Road Course Ringers ~ Are They a Good or a Bad Thing?
Note: My articles are based solely on my thoughts and observations. Normally I do not offer statistics, although at times I reference what different broadcasters, among others, have said. Thank you for reading and commenting.
I am a very big fan of road course racing. As I watched the practice at Sonoma last Friday, I started wondering about the teams who put drivers that they call "Ringers" or "Road Course Specialists" in some of the cars. It made me start wondering: Why? Do they truly thinks these drivers are so much better that it gives their team an advantage? I just can't see it that way.
Practice was interesting and I kept an eye on Boris Said # 33 and Billy Johnson #43 just to see how they would do in larger and heavier cars. There were also several other drivers racing who came from other series. I started remembering years ago when it was very popular to put what they called road course experts, aka ringers, in many of the cars when they would go to road course tracks. Personally, I was always a big fan of Ron Fellows, Scott Pruett and kind of liked Boris Said. There has been quite an assortment of these drivers who have competed in NASCAR throughout the years.
In reference to the drivers entered as expert road racers who are/were racing at Sonoma, I will use Boris Said as an example. I have watched him compete in NASCAR throughout the years. Do you remember when his fans were called "Said Heads"? Even though he has done well in other series, he has never really stood out as especially good in a Cup car. I have wondered why and pondered this for many years. The only answer I consistently come up with is the fact that one can well be an expert in road racing, but is not necessarily always an expert when the rules, size and weight of vehicle as well as other assorted things change.
I have run this theory by others and they all seem to agree that when a vehicle is of another size or weight, one cannot simply be an expert immediately in it. The cars and handling are so very different. Yes, a racer can get into a different racing vehicle and ultimately adapt to it, but it is not instant. Even with a bit of practice for a couple of days, it may not happen quickly. My thoughts on it are as follows: The tracks are so different from the ones they have been racing on. Other competitors on the track have different ways of driving and one cannot become familiar with their style in one or two short practice sessions because not all cars are on the track at the same time. When the race actually begins, there is a new learning curve for the ringers. The length of the race is usually different from what they are used to. There are so many variables in the different series and all of these variables are apt to create confusion and frustration for the driver. That is not to say they are not having fun and enjoying the experience. Being a racer, they are happiest when they are in any car on any track.
Please feel free to tell me what you think about my theory. Am I spot on, way off or is it minutely possible I have a good point?
The broadcasters brought forth some thoughts, information and/or theories about how the race would go on Sunday. It was interesting to hear their ideas of what one could or could not do on the road course. They mentioned smooth drivers and then the drivers who would go over the curbs and how differently they raced. That comparison made sense as to how speed was affected with each style when driving the road course. Then DW said you can pass anywhere on the track at Sonoma, if the other drivers messed up, but there were only two safe passing areas those were going into turns 7 and 11. That remark confused me. If I heard right, one did not really have a chance of passing unless one tries it going into turns 7 or 11. However, if another driver messed up somewhere else on the track then you can pass. During the race on Sunday, Jeff Gordon said you have to force another driver to make a mistake if you want to pass anywhere other than turns 7 and ll. To me, a racer is a racer and should try passing when he feels he is faster. But then, I am not the expert DW and others claim to be.
While watching the race on Sunday, I kept an eye on the "road course ringers/specialists" and to my hearing, they were not mentioned by the broadcasters except when Boris Said went off the track with 13 laps to go. Then, with 12 to go, they mentioned Billy Johnson. I did see their names on scroll at top of screen a couple of times. IMO, they were not racing like "road course specialists" and there was nothing that convinced me they were experts in these Cup cars and on this particular track. They ran in the 30's most of the day until late in the race when they advanced into the 20's. Unofficially, Said finished 29th and Johnson finished 22nd. These results may change by the time this article is posted. So much for their being specialists, huh?
However, with about 53 laps to go in the race, they mentioned Dale Jr and how well he was doing. They also mentioned that even though he will no longer be racing in Cup after this year, perhaps someone would bring him in as a road course ringer in the future. Dale had mentioned that perhaps sometimes in the future he may race in the Daytona 500 and other select races. Now that would be interesting!
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