Sonoma, California – You get a fair amount of griping when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its annual visit to the two-mile road course here.
Team owners, chief mechanics, drivers, fans and maybe even the people who clean up the tons of garbage after the race weigh in with complaints. Most grousing centers around the idea that a good race team doing very well in the series standings can lose a lot of ground during Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.
And bad things can happen without any action on an unlucky driver’s part.
An inexperienced road course driver can dive in to make a hopeless pass attempt, punting your car into the fence. You can run smack into a pile-up on a narrow section of the track. You can make one little misjudgment, going off course and tearing something vitally important from the underside of you car.
And naturally, this is not the cup of tea for drivers used to NASCAR’s long parade of ovals with left-hand-only turns.
To which I say: lugnuts.
I’ve long liked the NASCAR stops here and at the Watkins Glen road course in New York.
Yes, you get road-racing specialists showing up to hopefully steal some NASCAR prize money they normally wouldn’t stand a prayer of collecting.
So what? The more, the merrier. And if you’re going to lay claim to being NASCAR’s championship driver in its top series, shouldn’t you at the very least prove yourself on a couple of road courses each year?
And let’s face it, these road course races produce some exciting moments, from let-’er-rip passes to seemingly impossible two-wide rides through a tight turn. That gets the heart racing, no matter what the speed.
And you get different winners at these road course races. I admit it: I do get tired of seeing the same faces in victory lanes elsewhere. But a road course will get you a Juan Pablo Montoya, a Robbie Gordon or a Marcos Ambrose celebrating amid the ritual Gatorade shower.
A little variety. I love it.
And I’ll be shamelessly rooting for pole-sitter Ambrose to win here on Sunday. A totally likable man with relentless competitive instincts, Ambrose has hopefully won some good karma after some atrocious bad luck experienced here in the past.
You go, Marcos. And you other guys, stop complaining and turn right every now and then. It’s only one race. I expect it will be a good one.