Watkins Glen has a rich motorsports history — no denying that fact. For more than 50 years it has hosted virtually every kind of racing imaginable, and this weekend the stock car guys return to the road course by the lake.
I sometimes wonder, however, if this track has outlived its usefulness in NASCAR — just like Sonoma. In a sport based on speed, these tracks simply seem out of place. Of 36 Spring Cup events, they are the only two that aren’t contested on ovals.
Certainly there are competitors who love the change of pace, such as Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, who excel on venues that require turning right as well as left.
“While both road courses, the two tracks are still pretty different,” Stewart says. “At Watkins Glen you don’t have the finesse to throttle near as much as you do at Sonoma. When you get the car turned, you can get in the gas and then stay in the gas.
“Watkins Glen is much faster than Sonoma. I think there is the same amount of passing opportunities, but because of the speeds that you’re able to run at The Glen, brakes become a much bigger factor than I think they are at Sonoma. It’s pretty much a horsepower track.”
Stewart took his first win at Watkins Glen in 2002, and has won the race four times in six years.
On the one hand you can argue that since the season is designed to crown a champion — and a champion must be versatile — throwing in a couple of road courses is a good idea.
On the other hand, they are so completely different than superspeedways, intermediates and short tracks that it’s almost like another sport.
Of NASCAR’s televised day races, the road course events are often some of the lowest rated.
And Watkins Glen and Sonoma are the two tracks in which non-regulars not only make the field, but also usually turn in good performances.
You’ll never see a team use a “hired gun” at a place like Daytona, Charlotte or Darlington, but replacement drivers have been commonplace at road courses.
This weekend Ron Fellows, Boris Said, Max Papis, Patrick Carpentier, P.J. Jones, Brian Simo and Andy Lally will attempt to qualify.
Fellows is the “outsider” who has come closest to winning a Cup race at the Glen, with two second-place showings. He has three Nationwide victories at the track as well as two Camping World truck wins.
If it were left up to me the competitions at Watkins Glen and Sonoma would be non-points races on the circuit. After all, none of the 10 races in the Chase for the Championship are held on road courses, so ultimately NASCAR believes the person who wins the points crown needs to do it on an oval.
But if the sanctioning body is determined to keep the races on the schedule, make one of them a Chase event.
That would at least make things interesting.
Contact Scott Adamson of the Anderson Independent-Mail in Anderson, S.C., at adamsons(at)independentmail.com.