NASCAR: Testing Ban Killed Road Course Ringers

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports /

Not too long ago, when NASCAR hit the road courses there were serval drivers that would show up with a chance to win. With the testing ban, the ringers don’t stand a chance.

Past trips to road courses on the NASCAR schedule used to be the annual appearance of the Said Heads or Andy Lally’s army. When they hit the track they were competitive in cars that normally were not. Fast forward to today and the road course specialist is gone. We hear the cup drivers are just better, but is that really true?

When NASCAR instituted its testing ban it did it to try and help keep the costs down for teams that were traveling around the country every week testing at different tracks. Places like Gresham Motorsports Park, Hickory, Nashville, Rockingham and Little Rock were abuzz almost constantly with teams testing new cars and equipment. Now there are set testing dates and only drivers with teams can participate.

You hear about unintended consequences of rules all the time. In the case of the road courses, the road course specialist could not get any seat time in a cup car like they did in the past. Places like VIR and Road Atlanta would see NASCAR teams show up regularly with drivers like Said, Lally, Max Pappis and Robby Gordon shaking down team cars. While there they could get familiar with the weight, brakes and horsepower of the cars of the time. The current car is so unique in its characteristics, there is almost no way any driver could jump in and be competitive in a weekend.

Look at how much testing Kurt Busch had in an Indy car before he climbed in one of those for the Indy 500. There are NASCAR drivers that race the Daytona 24 hour race, but again there are several test session where drivers get to acclimate to the cars and the teams. Those are also dedicated road course cars where NASCAR Sprint Cup cars are not designed to race turning left and right with so much power. Its such a different racing animal, the thought of anyone jumping in and doing a one off race is a herculean task.

Related Story: Five Drivers Likely to Win at Sonoma

The road courses have always been a subject of fierce debate in NASCAR circles. Half think there should be more road course racing while the other half says they do not belong and take too much money and effort for just two races. I can see both sides of the argument, but the fans seem to enjoy the racing and it gives NASCAR an opportunity to expose itself to a different fan base. Bringing in the traditional road course fans of Said, Papas and others is a win for NASCAR who need as many fans as they can find.

For as much effort to improve the racing on the mile and a half tracks NASCAR has put in with the new aero package, could allowing testing for the road course races help the product there? It is not good that more than half the field has virtually no chance when they unload at Sonoma or at the Glen. If some road course specialists can come in and provide some excitement and entertainment where is the harm? It could also provide more visibility for teams that normally do not get on TV as much.

The points system withe the chase that NASCAR has implemented makes it very difficult for any of the 36 teams to give up a race for a driver since just one win can get you in the chase. As long as there are restrictor plate races on the schedule everyone thinks they have a chance at a win and getting in. Maybe if NASCAR allowed teams to substitute drivers for track specific reasons without losing chase eligibility a door could be opened. The more people NASCAR can get to watch the better.

The real issue is though, without the opportunity to test and get used to the car there is no chance of a road course specialist doing well in NASCAR again. NASCAR should be doing anything it can to bring more fans into the fold, not leave them at the gate. Allowing teams to test for the road course races might open the door to new drivers to try NASCAR and more importantly bring new fans to the sport. The Said heads still show up in droves when Boris hits the track, let’s get them back at Sprint Cup races and put on a show.