When It Comes to the Road Courses, Have the Ringers Turned into Dingers?

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IAugust 12, 2009

Twice a year the headline is always the same and so too is the ending. It’s a headline that screams about road course ringers being entered, ones to contend in the race, but it’s an ending that doesn’t live up to the hype with yet another race gone past and yet another race not won.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has two road course races: Sonoma, CA in June and Watkins Glen, NY in August.

What that means is there will be a very diverse field come Sunday afternoon. Instead of the normal 43 drivers fans have come to know and love, the road course ringers emerge to try and steal the spotlight.

Drivers like Ron Fellows, Andy Lally, Brain Simo, P.J. Jones, and others are rarely seen on the NASCAR circuit other than when the series turns left and right. But there are some like Boris Said and Papis that, while they excel on the road courses, do dabble in oval racing.

Or, a road course ringer could be someone that is hired for just one race to replace an already existing Cup driver that isn’t very good at road racing. Michael Waltrip brought in Patrick Carpentier for both road course races this season.

Because of their two-race appearance, the ringers get much attention. Year-after-year, the weekend is filled with talks about the ringers coming in and stealing a win. In reality, the only thing they are stealing is unwarranted attention.

Road course ringers do not come in and take over the show in today’s NASCAR. The full-time drivers are well prepared and can road race with the best of them and they’ve shown that. They won’t be moving over or getting shown up by someone that races with them only twice a year.

But that doesn’t stop the hoopla about how great the road course ringers/specialists/aces are.

Really? Great?

What’s so great about not qualifying for races? Or what’s so great about making the race and being middle to the back of the pack? It’s gone from entertaining and exciting to annoying when you continually hear, “He’s one to watch come race time.” The only thing people are watching is said driver getting beat by the so-called non-road course racers.

In both road course races in 2008, every road course ringer in the race finished outside the top 25 in both races. It’s hard to believe that any Sprint Cup Series driver is intimidated to be racing a ringer because they know who's going to come out on top.

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Kasey Kahne should get just as much praise and hoopla for their road course wins as the ringers get for not winning.

While it would certainly be a story if a ringer won a race, right now it’s nothing but a thought and one that has been shoved down NASCAR fans throats since 1973 when ringer Mark Donohue won at Riverside. That was the last time a road course specialist has won a Cup Series road race.

It’s time to forget the ringers, their 15 minutes of fame are long past gone. Even Boris Said repeatedly said that there is no advantage, the NASCAR regulars are kicking their tales and that it seems the field is just about even.

And yet, every chance they got, the media was shoving a microphone in Said’s or any other ringers face asking them if they could win.

Instead the focus should be put back on the drivers that actually run up front and win. You may have heard of them before: Jeff Gordon, winningest road course driver in NASCAR history. Or maybe the name Tony Stewart sounds familiar. He’s the driver that has either won or finished second in the last six Watkins Glen races.

There’s also Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin, all of whom are no slouches at Sonoma or The Glen.

The story and the airtime should be where the wins are coming from, with the names mentioned in that group, and not with the road course ringers who continue to get their bells rung.