Love-Or-Hate Relationship

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There are some drivers who head to Sears Point Raceway this weekend knowing they can win. There are some drivers who head to Sonoma, Calif. knowing they can’t win. There are some who … well, they really have no idea.

The guys who love road courses are obvious: Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon, Rusty Wallace and some others, including the one-race guys like Ron Fellows and Boris Said.

But what about the other Winston Cup drivers? What do they really think about road courses?

Well, let’s check them out.

Guys who like road courses:

Steve Park: “I really do love road racing even though it’s not my background. I wouldn’t mind if we had a few more races on the schedule. It seems like all we race anymore are these one and a half-mile ovals, and road courses are a nice break from that. There’s been a pretty big discrepancy in our performances at Sears Point and Watkins Glen (where Park won his first Winston Cup race in 2000), but I think we’re capable of running well at either place. I guess my most memorable moment at Sears Point was ending up on my roof in my first race there in the Pennzoil car. There’s a big difference in that and ending up in victory lane at Watkins Glen.”

Tony Stewart: “I like it. I’ve always said it from day one – it’s nice to have something that is a little bit of a change from our normal daily grind, so to me, it’s a lot of fun to go out and run a couple road courses a year. There is just something about Sears Point (where he won last year). We really run well out there. I don’t know if that puts us in an elite group or not. It’s just a track that we feel like we have a shot at winning at every time we go.”

Terry Labonte: “I like road racing because it’s so different than anything else we do during the season. It takes a certain temperament to be a good road racer, and it just suits my driving style. If you can establish a rhythm and be patient, you can be successful on a road course.”

Ricky Rudd: “I enjoy the variety and I enjoy road racing. I’d like to see a few more road courses scattered in there, but right now we follow what NASCAR says and we don’t have a lot of say so.”

Mark Martin: “Well obviously I like to race there, because I really enjoy the road courses. We’ve had a lot of success on the road courses over the years, posting four wins on those tracks.”

Bill Elliott: “I’ve enjoyed running at Sears Point over the years. I am fairly comfortable on road courses. It’s nice to have a little variety in the season – turn left and right for a change.”

Guys who don’t really like the road courses:

Jimmy Spencer: “It’s not racing. Our sport has outgrown road racing. It would be a big savings for car owners having two or three cars sitting in the shop and testing if we eliminated the road courses. That would be the first step in the direction of saving the car owners a lot of money. I think Watkins Glen and Sears Point, if I had my options, I’d want to clear the facilities and use both of ‘em as bomb testing sites. I love both areas of the country. San Francisco is awesome and so is upper state New York. … I just don’t think road racing has any part in our sport. I don’t think it proves anything. I don’t the manufacturers learn anything. I don’t think the fans enjoy the racing that much. I would much rather ship the fans to Richmond or Chicago and hear what the fans say. Then ask them if they’re going to spend $50 on tickets next year. Which track do you want to go to? Not one would go to Sears Point or Watkins Glen.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “This is a tough place to race. It’s a technically difficult track, and I’m not sure how much I’m looking forward to it. They may have to tie me down on the team plane to get me out there.”

Johnny Benson: “It’s difficult to say. Road racing is something that we only do twice a year and you’ve really got to do a lot of preparation for just those two races. It’s two different cars that you use at Sears Point and Watkins Glen, so there is a lot of effort put into it. Do I like road racing? Yeah. Do I wish it was on the schedule? No – not as a points race. It would be great to have them on there as non-points races. I think it would be a lot more fun.”

James Ince, Benson’s crew chief: If NASCAR took the road races off the schedule, Ince said. “I’d send them a fruit basket on Monday morning if they did.”

Rookie Ryan Newman: On his attitude going to a road course: “I’ll tell you after Sears Point. I haven’t raced them yet, so I don’t know, but I think they’re fun.”

Elliott Sadler: “It’s been pretty hard. I got to drive a little bit of road courses in go-karts when I was younger, but nothing to that extent as far as slinging a 3,400-pound car around. It’s been tough to adapt.”

Sterling Marlin: “I don’t really like ‘em, but you’ve got to do ‘em. I’d rather run ovals, but you can’t disregard the road courses. The points are the same. I think the fans would see a better race on an oval.”

Matt Kenseth: “I don’t think we will be in for a victory this weekend, so our goal will be to just finish good – in the Top 10 or so.”

Hut Stricklin: “I’ve never been a big fan of Sears Point. I never felt that our cars suited that race track. I feel like Watkins Glen is a whole lot different. It’s wider and the way the turns are, the transitions and stuff, I think they’re just a lot more suitable for the bigger cars. I just never felt like we needed to be out at Sears Point with these cars. In all honesty, it would be a great go-kart track, but it’s not a good track for the Winston Cup cars.”

Ward Burton: “I wouldn’t take my go-kart to Sears Point if I had one.”

Guys who are in between:

Jeff Burton: “Road courses are not my specialty, but we’ve tested a couple times this year and I think the CITGO team is prepared to make a run of it next week.”

Kyle Petty: “I’m not sure how I’d rate myself as a road course driver. I enjoy it. I’d say I’m better than some and not as good as others. I’m somewhere in the middle. I think Ricky and Rusty are pretty good, and then you’ve got Boris Said and Ron Fellows and guys like that who are incredible. Pretty good and incredible are two different things. I think Jeff Gordon is really good at it, a lot better than people give him credit for. I think Tony Stewart has been pretty good at it, and then other guys will have a good run. If you go back and luck, they’ll have good runs and then they’ll have bad runs. They’re not consistent. When you look at guys that are consistent, it’s Rusty, Ricky and guys like that. I’m somewhere in between all of them.”

Ken Schrader: “I’ve had some decent runs, and I’ve been upside down at Sears Point.”

Jeremy Mayfield: “It’s such a funny thing road courses. Sometimes I feel like I’ve done well, other times not. A lot of it depends on the kind of car that you have. I’ve done OK at them before. I seem to do better at Watkins Glen for some reason, but I really like Sears Point. I’m not going to lie, they can be tough if you don’t have the track position and the car’s not just the way you want it. I like them though. Like I’ve said, they’re a nice change.”

John Andretti has driven road courses in other series, so he’s pretty good at it. Andretti has a good idea on how to treat road courses in NASCAR.

“You’ve got to show up and have the confidence that you can get the job done,” Andretti said. “If you think you’re no good at something, then you’re not going to be any good at it. The best driver out here would be the best driver on the road course, too. You can’t be one-dimensional. Take the King. He ran good at Riverside.

“The guy who wins the championship is a guy who can win on a road course. That doesn’t mean he’s going to, but if he walks in the race track saying, ‘I hate road courses and I hate driving ‘em,’ he’s going to already put himself at a disadvantage. These cars aren’t like anything else you drive on a road course, so road course experience is not necessarily a good thing. It took me a little bit to figure out the difference in driving an Indy-car and a stock car on a road course. I didn’t like the stock cars on the road courses because they’re just different.

“I think the series needs the whole thing. We’re thought of as an oval-only series, and then we go off and run these road courses. For some reason, they get ignored sometimes, and I think the fact that we can go off and do some road racing is great. Usually the guy who is successful on a road course is the guy who’ll be successful the whole year.

Staff Writer Lee Montgomery can be reached at lee.montgomery@rmg3.com

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