It’s funny how the perspective of race fans changes over time.
And virtually no other subject in NASCAR has seen more waffling of opinions or changes of heart than road course racing.
I’ve covered the sport for over 20 years. In the first part of the decade that began with 2000, there was a significant viewpoint from fans and drivers alike that they hated road course racing.
Then, about 2007 or so, folks started warming up to road course racing so much that there was talk about not only adding another track to the existing schedule to complement Sonoma and Watkins Glen, but also to add a road course to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
And, as time has progressed, drivers who once rued racing on road courses not only began to enjoy it and look forward to the annual visits to those tracks, they also began to become pretty good road course racers.
Now, Sonoma and Watkins Glen are among the most popular venues for NASCAR fans to attend.
Likewise, the Verizon IndyCar Series is at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin this weekend, the first Indy car race there since 2007.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series will return again for the seventh consecutive season to Road America in late August, as well, one of three road course races that month (Watkins Glen on Aug. 6 and Mid-Ohio on Aug. 13), further showing just how popular road course racing has become in a very short time.
Road course racing is significantly different in that it truly showcases a driver’s talent and ability on an overall basis. Instead of constantly turning left three or four times on an oval, several NASCAR drivers have become road course specialists.
Look at recently retired Jeff Gordon: Of the 93 races he won in his career, the Fox Sports NASCAR analyst visited victory lane five times at Sonoma (his original “home track”) and four other times at Watkins Glen.
Last year’s winner at Sonoma, Kyle Busch, essentially kicked off his run-up to the Sprint Cup championship with that triumph, his second at the 1.990-mile course.
Others who have won at Sonoma in the last 15 years include Tony Stewart (2 wins there and seven road course wins overall), Juan Pablo Montoya, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Carl Edwards.
With the exception of Montoya, who was already a well-established road course veteran in IndyCar as well as Formula 1 before he came to NASCAR in 2007, the others all had to learn how to become good and productive road course racers.
Being a good road course driver isn’t easy. It takes lots and lots of practice. It takes teammates to not only mentor you but also to bounce ideas off of. It takes special preparation in the shop to give a driver a great car that doesn’t just turn left and right, but does so repeatedly, like 13 or 14 turns per lap.
And then there’s some nuances that need to be adapted to, like at Watkins Glen, where cars pit to the right as opposed to pitting to the left in the 35 other races on the Sprint Cup schedule.
While NASCAR doesn’t appear likely to add any additional races or tracks in the near future, I would not be surprised to see another road course like Road America added to the Sprint Cup schedule in maybe the next five to 10 years.
And I’d almost guarantee that if that happens, that third road course event would be part of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup. Can you imagine the huge impact such a race in NASCAR’s marquee event would have?
It would be, like Darrell Waltrip likes to say, “awesome.” And that’s what most road course races have become: awesome indeed.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski