Picture this: former V8 Super Car superstud Marcos Ambrose employs his road racing skills to win this Sunday at Sonoma, propelling himself into Chase contention. Under the old points system- any of NASCAR’s prior points systems- running 23rd in the season’s standings firmly ensconces you for also-ran status.
Welcome to the brave new world of NASCAR, where more weight is given to winning over consistency. They used to talk about Talladega as being a wild card race; road courses such as Sonoma and Watkins Glen have it beat.
No doubt Ambrose has this date circled on his calendar. So does former open wheeler AJ Allmendinger, who has won twice on courses of right and left turns in the Nationwide Series. This also provides an opportunity for others who have been running further back, but have shown a proficiency on the road courses- Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and even Jamie McMurray come to mind.
It used to be the traditional race fan decried running “stock” cars on road courses. Such races brought road course ringers out of the woodwork, those one off drivers employed to boost the sagging fortunes of an also-ran team. Other critics say running the heavy, boxy stock car on a road course is a bit like watching a pig performing ballet.
With that said, there’s another camp of fan that believes that the multi-turn tracks break the monotony of perpetual racing on tracks of nothing but left turns. It also seems that in recent years, road courses have offered better racing.
As far as the wild card aspect is concerned, it does provide incentive for a driver languishing further back to run a little harder to seize the day. IF you think about it, this stop and Watkins Glen also offer opportunity for former champions to either bolster their chances of getting into contention- Tony Stewart comes to mind- and others a chance to fortify their standing, such as Jeff Gordon.
In the minds of many, Sonoma couldn’t come at a better time after races at Michigan, Pocono and Dover. To be sure, it will offer something different.