Column By: JOHN DOUGLAS / RPW – SONOMA, CA – Road course racing in NASCAR has become one of the more exciting elements of the sport over the last few seasons. With exciting late race passes, more contact than the usual road racing crowd is accustomed to and a vast improvement of the talent pool season after season, NASCAR is finding greater overall success at its road racing venues than ever in a time when the sport sees an overall decline in viewership.
Did this year’s first road course race live up to the hype? Let’s take a look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
NASCAR has a real winner on its hands in the form of its two road course events per year. The addition of a third race with right hand turns during the playoffs at Charlotte Motor Speedway means they see it too. There is no question that fans of the sport want to see more and that’s exactly what they will get.
The Sonoma race provided a unique scenario in the race’s final stage, when Martin Truex’s team, led by Cole Pearn, made a “fake out” call for the ages. Crew on the wall, ready to service Truex’s car, the No. 78 car never hit the pit lane. That didn’t stop Kevin Harvick’s team from trying to play the strategy they saw in front of them. It’s one of the great snooker jobs in racing’s recent history.
There’s something to be said for strategy that goes outside the box. That can be just as entertaining as a side by side battle for the lead when done right.
Though he won Stage 1 on Sunday, AJ Allmendinger’s blown transmission was a real sign of frustration and emotion boiling over. Allmendinger’s missed shift was the result of a bad pit stop after his stage 1 win which relegated him to mid pack for the restart.
The California native took full blame for the JTG Daugherty No. 47’s early exit. “I haven’t missed a shift in probably 10 years on a road course.” Allmendinger said, “I pretty much let everybody down.”
Possibly a little harsh on himself, it’s hard to deny that when NASCAR shows up to a road course Allmendinger will be competitive. However, Allmendinger will have to wait until Watkins Glen to make something happen. Luckily for him, this year will see the first running of a Playoff road race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. If Allmendinger can win at the Glen and lock himself into the chase, he has an opportunity to race for NASCAR’s biggest prize.
For some, Sunday’s race was boring. For others, the strategy call by the Furniture Row Racing team was like watching an artist paint a masterpiece. The fact the fan base is so split on the definition of what good racing is in the 21st century is some kind of paradox. On one hand, the brilliant strategy call was watching smart men make even smarter decisions. On the other, a 13 second gap between first and second place feels more Formula One than NASCAR.
So what is the answer? There isn’t one. No two people will ever agree on everything in any aspect of the human experience. It’s just how we are all built. However a few things should be agreed upon when it comes to what good racing is. The idea that two people can rub, beat and bang for a win in a duel to the finish line should pretty universally be accepted as great racing. Crashing people because you can’t be bothered to take on the challenge of out driving your competition should pretty universally be frowned upon.
Those are easy enough to understand. However people need to remember that not every single race has to end three-wide with a whisker’s difference in the photo finish. Sometimes a huge gap created by brains and guts combined with a little bit of luck should be looked at and appreciated. Especially in an era when engines, bodies and everything else about a NASCAR Stock Car are on such a level playing field.
Cole Pearn and Martin Truex Jr. put one over on some of the best Stock Car drivers on the planet earth. They didn’t just win, out played and outsmarted the very best NASCAR has to offer.