The 2021 campaign has been all about new experiences, from how fans interact with teams, to how a race is broadcast, all the way to the unveiling of an entirely new car for the next season. At the beginning of the season, the one item that I took notice of was the major addition of so many road courses on the year.
Fans over the years were asking for more to be on the schedule. First came Charlotte going with the “Roval” layout, and then last year, although it came unexpectedly, the Daytona road course was then put in place. A season that normally would have just two races with turns in both directions suddenly expanded to four, although two of those events were cancelled because of last year’s pandemic restructuring.
This year, the road courses nearly doubled, and each one has it’s own uniqueness. Even through just four of said events, each has presented it’s own story.
An unexpected winner welcomed the Daytona Road Course at the beginning of the year. Circuit of the Americas provided us with a rather slick, wet, and perhaps dangerous, event that didn’t even go the full distance. Sonoma was the typical Sonoma, but with a dominance that continued for several weeks. And then, there was yesterday’s Independence Day celebration with the Cup Series at Road America for the first time in over six decades.
What that race provided was a methodical and aggressive event. Drivers know that time is running out for their chance to get into the playoffs, and now that countdown is even slimmer.
Road courses seem to be the only opportunity left for some of these teams to get into said playoffs since it is their strength, and they let it play right into their hands. But, then there’s guys out there like Chase Elliott who seem to enjoy riding around the course, turning left and right, and taking pride in the win. After all, his seventh win on a road course certainly is worth bragging rights, not to mention his third consecutive at an inaugural road course event.
That alone becomes critical because of the two road course events remaining in the regular season, one is a debut race, and the other, Elliott has won the last two events.
Why some folks are not happy with the addition of more road courses I just don’t understand. First it was “We need a road course in the playoffs.” That was settled and Charlotte obliged, with every race having it’s own story, from the Johnson-Truex wreck to Elliott himself overcoming his own miscue to burning down the house in the same exact spot.
No one expected the Daytona Road Course to get added, however a pandemic that kept the sport out of California and New York meant a bit of an adjustment.
What it brought about was a unique challenge since teams had to hit the track with no practice on a track they had not seen except for running the Rolex 24. That track got added back to the schedule this year to make up for not going to Auto Club Speedway. And yet, people still were not happy.
Indianapolis got changed to a road course, and still there are unhappy folks, even though the race hasn’t been run yet and the Xfinity Series has already ran on the track.
Circuit of the Americas became a rain fest, so there weren’t many people happy with the inaugural event, which can be understood. Then Sunday was the return to Road America, and it was a welcome return that had the fans happy with the win, and the intensity.
Why there’s so much hatred of the road courses anymore, I don’t understand. Each one is different, from the higher speeds at Watkins Glen, to the combo track at Daytona, Charlotte, and Indianapolis. In the end, it won’t ever satisfy everyone, but it is part of the schedule, and these drivers are in this series for a reason. They are challenged every week, and they do it better than anyone.
For now, it’s time to park it since the next trip is down south, returning to a track that was seen earlier this year, and now will get to host a crowd that isn’t restricted, and can fill the grandstands.