By Jerry Bonkowski
When it comes to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, it’s time for NASCAR to hit the road.
As in add a third road course to the yearly schedule, with one specifically in the Chase.
With Sonoma coming up this weekend and Watkins Glen in August, NASCAR officials have said for years that those two races are just enough of a variation on the oval theme.
But as often as Brian France, Mike Helton or Steve O’Donnell say adding another road course – in or out of the Chase – is unlikely in the near future, it’s pretty clear from NASCAR fandom that they want to see one or more road courses on the schedule, and sooner rather than later.
There are a number of road courses that would be great partners for the sport. Tops on my list is Road America in central Wisconsin. There’s also Road Atlanta, Limerock and Laguna Seca (another of my favorites).
Heck, NASCAR could even run a road course race in the middle of Daytona International Speedway on the same track that they run the Rolex 24 Hours race in January.
Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the Daytona 500.
Granted, running a road course race in the 10-race Chase is somewhat tricky because of weather. If a race were to be given to Road America, I’ve seen freezing temperatures in the Badger State in late September.
Or, perhaps NASCAR could add a third road course to the mix and then put Sonoma into the Chase and let the new track take Sonoma’s old race date in June. That would a perfect scenario for Road America or the others.
If, say, Sonoma were to have one of the first three or four races of the Chase, the weather north of San Francisco would still be enjoyable in mid-to-late September or early October.
It may be a bit cool, but at least NASCAR wouldn’t have to worry about snow or ice. And imagine all the fall foliage in wine country. It would make an already picturesque region all the more beautiful.
NASCAR fans, in my opinion, have really taken to the new Chase format that was implemented in 2014. But many of them still have the same gripe that they had during much of the first 10 years of the Chase: that there are too many – five to be exact – 1.5-mile tracks in the 10-race playoffs.
What better way to shake up the apple cart, so to speak, than to throw a road course into the mix. Plus, adding a road course would hopefully lead to NASCAR eventually mixing up some Chase venues.
I would love to see Bristol, Indianapolis, Richmond and Daytona in the Chase mix, among other tracks. Maybe we finally could see a rotating schedule of different tracks every year or so playing host to one of the 10 events in NASCAR’s marquee part of the season.
Heck, if there was a city that was willing to play host, I’d even love to see NASCAR Sprint Cup cars run on a street course, much like Indy cars do in Long Beach, Calif.
Wouldn’t that be wild?
Now, before you start getting all excited about any change coming any time soon, I don’t see any changes to the Chase – including adding a road course to the mix – until at least 2017.
That would coincide with the debut of the new entitlement sponsor that will replace Sprint, whose final year as the namesake of NASCAR’s premier series will be 2016.
A new entitlement sponsor could – and should – have a big say on where NASCAR goes from here, including schedule, tracks, makeup of the Chase and more.
Yes, long live road courses – and hopefully we’ll soon have another one or two added to the mix. Please, pretty please, NASCAR.
Jerry Bonkowski writes for NASCAR Talk at NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.