Posted August 22, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Murto: Cup has it right with road races


Following the exciting NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen and the thrilling Nationwide Series race at Montreal, many observers are calling for NASCAR to run more road races.

It's exciting when the stars of America's stock car oval racing turn left and right. Interesting pit stop strategies unfold that we don't see on ovals. Drivers such as Juan Pablo Montoya and Marcos Ambrose come to life using the road-racing skills that made them successful. And given the bump-and-grind nature of stock car racing, NASCAR road races take on a unique quality compared to other forms of road racing, as if they are mixed martial arts matches on tennis courts; even the Grand-Am series doesn't offer as much pushing and shoving.

Some people go so far as to say that there should be a road race in the Chase for the Cup. But do we really want NASCAR to focus on road racing? And how many more road races could or should be added to the schedule?

I think the schedule is just fine the way it is. The handful of road course races now on NASCAR's schedule are exciting because they are unique. They are something different; an oval-based series competing on road courses. Once we start adding more road courses to the schedule, those races lose their significance.

And what happens if NASCAR runs more road races? Do we start seeing more drivers such as Montoya and Ambrose move into NASCAR? How will NASCAR's homegrown fans react if NASCAR becomes more of an international series?

Look what happened during the Nationwide race at Montreal. Former Formula One world champion Jacques Villeneuve got behind a Penske machine and became a weapon on the racetrack, racing with complete disregard for competitors battling for the championship. Do we want to put a road race in the middle of the Chase? Would it be wise to unleash a clown such as Villeneuve and put him in the mix when drivers are battling for a title?

Plus what a lot of armchair observers haven't taken into consideration is the fact that road courses are not necessarily "spectator friendly." One of the attractions of oval racing is that the fan can see most of the track from one vantage point. At a road circuit, spectators can only see one corner, or one straight. Visibility is limited. The races look great on television, but for the trackside fan the experience is very different.

NASCAR has a good mix of tracks on its Nationwide and Cup schedules. The few road races on the schedules are unique, and that helps make them exciting. There may be room for another road race on the schedule, but it's not wise to venture too far from what made NASCAR popular. And it wouldn't be fair to drivers in a point battle to stick a road race in the middle of the Chase. Enjoy the road races we have, and leave the schedule alone.

Besides, most oval races are exciting. Michigan provided plenty of thrills and spills, as well as unexpected twists and turns. This week's racing at Bristol will prove interesting, especially since the track has been ground down in an effort to go back to the single-file racing of the past, when drivers had to wreck each other to make a pass. Unfortunately, the destruction of a perfectly good racetrack that provided two-and three-wide action in favor of a track that provides wrecks smacks of a professional wrestling mentality.
Be sure to record the Bristol wrestling match so you can watch it on Sunday. There will be plenty of local racing to attend on Saturday night.

At Hagerstown last week, the Late Models ran "topless," which means without their tops so fans could see the drivers work. Jerry Bard won the race. Why do Late Models never run topless at paved tracks? That would be a first.

It was an evening of firsts at Winchester, as Mark Pettyjohn scored his first feature victory in a Late Model, and Brett Wanner scored his first ARDC Midget win. Be sure to visit a local track before the season ends; there's more action at local tracks than in a NASCAR road race.

-- Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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