5 Questions Before ... Infineon/Road America: Obnoxious Road Ringer Hype and MORE Kyle Busch?!

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To all of NASCAR’s detractors out there who say the sport is just cars going around in circles, please tune into the races this weekend and see what you have to say for yourself. Both the Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series are competing on road courses this weekend, a spectacle that some fans balk at when it comes to seeing NASCAR’s stock cars turn left and right. In fact, I used to be one of those that groaned every time Watkins Glen, Infineon and any of the Nationwide Series road courses came up on the schedule and wouldn’t have protested in the least had NASCAR decided to get rid of them.

Recently, though, I’ve begun to have a change of heart when it comes to the twisted turns of the road races, due in part to some of the fantastic racing that they tend to put on. Not to mention, sometimes it’s nice to have a change of pace and that’s exactly what Sonoma will be this weekend.

Should there be a road course race in the Chase? … It’s a question as old as the Chase itself— which really isn’t that old, but for the sake of this column we are going to pretend it is. Since the inception of the Chase back in 2004, the 10 racetracks making up NASCAR’s version of the playoffs ranged from short tracks to superspeedways with seemingly everything in between.

Except road courses. NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup has never hosted a road course event, even though the Chase is essentially supposed to act as a microcosm of the regular season, with the best teams showcasing their talents on different types of racetracks. Oh, sure, that’s not part of NASCAR’s official description, but shouldn’t it be? After all, the champions of NASCAR should be the best all-around drivers in the industry and, whether they like it or not, road courses are a part of that.

Will this weekend affect the Chase field? … I’m thinking yes. Why? Two words: Wild card.

I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a wild card system when I first heard about it, but as we get further into the season, it’s become more and more interesting to see who can pull it off before the Chase field locks up in September. Whoever the two wild card drivers are probably won’t contend for the championship, but by the time we get to Homestead it won’t matter anyway.

Just to recap, the two drivers with the most wins between 11th and 20th in points will be locked into the Chase, but will not receive bonus points for their wins once the points are reset. Currently, Jeff Gordon is the only driver with any number of wins in that category (he has two victories), so he and Tony Stewart are both in position for wild card spots. Stewart would get in by virtue of points.

However, it’s entirely possible that another wild card spot might get tied up this weekend with the crapshoot of a road course race. Typically, we usually see two to three drivers racing for the win that aren’t normally frontrunners, and not necessarily road ringers. Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya are two examples for solid fantasy picks for tracks such as Infineon and Watkins Glen that you might not consider for other tracks. Ambrose came tantalizingly close to victory last season, but an attempt to save fuel gone wrong saw the victory slip from his hands.

Of course, it is just as likely that one of the “regulars” takes the checkered flag this weekend as well such as Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards or Kyle Busch.

I guess that’s why we watch every weekend, though, huh?

Will Kyle Busch be in the headlines again this weekend? … It seems that no matter who wins the race, where we go, or what happens, Busch is always the one in the headlines. From his off-track triple-digit speeding incident in North Carolina, his garage area scuffle with Richard Childress at Kansas Speedway, and now the penalties against his No. 18 team and Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole, it seems we can’t get a break from this guy!

Can we stop with the road ringers hype? … Every time the circuit heads to a road racing venue, the entry lists look a little bit different with so-called road course “experts” filling in the seats for those less experienced (i.e., less talented) in order to bring some good results to a team that needs them.

However, it seems to be more of a sponsor and business strategy anymore rather than an effective move as far as results are concerned. A “road ringer” hasn’t won in the Sprint Cup Series since Mark Donohue won at Riverside International Raceway back in 1973.

Sure, they might run around in the top 10 and have some good finishes here and there, but for the most part, the series regulars do just fine winning races on their own without a handful of drivers dropping by for only a couple races a year.

The Nationwide Series has been a bit kinder to road ringers, with Boris Said winning in Montreal last season and Ron Fellows winning a rain-shortened race at the same venue in 2008. Heck, even Jacques Villeneuve was a contender in last year’s inaugural event in Road America.

However, about 90 percent of the hype is, well, just that. Typically, they’re more in the way than actually contending for the win, yet we’re forced to sit through all the comments about how talented they are on road courses.

Suit yourself, but I’ll stick with the regulars for my picks this weekend.

Is it necessary to have an all road course weekend? … As I’ve said before, I don’t dread the road course events as much as I used to, but there is something familiar about the oval races that seems to make so many of us complacent. We like what is familiar to us and are fine with keeping it that way.

Now, both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series are going to be at road course venues, stops that the NASCAR circuit only makes a few times a year yet now we’re hitting two of them at once. I know of a few friends of mine that have no desire to tune into the races this weekend because road course racing just isn’t their thing. That’s their choice, obviously, and I don’t have a problem with it.

However, road racing has been a part of NASCAR for decades and some of the most historic tracks — whether they are still used or not — are road course venues (Riverside comes to mind). And many more historic moments have been and will be created on our current lineup of road course events.

So if road course racing isn’t your cup of tea, I certainly respect that. After all, it never really was mine. However, it’s nice to change things up a bit, and next weekend we’ll return back to our regularly scheduled programming of oval racing. At Daytona, no less.

So keep smiling, race fans, and enjoy some right turns this weekend while we still have them!

Bonus questions: Does anyone else find it ironic that a bunch of Nationwide Series drivers are all competing for a motorcycle? … Can Jeff Gordon go without pissing off half the field this go ‘round? … Can someone remind Marcos Ambrose not to turn off his car while going uphill?
5 Questions Before ... Infineon/Road America: Obnoxious Road Ringer Hype and MORE Kyle Busch?! 5 Questions Before ... Infineon/Road America: Obnoxious Road Ringer Hype and MORE Kyle Busch?! Reviewed by Summer Dreyer on Thursday, June 23, 2011 Rating: 5