The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is at Infineon Raceway this weekend, and you know what that means— road course ringers.
Road course ringers are drivers who normally don't run in the NSCS, but get a ride once or twice a year at Infineon and Watkins Glen, because they have more road course experience than many of the full-time drivers.
Rarely, good performances by these road course ringers can lead to part-time, or even full-time rides in NASCAR.
Last year held every ringer and his brother, in trying to make a road course race.
Klaus Graf, Brian Simo, PJ Jones, Butch Leitzinger, Terry Labonte, Marc Gossens, Ron Fellows, and Boris Said all attempted to make the race Cup race at Infineon, with the Nationwide Series teams dipping further than before into Ringer-land to field cars for Andy Pilgrim, Michel Jourdain, Jr., Patrick Carpentier, Max Papis, and Andy Lally.
Criticism has fallen on these drivers as a group, mainly from full-time drivers in the series.
"There hasn't been a road course ringer to win a race yet, so I don't know why everybody uses that in the equation other than it gives them something different to write about," two-time Series champion and six-time road course winner Tony Stewart said.
Well, Tony, here are a few reasons we write about road course ringers:
1. Many ringers aren't out there to win.
Glance through the entry list and see who has road course ringers running for them. One team is the No. 66 Haas Automation Chevy with Max Papis. This team is 36th in owner points.
Do you think they're out there telling Max to run for the win?
They want him to bring it back in one piece to try to get back in the top-35. Terry Labonte is there to use his past champion's provisional to do the same thing in the No. 45 car, although a case could be made for Labonte, given his past Infineon success.
2. Some of the ringers do have a shot at winning.
Last year at Montreal's nationwide race, Carpentier, Papis, and Fellows finished 2-3-4 behind Kevin Harvick, and beat eventual champion Carl Edwards— owner points champion No. 29 car.
Fellows had three nationwide wins; two Craftsman Truck wins, and finished fourth in the Cup race at Watkins Glen last year.
These guys are capable of winning.
3. Anything can happen at Infineon.
You stand on the throttle too early and you can end your day on your roof in a ditch.
Play your cards right and you, like Juan Pablo Montoya, can make it around two-thirds of the track in fourth gear and win.