Paulk: NASCAR should consider adding road course to Chase
For years, there has been a great deal of talk about the dwindling importance of short tracks on the NASCAR circuit. Some have suggested cutting back the number of races at the very venues that helped make the sport.
It's inconceivable that NASCAR officials would consider eliminating races at Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond. Yet, in 2007, some seriously considered eliminating Martinsville from the Sprint Cup schedule — or at least one of its two races.
That, of course, would be a mistake. The Cup series needs the short tracks to ensure the drivers' skills are tested from week to week.
What NASCAR needs to do is find a way to add more road course races on the 36-race schedule, especially during the Chase. So far, NASCAR president Mike Helton has shown little interest in adding Watkins Glen or Sonoma to the postseason schedule.
It seems to me that all venue types — short tracks, intermediate, super speedways and road courses — should be a part of the championship mix. If nothing else, those advancing to the Chase will have to give the new playoff format their undivided attention.
There's little doubt that if the Chase races were evenly distributed during the postseason that four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon would be a heavy favorite to dethrone Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.
Gordon returns to Sonoma Raceway on Sunday with the most impressive road-course resume of any active driver. He has a record five wins at Sonoma — three better than the four others with two, including three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart.
“It's been a little while since we won out here, so I feel like you constantly always have to challenge yourself and just push the limits of your car,” said Gordon, who leads the series in points. “Yet, here at Sonoma, you have to be very careful not to overdrive it off course as well.
“We've got a really good car — very happy, but I know that we have to make it better. In order to do that, I have to recognize the areas that we need to improve the car and try to articulate that to the team.”
Gordon, a California native, feels right at home at Sonoma. He has won the pole five times and rarely finishes outside the top 10.
“Even my truck driver was saying that the truck parade that was last night in Sacramento, he saw (No.) 24 hats everywhere,” said Gordon, who pilots the No. 24 Chevrolet. “Of course, the success we've had out here helps to contribute to that.”
Stewart, still in pursuit of an elusive win that could lock him into the playoffs, has five wins at Watkins Glen, and Gordon has four. In 216 career starts, Australian Marcos Ambrose has two wins — all at Watkins Glen ± meaning his best shot to advance past the 26-race regular season is to win at one of the two road courses.
Clearly, NASCAR officials aren't about to change the Chase schedule to accommodate drivers who perform well on road courses. Then again, significant changes were made to the Chase format to indicate perhaps officials aren't as rigid in their efforts to cling to tradition.
Gordon said he thinks a road course should be added to the Chase because it's a different style of racing.
“You're bouncing off curbs,” he said. “It's sort of like controlling something that's completely out of control, is how I like to describe it on a road course because it's pretty amazing that we throw these big heavy cars with so much power around at a track like this and yet keep it on the course.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.