Johnson City Press Thursday, July 31, 2014

Follow me on:


Sports Jeff Birchfield NASCAR/Racing

Presence of road ringers barely felt

June 24th, 2014 10:36 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Presence of road ringers barely felt

Road ringers barely made a whimper in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

While it was common a few years ago to have non-regulars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series show up for the two road races on the tour at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, there were only two of the road-course specialists in Sunday’s race.

Neither one of them had a finish to encourage car owners to go the specialist route with Boris Said in 35th place and Tomy Drissi winding up 38th.

It was a far cry from 10 years ago when two road-course aces, Scott Pruett and Said, were among the top six finishers at then Sears Point Raceway.

What has happened to change things so drastically over the past decade?

The biggest difference is the proficiency of the Sprint Cup regulars on the road courses. There have been 10 different winners in the last 10 Cup Series races at Sonoma. Five-time winner Jeff Gordon was the last duplicate winner with victories in 2004 and 2006. However, Gordon has come up one position short each of the last two seasons, second to Martin Truex Jr. in 2013 and runner-up to Carl Edwards on Sunday.

There were seven non-Cup Series regulars in the Sonoma field a year ago. However, car owners must not have felt they were getting the bang for the buck with Said in 18th and Ron Fellows in 22nd, the only finishes inside the top 25. The rest of the road racers all finished 30th or lower.

You have to go back 41 years for the last non-Cup regular to win on a road course. It was the legendary Can-Am driver Mark Donohue who throughly dominated the 1973 season-opener at Riverside with runner-up Bobby Allison a lap behind. An accomplished racer in several different kinds of race cars, Donohue had won the Indianapolis 500 seven months earlier.

Another former 500 winner, Juan Pablo Montoya, won at Sonoma his rookie season. It is one of two wins for Montoya in 254 career Cup Series starts.

In a previous generation, guys like Rusty Wallace, Tim Richmond and Ernie Irvan were excellent road racers, but their techniques were more slinging the car around than the smoother style of the guys who raced full-time on the road circuits. A pair of exceptions were Ricky Rudd and Mark Martin, who used the braking techniques more associated with the trained road racers.

Since that time, nearly all the Cup drivers have attended the Skip Barber or Bob Bondurant Racing Schools. Some guys like Gordon have gone to both schools. It has changed the dynamic and pretty much eliminated the need for road-racing specialists to race in NASCAR’s top series.

———

Tickets for Saturday’s Red Bull Tennessee National at Muddy Creek Raceway are still available and may be purchased online or at the gate.

A crowd of nearly 25,000 showed up for the AMA Lucas Oil Pro Motocross event last year. An even larger crowd is expected Saturday with predictions it will be the most attended race on the entire tour.

Tickets for adults are $40 each, while children’s tickets (ages 6-11) are $20. Multiple-day tickets, which include amateur events on Friday and Sunday, also are available. Camping pass prices begin at $40 for race day only and also are available for multiple days. 

The Red Bull Tennessee National will be televised live.  MAVTV will broadcast the first motos from 1-3 p.m., NBC will air the second 450 Class moto at 4 p.m. 

———

A six-division program for the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series at Kingsport Speedway highlights other action on the local racing calendar this weekend.

A 60-lap race for the Late Model Stock cars headlines Friday night’s program. The Street Stock, Pure 4, Rookie Pure 4, Pure Street and Legends divisions are also in action.

Volunteer Speedway has the weekend off. The next event scheduled for the 4/10-mile dirt track is the “Knights of Destruction” thrill show on July 5.

———

Bristol Dragway hosted the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series race for the Southeast Division this past weekend. In the Comp Eliminator final, Alabama driver David Rampy ran a 7.412 elapsed time at 178.80 mph to defeat Florida racer Glen Treadwell.

Matt Hoover of Adamsville was the only Tennessee driver to go home with a Southeast title, winning the Super Stock final over Joe Tysinger of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina on a red light.

Robert Houston of Spruce Pine, North Carolina won the Top Dragster division with a 7.298 (179.80), while the farthest traveled winner was Wayne McGuinness of Australia who captured top honors in the Pro Fuel Harley class.

———

Ken Schrader shows no signs of slowing down.

The 59-year-old racer still maintains a busy schedule, embarking on a journey last Saturday where he will do 12 races over a two-week stretch.

After finishing fifth in an ARCA Series race in Minnesota, he’s racing a dirt modified at different tracks in Illinois and Missouri. The veteran racer plans to wind up the two-week run with another ARCA race at the famed Winchester Speedway in Indiana. 

All total, Schrader has 763 starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with his best season in 1994, when he ranked fourth in the final point standings. In the ARCA Series, he has won 25 percent of his 68 career starts (17 wins), but this will be only his third stock car race at Winchester.

The Missouri native has two wins in open-wheel midget cars at the Indiana track which is often compared to Bristol for its high banks and fast speeds.

Follow Jeff Birchfield on Twitter. Like him on Facebook.

comments powered by Disqus