Is A Stock Car Road Racing Series Viable?

Christopher Leone@ChristopherlionSenior Analyst IAugust 28, 2009

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - APRIL 20: Colin Braun, driver of the #16 3M Ford leads the field into turn one at the start of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Corona Mexico 200 at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on April 20, 2008 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

While the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has its final off week of the season, the Nationwide Series heads north of the border to Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

This is the third year in a row that Montreal has hosted a Nationwide race, and expectations are high after a pair of interesting races in 2007 and 2008.

The final road course event of the year in a major NASCAR series, this event always attracts some of the greatest road racing talent on the planet.

The best among these drivers are Ron Fellows and Boris Said; they are recognized as threats to win every time NASCAR heads to a road course. Other drivers with strong road racing backgrounds entered in this weekend's race include Andy Lally and Justin Marks.

A handful of former open wheel stars are usually tabbed to replace Nationwide regulars in the road course races every year as well. Former Champ Car World Series drivers entered this weekend include Andrew Ranger, Jacques Villeneuve, Alex Tagliani, and Patrick Carpentier.

Combine those drivers with NASCAR regulars Marcos Ambrose, J.R. Fitzpatrick, Max Papis, and Colin Braun, and it's clear that this weekend's field is loaded with road course racing talent. It's the case every time the stock cars start turning both ways. And it means that three times a year, some of us start contemplating the viability of a national NASCAR touring series that runs road courses all year.

Sure, this idea might have worked better when guys like Villeneuve, Carpentier, and Dario Franchitti were trying to switch disciplines. It would have provided them an opportunity to learn the heavier stock cars while still racing on tracks with which they were familiar. Perhaps a year in a series like this would have helped prevent their respective failures in stock car racing.

While the open wheel invasion may be over, however, it appears that recruiting drivers from other types of road racing is a popular idea around the garage.

Lally is only the most recent to defect, running for Kevin Buckler's Sprint Cup team at Watkins Glen. Before joining the Cup Series this year, Buckler made his mark in sports car racing, running Porsche 911 GT3s in the Rolex Sports Car Series, run by the Grand-Am Road Racing Association, founded by Jim France (brother of Bill France Jr.) and currently owned by NASCAR.

Grand-Am, however, appears to be on the decline. In the Rolex Series, the top class of cars is the Daytona Prototype. A handful of engines are approved for Grand-Am use, but those with the most manufacturer support are Lexus and Pontiac; with Pontiac's elimination and Lexus' rumored departure, the series is significantly weakened.

Already, some drivers like Braun have made the jump from the DPs to stock cars, and the loss of the top two engine manufacturers may exacerbate that.

It's not as if NASCAR owners are unfamiliar to fielding road racing teams, either. Besides Buckler, the list includes Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske, Jack Roush, and Richard Childress - four of the most well-known and respected owners in the sport.

Sure, this idea might have made a little more sense for the open-wheelers two or three years ago. But it still makes sense for some of the defecting road course drivers.

With Grand-Am's future looking shaky due to the loss of at least one top Daytona Prototype engine manufacturer, a stock car road racing series could be attractive to those with a different type of Daytona dream.


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