Hitting The Road

The next time you hear that road courses have no place in NASCAR, ask the person uttering such sacrilege why he or she thinks that way.

Last week's SIRIUS at The Glen was a bit anticlimactic, especially after Tony Stewart practiced and qualified a second faster than anyone else and laid a historical butt-whipping on the rest of the field in the race, but the action behind Stewart was first-class.

Punts, like the one Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave to Dale Jarrett, could have a lasting effect on the postseason for Jarrett. Michael Waltrip, who didn't get the inch he needed from Kasey Kahne, will have fun denying that single unit of measure to the young Washingtonian at some later date after the ride Kahne sent him on.

Jeff Gordon must be in the midst of a cosmic plan to experience every form of frustration known to mankind before he's 35. Gordon had one of the only cars that seemed to be able to stay in the same time zone as Stewart on Sunday-Robby Gordon and Boris Said had the others-but a stray piece of debris cut a tire down-where have we heard that before?-and he was 14th at the finish.

The usual collection of miscues, missteps and one fairly large driver error (Jeff Burton's, he said so himself) contributed to a generally entertaining two hours in the lovely yet waterlogged Finger Lakes region of the Southern Tier of New York.

As an oval-track fan since I could walk, I understand why some folks just don't go for road racing. It's because they've never stood on the inside of Turn 1 at Watkins Glen and watched 30 or 40 cars—stock cars, sports cars, passenger cars, whatever-race downhill just as fast as they possibly can, then stand on the brakes and horse the wheel to the right, just hoping and praying they come out the other side with all four wheels pointed more or less to the front.

And, they haven't seen it at night. In the rain.

The first race in this country-generally believed to have taken place in the late 1890s-was a road race, and much of the history of the sport has its roots in it too. In fact, stock car racing got its start from a group of road racers-with large loads of 100-proof spirits secreted in various places.

Without putting too fine a point on it, road racing is real racing. Hold on before you begin typing an angry retort. Turning left on an oval track is one way to race; turning left and right, uphill and downhill, at night and during the day, that's another.

When you're road racing, you're doing many things at once. You have to drive the car, first of all, then you have to worry about what gear you're in, and if the transmission you're using will stand up to all the stress being applied. Several drivers would have given their eye-teeth for a sturdier shift pin at Sonoma in June. Finally, you have to take care of the brakes. There's nothing more disconcerting than hauling off into a 90-degree right-hand turn and finding out that your brake pedal has given up the fight and is lying on the floorboard like an old McDonald's cup.

Bad things tend to follow when that happens.

It's pretty dang difficult to pay attention to all of that and still keep an eye on the 42 other guys who are all keeping one eye on you at the same time.

In fact, I'd like to see two Indianapolis dates for NASCAR, one on the oval and another on the infield road course. After the Formula One debacle, IMS needs a real road race!

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