(A number of cars looked like Brian Vickers' damaged Toyota after Sunday's race in Sonoma - Getty Images)
There are three main reasons why Sprint Cup Series road course racing and evolved from a sedate single file parade into the most aggressive form of competition on the schedule:
The introduction of double file restarts two years ago changed the complexion of every race but none so dramatic as the two road course visits each season. Drivers now find themselves side-by-side with one another when the green flag reappears after caution and are forced to take the opportunity and battle tooth and nail for every inch of real estate. It’s ramped up the intensity level to nearly off the chart levels and in the process led to some of the most emotional outbursts the sport has seen in some time.
The next generation Sprint Cup car is much more durable than its predecessor and can sustain greater damage than the old model. There not quite tanks as some of the road racing interlopers have called them but today’s NASCAR stock car can withstand a ton of impact and yet survive. It more than likely leads some drivers to feel a bit more confident about being able to rebound from contact with another car or even a guardrail or tire barrier when making a move during a heated road racing moment.
NASCAR’s “Boys Have at It” mantra has given drivers pretty much free rein to hand out justice however they seem fit. Since the policy went into effect the line between what’s accepted behavior on the racetrack and what’s out of bounds hasn’t been blurred but rather obliterated.
Without fear of retribution from the sanctioning body, more and more drivers feel obliged to take out their frustrations on fellow competitors who may have laid a fender to them or made contact while fighting for position. The tight quarters of road courses like Infineon Raceway provide more than enough opportunity to get physical and aggressive.
Judging from Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 this at times hostile style of road racing isn’t going away anytime soon.
But has it gone too far? Do fans really want to see a game of high-speed demolition derby or is actual racing for position the object of their affection?
The difference between Saturday’s Nationwide Series road race at the picturesque Road America circuit and the Sprint Cup headliner in Sonoma was startling.
The Nationwide Series race did feature aggressive driving at times to be sure. But overall there was more a style of fierce competition and battling for position than there was the constant paybacks and revenge that punctuated the Cup affair.
There were drivers aggravated with one another when the checkered flag finally flew in Wisconsin Saturday after the bizarre overtime finish. But aside from Max Papis desperately trying to get his destroyed car back on track for what appeared to be the sole purpose of taking out Jacques Villeneuve in the aftermath of their dust-up, the vengeance factor wasn’t that high.
Fast forward to Northern California where the Sprint Cup guys seemed to start the race in a bad mood. Tony Stewart vs. Brian Vickers, Robby Gordon vs. Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya vs. the field……there was no shortage of feuds taking center stage in Sonoma.
Drivers showing extreme emotion and passion are wonderful things and an element many fans believe had been missing from the sport for awhile.
However there’s a limit and when constant paybacks and a “wreck ‘em if you can’t race ‘em” mentality becomes the show it cheapens the race in my opinion.
I actually enjoyed the Nationwide road race more than I did the Sprint Cup event, which became a bit tiresome after awhile with all the motorized roller derby antics.
It’s undeniable that road course racing in NASCAR has become more interesting in the last two years. However the over the top way it’s currently heading has the potential to make the top level of stock car racing’s pair of road races a season tedious for other reasons.
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