By: Isaac Donsky, Staff Writer
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
When I first started watching NASCAR back in 2007, road course racing was a novelty. There were only two road courses on the calendar per year, which made these events very rare and very exciting to watch. If road course racing is going to become a mainstay of NASCAR seasons for the coming decade, some changes might be needed to make the racing the best it can be.
A lot has changed since it began 14 years ago. Road course racing has exploded in popularity, with seven events on the calendar for 2021. The main reason for this popularity is that road courses are, for lack of a better term, weird. Their unique shapes, twists and turns, massive lengths and elevation changes combine together to create the closest we’ll ever get to seeing stock cars racing on a city street.
Don’t get me wrong, road course racing is awesome as it is. I just think some rules might need to be tweaked going forward.
First, NASCAR may want to address the issue of caution. Traditionally, caution flags are thrown to slow down the drivers to allow safety workers to remove a hazard from the track. Caution periods are a necessary part of most NASCAR races, but in a road racing series they aren’t exactly needed.
Due to the massive length of some road courses, an accident or other hazard can occur on the opposite side of the track from where the action is. This means that a traditional caution period is not needed to clear the danger away. Rather, the area of the track where the hazard is then enters a local yellow. Drivers slow down when passing the area, then return to full speed once they are given the all-clear.
NASCAR hasn’t exactly adopted this policy, which can lead to road course events getting stretched out due to lengthy caution flags that are thrown for simple spins. This slows down the pace of the race and can cause fans to lose interest. A local yellow system would solve this problem by allowing the race to continue naturally while any crashes or debris are cleaned up. Then, if an accident occurs in which a driver needs medical attention, a traditional full-course caution can be thrown for safety purposes.
The other issue that needs to be addressed in regards to road course racing is what to do when it rains. Historically, NASCAR has shied away from racing in the rain. It’s impossible to race in wet conditions on the high-speed ovals that make up the majority of the NASCAR schedule. However, you can race in any weather on a road course.
Here is where the problem emerges. Let’s say it starts raining during a road course event. Most racing series will allow teams to switch over to special wet-weather tires to continue the event. The teams can do this as they like, often incorporating strategy into the mix when making their switch.
NASCAR doesn’t do that. Instead, they throw a full-course caution, bring the entire field down into the pits, and have them all change to wet tires at once. In my humble opinion, that’s incredibly stupid. Not only does it kill any strategy that could be brewing, but it messes with the natural flow of the race. It’s a weird rule that has no place in a modern racing series, and in a way, it’s the sanctioning body telling the teams that they don’t have confidence in their drivers to make the right decision during a weather-impacted event.
The point I’m trying to make here is simple. Road course racing rocks, and I love how NASCAR has embraced it so. But if the sport wants to make road course events a major part of the schedule, the rules have to be tweaked so that NASCAR looks like they know what they are doing.