Road course racing is still good racing

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 20, 2006

This weekend, the boys of NASCAR travel back to the Golden State, except this time they will trade in the 2-mile speedway in Fontana for the 2-mile road course in Sonoma.

The track, which resembles a NASCAR gas can as it looks when filling up a car, is made up of 12 turns and what has affectionately become known as the &#8220chute,” a high-speed straightaway connecting turns 4 and 7.

Dating back to 1968, Infineon Raceway was been a mainstay in the racing community.

Although NASCAR did not make its debut at Infineon until 1989, the track hosted many open-wheel races prior to NASCAR's decision to add the track to the schedule.

While many NASCAR fans are turned off by all the right turns and slow speeds, the race itself is often one of the closest finishes of the year.

Road courses may not have the same intrigue as races like Daytona, Talladega, Bristol or Martinsville, but they do ensure that drivers on the NASCAR circuit are as versatile as any other professional circuit in the world.

Some drivers hate the road courses and fall in the points standings for bad finishes at them, but the championship drivers usually find a way to tame the winding track.

Infineon is also famous for being the race that several teams ditch their primary driver in favor of &#8220ringers,” or road course specialists, like Boris Said and Scott Pruitt.

While this method has never produced a winner, Said has won a pole in 2003 and came close to winning several times.

Just like at any track though, the best drivers, whether they love or hate the track, prosper.

Four-time Champion Jeff Gordon is a predator on the road corses, having taken five of the last 10 poles and four of the last 10 wins at Infineon.

Defending Champion Tony Stewart, who raced several years in different open-wheel series, has also dominated Infineon with a pole in 2002 and wins in 2001 and 2005.

Ricky Rudd, who won the inaugural event, also has been great on the road course with a win in 2002. Rudd came close to winning in 1991 but was black flagged for spinning Hueytown native Davey Allison on the final turn.

Allison was awarded the victory after straightening his car across the start-finish line behind Rudd.

Maybe it is because I am from Hueytown and was a huge Davey Allison fan, but that race captivated me and drew me in to watching the same road course racing that bored me the year before.

The racing is definitely different from the regular races you watch week in and week out, but I guarantee you that if you just give it a chance, you too will be captivated by racing on the road courses.

It is absolutely amazing to watch just how gracefully those cars fly around the track, hugging every corner while turning on a dime. And for those of you who watch NASCAR for the wrecks, believe me, there will be plenty and no one will get hurt.

So, this weekend, take to the couch and enjoy as NASCAR takes to the road… course.

Austin Phillips is The Greenville Advocate sports editor.

You can contact him by e-mailing austin.phillips@greenvilleadvocate. com or by calling 382-3111 ext. 122.