By Vito Pugliese – While the third weekend in February is a holiday of sorts being Daytona 500 weekend, has the third weekend in June become another special occasion on the NASCAR calendar? It’s starting to look a lot like it as both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are road racing this weekend, on opposite ends of the country.
Why have road courses become so revered in recent years? For one, they have replaced the short tracks as the must see races of the year for contact, conflict, and genuine action. In the Nationwide Series in particular, where @KyleBusch and the Driver du jour of the Penske Racing No. 22, have tuned intermediate tracks into an immediate slaughter. For a series that was built upon showing drivers ready to take that final step to Sprint Cup, they’ve been beyond humbled, with the notable exceptions of @austindillon3 and @ChaseElliott as those who have been able to go toe-to-toe with the Sprint Cup stars as of late.
While the “road course ringer” has fallen out of favor in the Cup Series, he (or she) is alive and well in Nationwide with the road jinks right as well as left. @MarcosAmbrose set the series on its ear winning three straight at Watkins Glen from 2007-2009, and Ron Fellows having won three races in his 25 starts. The nature of the racing also brings out a field that isn’t comprised of drivers from the United States either, looking more like a World Cup bracket than what you’d expect from a stock car race. Australian, Canada, Italy, Brazil, all finished within the top-25 last year at Road America, in addition to the host Americans. It’s that sort of world-wide influence and participation that can help grow the series and add additional fans and sponsorships that may not otherwise find their way to these cars.
Oh, and then there’s that matter of the race itself: the best races of the year are now road course related.
Take a look back at the last two years and what have been some of the memorable events in all three series. At Canadian Tire Motorsports Park last season in the Truck Series, there were the last lap tangles between @MaxPapis and Mike Skeen that resulted in Skeen’s girlfriend slapping Papis while Elliott piled into @TyDillon for the win, sending him into the tire barrier.
@AJDinger completed his own road to recovery or sorts in Road America, winning in a Penske Mustang following his ouster due to a failed drug test the year before, while Papis got in a slap of his own on Billy Johnson after the race.
In the Sprint Cup Series, @MartinTruex_Jr broke a four year long winless drought and got himself into the Chase. Well, for a while anyway …
In years prior the races in Montreal saw everything from retaliations and black flags, with @RobbyGordon punting Ambrose, then doing victory burnouts with race winner @KevinHarvick and hometown hero Patrick Carpantier. 2012 saw @DanicaPatrick felled by running over a shoe in the middle of the race. Speaking of Patrick, @27Villeneuve (Jacques Villeneuve) used her as an extra set of brakes at Road America in 2012 as he wheel hopped into the back of her, to the dismay of the broadcasting team. Villeneuve was his normal contrite self-afterwards.
This weekend will see a host of drivers making their first appearances of the year with Alex @Tagliani in the Penske No. 22, @JMarksDE (Justin Marks) in the No. 31, as well as this year’s rookie class (Chase Elliott, @dylankracing, and Ty Dillon) getting their first look at this track, as @SamHornish gets another shot at things in the No. 54. The race will be run rain or shine as well, with rain tires being available this weekend and things have been a bit soggy this week in the Great Lakes region.
While the number of short tracks and beating and banging have dwindled over the years, it is the road courses which have replaced those as the action events of the summer, and this weekend’s event has proven in the past to not disappoint in that area.
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