more on the road plays well for fans
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[August 09, 2017]
By Jonathan Ingram, The Sports Xchange
Right turns as well as left once again
helped NASCAR gain some fan appreciation at Watkins Glen
Sunday's race in upstate New York delivered ample action, the kind
that has helped sell out the grandstand seating once again.
A suspenseful finish resulted in the fastest leader, Martin Truex
Jr., winning on fuel mileage -- and how often does one see that? The
ending also had more emotional drama than usual. Truex won for the
first time since longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex has returned to
track side following surgery for a cancer relapse.
Crew chief Cole Pearn, meanwhile, quickly left the Glen to head to
Ontario, Canada, where his best friend recently died unexpectedly
from a bacterial infection.
The two leaders of the No. 78 Toyota entry of Furniture Row Racing
each having their ups and downs on a victorious weekend could not
have been predicted. But it now seems that NASCAR and its fans are
beginning to rely on road circuits as a place where stuff happens
that engages a passion for racing.
Leading the way, in a manner of speaking, was Kyle Busch, who had
another adventurous weekend. Last week's Pocono winner won the pole
under the same-day qualifying format on Sunday after winning the
Xfinity race on Saturday. But a snafu in the pits and a spin put him
to the back of the field on two separate occasions. Busch charging
to the front just once on a road circuit is worth the price of
admission, let alone twice.
The Glen's picturesque road course in an idyllic Rip Van Winkle
summer setting packed with fans and campers has to be taken with
some perspective. The grandstand seating is limited to roughly
40,000. A crowd of this size at the Auto Club Speedway in California
or the Atlanta Motor Speedway would look paltry.
It's a perspective that seems to be lost on TV network hosts, who
have been touting the sellouts for three years now without
mentioning much in the way of numbers. To hear it from them, if
every event "packed in" as many fans, the world of NASCAR would be a
better place. Hardly accurate. Nor does it necessarily follow that
the Glen crowd is a sign of NASCAR emerging from its attendance
doldrums. A full set of grandstands in the coming week around the
2-mile oval of the Michigan International Speedway would be
something to shout about.
NASCAR fans historically have preferred ovals where they can
generally see the cars for most, if not all, of a lap. In this
light, the sustained popularity by ticket buyers at the Sonoma
Raceway near San Francisco and the Glen is a bit of a phenomena.
As different from one another as Northern California and upstate New
York, the two tracks share some common characteristics. Each is
located in relative isolation to other tracks hosting the Monster
Energy NASCAR Cup cars. But they are also located in areas where
racing has a strong heritage -- in part because of the presence of a
world class road
The Sonoma and Watkins Glen tracks also guarantee some high-speed
contact and spins when it comes to stock cars. As shorter events,
the road races tend to put pressure on drivers to get to the front.
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Such was the case for poor Busch, whose luck seems to have deserted
him once again. He first fell to the rear due to a freaky problem
with a lug nut stuck behind a wheel. Then he attempted a pass on
Brad Keselowski so extraordinary that the Ford driver never saw him
at the Inner Loop, turned into the Toyota and spun it. If Busch was
going to win, he had no other choice than to push through any nook
or cranny. He eventually finished seventh.
Truex, who hails from New Jersey, initially looked at the cars in
the garage at the Glen through the fence as a paying customer before
his racing career began. Like a lot of those who arrive each summer,
he became a fan of the circuit itself.
"It means a lot to be in victory lane here at this race track,"
Truex said. "I've been coming here a long time and feel like we've
been close and had a few slip away from us, but really excited.
Great to see an awesome turnout here today with the fans and the
sellout. Such a unique and great part of the country. This weather
is amazing. We love coming up here to race. Pretty cool to check
this one off the box as far as road courses. Everybody wants to win
at these places. So to get this one is special."
Since Truex scored his fourth win, none of the playoff contenders
were bumped by the arrival of a new winner taking one of the 16
spots. That left Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth -- who
finished second Sunday -- and Clint Bowyer holding serve in their
points battle to get into the postseason. Another miserable outing
for Joey Logano scuttled any long-shot chance in the points, much
less a victory at one of his better tracks.
Next year's schedule calls for a road circuit at the Charlotte Motor
Speedway in October during the playoffs. That's a logical move to
include in the postseason the type of driving skills needed to
qualify for it. Whether fans respond in Charlotte to a combined
infield and oval circuit in place of the traditional 1.5-mile,
high-banked oval remains an open question. But the Charlotte "roval"
will be the only road circuit where fans can follow the action over
the entire course of a lap, which in this case has 13 turns.
The Cup drivers, more than a few now with road racing experience in
the lower ranks of NASCAR, have finally mastered the skills of
shifting and turning right as well as left. That helps sustain the
action and limit cautions.
Sunday's race ran just over two hours with only one caution for an
incident. Given the possibly false assumption that NASCAR fans
prefer crashes and yellow flags followed by restarts, the influence
of road circuits on stock car racing could turn out to be quite
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