well on road courses are in favor of more of them. Some drivers like the road courses as they are popular with fans. There will be many drivers who dislike the increased number as they reduce their chances of winning.
In 2021, one driver stated their support for the increased number of road courses, stating NASCAR answered the majority number of fans’ calls. Another driver was nonchalant, simply stating the schedule carried more road courses. Road courses will always be more popular with NASCAR drivers who perform well in them. This means more chances for them to win.
However, for drivers who do not perform well on road courses, more road courses mean more obstacles in pursuit of the NASCAR Cup.And still, some drivers, regardless of how they perform on road courses, will support the higher number of them on the schedule if the fans do.
Some fans think that NASCAR has too many road courses. But oval track racing will always define NASCAR. It is what makes the sport unique compared to many other professional racing organizations. Therefore, you should never expect road courses to supersede oval track racing.
The backlash from some fans is not because they fear the number of road courses on the schedule will change NASCAR into something unrecognizable. Instead, it is because they believe NASCAR should always throw a variety of track types at their drivers.
Ultimately, fans will let NASCAR and their top sponsors know their feelings. Drivers will also let NASCAR know how they feel about the higher number of road courses. This fan, driver, and even sponsor feedback will help NASCAR determine a sweet spot for its number of road courses.
NASCAR will race on more road courses in the future if fan, driver, and sponsor feedback is all positive. But if fans do not embrace the higher number of road courses on the schedule, you can expect NASCAR to scale back the number of road course events.
Clint Bowyer once pointed out that the excitement and unpredictability of road course racing is a draw for the fans. And it was why NASCAR added the Charlotte Roval in 2018. That excitement grew, and it explained NASCAR’s motivation to add another 3 road course events in 2022.
NASCAR also contemplated the idea of a street race. If this is the case and if road course racing remains popular among most NASCAR fans, you can expect street races to replace a few oval tracks. But some believe NASCAR has too many road course races on the schedule. And if more fans feel this way as the 2020s continue, look for a decreased number of road course events.
A road course ringer in NASCAR is when a team brings in a driver who specializes in road course racing. Most of these drivers do not race at oval circuits but perform very well on road courses. This allows teams to get a much better finish than they would have expected with their normal drivers.
When you watch NASCAR road course races, you may notice several differences beyond the unique right turns. Not only do the races comprise a substantially shorter number of laps, but they also have drivers you may never have heard about.
And from year to year, it seemed as though these drivers only showed up for road courses. They are what you call road course ringers. The drivers often filled in for lower-funded and independent teams, but it wasn’t uncommon to see them fill in for top teams on occasion.
Although you may have seen these drivers show up only at road courses, a few popular names in NASCAR circles could also be called road course ringers. Drivers like A.J. Allmendinger and Robby Gordon, for example, were subpar on oval tracks but performed well at road courses. Many ringers also did not race on oval tracks, though some, like Boris Said, did so on occasion.
Boris Said is the most familiar name,given his success in the NASCAR Cup Series. In his 55-race career, Said logged 8 top 10 finishes and he even won 2 pole awards. A.J. Allmendinger is another popular name who ran as a ringer in the Xfinity Series while racing full-time in the Cup Series.
Ron Fellows made 25 starts in the Cup Series, 24 of which came on road courses. He also won 5 Xfinity Series road course races. Justin Marks is a name that gained prominence as a ringer in the 2010s. He competed in 6 Cup Series events, 3 of which occurred on road courses.
7 of Max Papis’ starts also came on road courses, where he also logged some of his best finishes. Over a dozen of Scott Pruett’s 40 starts in the NASCAR Cup Series were on road courses. He scored 6 career top 10 finishes, 5 of which occurred on road courses.
Dan Gurney is the most prominent classic road course ringer. He won the Riverside race 4 times in a row. In all, Gurney won 5 NASCAR Cup events in just 16 starts. He also recorded 10 top 10s.
When you watch NASCAR in the 2020s, you may see a road course ringer. However, their use declined throughout the 2010s. For example, Boris Said did not compete in the Cup Series between 2018 and 2021, but he made a reappearance in 2022 at Circuit of The Americas.
One reason is the NASCAR playoffs. By replacing a full-time driver with a ringer, teams would be sacrificing driver points. This would keep them from attaining potential points to help them earn a spot in the playoffs.
The number of road course tracks in NASCAR hass also risen, which forced drivers to treat road courses with as much urgency as oval tracks.
NASCAR has road courses because they want to challenge the best stock car drivers in the world in different ways. They have done this by choosing very different road courses for the schedule. Many fans also clamored for more road courses, leading NASCAR to place 6 on the schedule for 2022.