Monday, January 30, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Cutting Corners

Ricky Taylor spun Filipe Albuquerque and got away with it as the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac picked up the 24 Hours of Daytona victory, giving Max Angelelli his second victory in the event in his final race of his career while Ricky and his brother Jordan and Jeff Gordon all were first-time winners. Dirk Müller made a daring pass on James Calado on won in GTLM as Joey Hand and Sébastien Bourdais rounded out the winning #66 Ford GT. The #28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche of Michael Christensen, Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare, Michael de Quesada and Carlos de Quesada took the surprise victory in GTD. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of James French, José Gutiérrez, Kyle Masson and Nicholas Bouille were the last team standing in PC. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Cutting Corners
NASCAR is shaking things up again. It is a January tradition for the series. We will save championship talk and race format changes for later in the week (I think you are going to like what is in store) but other changes could be coming to series on the race track perspective. The difference is the series likely won't be returning to a forgotten track or heading to a track for the first time but remaining in the familiar confines of the usual venues.

A.J. Allmendinger tested the infield road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier this month and the speculation has been swirling ever since that the course will soon be hosting a Cup race. Speculation ranges from the All-Star Race to the Chase race using the Charlotte rival configuration and it could happen as soon as this year.

This test opened the door to the possibility of not only Charlotte hosting a race on the roval but other tracks with a road course configuration following suit especially if the track hosts more than one Cup race. Tracks with multiple Cup races that also have operating road course configuration include Daytona, Kansas, Texas and Pocono.

The interest in running roval configurations surprises me but along with NASCAR's other batch of changes within the past week the series and tracks are desperate to increase television ratings and attendance and just like the shuffle of the championship format for the sixth time in 13 years the hope is the changes will finally pay off.

However, the one thing NASCAR and track officials are overlooking is a simple change to a road course isn't the answer. Sonoma and Watkins Glen have quickly become favorites on the NASCAR schedule as the races prove to less predictable and monotonous than the other 34 oval races on the schedule but both those courses are natural-terrain road courses built with undulating curves. Rovals lack the flow of natural-terrain road courses and normally narrower than a typical road course. The flat curves are confined within the inter-perimeter of an oval and prevent cars from building much speed making it more difficult to race on the road course itself.

The only roval that has legs is Daytona and I have been for the July NASCAR Grand National Series race to move from the oval to the infield road course and be a revival of the Paul Revere 250 while the Cup race remains a 400-mile oval race on the Saturday night of Independence Day weekend. However, outside of Daytona most rovals will likely provide dull on-track action. Most of the passing will still likely occur on the oval while the infield portion will be more a detour that doesn't little more than bunch the field up but ultimately leave people asking why waste the time of running the infield portion when all the action still occurs on the banking?

Running on rovals is a half-assed way to get more road course races on the NASCAR Cup schedule and a half-assed way to get a road course into the Chase as has been suggested by the Charlotte test but with NASCAR signing five-year deals with each track prior to the 2016 season adding more natural-terrain road courses to the schedule is impractical. Road America and/or Circuit of the Americas aren't going to buyout contracts from Kansas or Chicagoland to get a Cup race.

Before getting ahead of ourselves over what the future of the NASCAR schedule will look like, let's focus on this year and the possibility of Charlotte running a race on the roval. For the better part of a decade Charlotte has run all its races at night and a roval race would either force the track to add lights around the road course portion of the track, an expense that will probably cost at least million dollars, or a race moving from the night to the day time. The latter proposal seems realistic for the All-Star Race but not the Chase race. While the All-Star Race is the reason for the lore of "One Hot Night" and led to the rush to larger race tracks to install lights it wouldn't be the end of the world for it to occupy a Sunday on a cable sports network. The Chase race has a coveted Saturday night spot in autumn and avoids racing head-to-head with football on a Sunday and even if the race was on the roval I don't think that would make up for the loss of viewers on a Sunday afternoon.

The most likely thing that happens is nothing happens. As much as Allmendinger's outing in January could be an experiment that leads to at least another wrinkle in the All-Star Race or on the other end of the spectrum a monumental shift in the Cup series schedule it could also become a factoid that a shrinking fan base passes down to what will be an even smaller fan base decades down the road.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened in Daytona but did you know...

Marcus Armstrong, Enaam Ahmed and Thomas Randle split the Toyota Racing Series races at Hampton Downs.

Eli Tomac won his first race of the Supercross season in Glendale.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Bathurst 12 Hour
Supercross returns to California and specifically Oakland.
Toyota Racing Series runs its penultimate round at Bruce McLaren Motorsports Park in Taupo.