If this was about 15 or so years ago, a road course on the schedule meant that chances were good that some of the normal drivers in the field were being substituted or replaced, at least for one weekend, with a “ringer” that was focused on getting the team higher in owner points, and possibly just win races.
A road course specialist was the norm back in the day, from guys like Boris Said, Scott Pruett, and others coming into strong equipment and racing just to race.
That isn’t the case anymore, because the concept of a road course “ringer” is long gone. Everyone at this level of racing now takes the road courses extremely serious. Now, there are others that have been better at road racing than others, however every driver in the field is taking road courses even more serious. Add in now that after last year, having a road course as part of the playoffs means there’s an even bigger importance on running this type of track. We saw that over the years when guys that normally aren’t that good on road courses now suddenly are extremely talented at such places.
Are we going to see someone as good on such a course as a Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart, maybe not. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to see any specialists take over those high-profile rides for a weekend either.
Not only that, but these guys now have to actually be able to run on a few different styles of road courses. When we saw the series at Sonoma just a few months back, that track is the road course that is about control, handling, and consistency. Adding in the carousel made it an even greater challenge, but one that was accepted by the field. This weekend, Watkins Glen is almost the exact opposite. There’s plenty of passing areas, such as into turn 1, the bus stop, the sweeping turn 5, and both turns 6 and 7. But, there is one extreme difference.
This place is 90 laps of high-speed, hard braking, action. We will see drivers getting hard on the brakes, hoping to not wheel hop, and also take away a line to prevent a pass.
The Glen often is a bigger challenge for the field since it’s so much faster than what we had in Sonoma.
When we get to the Charlotte Roval later this year, that track is one of the few that will combine three elements in one for an excellent race. It will have the tight corners, handling, and driver skill as you’d expect from Sonoma. It also has the higher speeds like you’d expect from the Glen. But element three, the speedway cornering like you’d find at, well Charlotte.
Watkins Glen is a perfect test bed for that final race, so if one is fast at the Glen, expect them to be just as fast at Charlotte.
Let’s hit the road less traveled.