Chaos & Excitement: The Curious Case of NASCAR’s Road Course Races

Circuit of the Americas

Getty Cup Series drivers race at Circuit of the Americas.

The NASCAR Cup Series drivers completed the first road course race of the season on March 26. This event, which Tyler Reddick won after leading 41 laps, put on full display the perplexing mix of excitement and chaos.

The majority of regulation at Circuit of the Americas featured intriguing battles for the lead. There was a back-and-forth between William Byron and Tyler Reddick, as the two drivers combined to lead 69 laps. Though there were also several aggressive moves further back in the pack as many drivers just rammed each other while fighting for 28th place.

There was a common trend, especially during triple overtime. The drivers would not try particularly hard to make the corner. Instead, they would dive low and use other cars as their brakes.

On one hand, these big moments create excitement and become a pivotal part of the highlight reels for FOX Sports and NBC Sports. On the other, they lead to unnecessary carnage and numerous restarts.

“Yeah, it was definitely wild,” Jordan Taylor said after exiting the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro. “I wouldn’t say I survived; I feel like I’m beat up pretty much. Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side. So yeah, it was pretty much just survival.

“The guys knew I’d be a little bit more hesitant, so they would take advantage of it. At the end, I got more aggressive and made our way almost back to the top-10. On the last restart, I don’t know who went down on the inside, but they were never going to make the corner and used us to stop themselves.”

The Experience Was Unique for New NASCAR Drivers

Kyle Larson

GettyKyle Larson (right) spins at Circuit of the Americas.

Taylor was one of the multiple drivers that made their NASCAR debut at Circuit of the Americas. The list also includes 2009 Formula One World Champion Jenson Button, who joined Rick Ware Racing for the road course race. Meanwhile, Conor Daly and Kimi Raikkonen each made their respective return to the Cup Series lineup.

These four drivers have considerable experience competing on road courses, and they have all achieved success. This was evident as Raikkonen, Taylor, and Button all made strong moves on the track. Daly’s day ended early due to a mechanical issue. However, they were not fully prepared for the aggressiveness that unfolded throughout the race.

“They kept coming, getting more restarts and more restarts, so I think after the spin I had, the tires were just done,” Raikkonen said. “It’s a shame because when we were there, but then we restart, and just wrong place, wrong time.

“It was a case of trying to stay out of the issues in the first corners and every time it looked like you’d be very good, then three corners later, somebody’s going the wrong direction. There’s a bit of mess and luck involved.”

“I enjoyed the race — I would say 60 percent of it,” Button told FOX Sports’ Bob Pockrass after the race. “40 percent of it kind of felt a bit silly, the amount that we were hitting each other. In Turn 1, people would have an inch of overlap, and I would turn in and get whacked.

“Luckily, it didn’t spin me around, and then on the exit, I gave him a big whack back. The revenge is enjoyable, but there are points where it feels we can do better.

These Conversations Have Lasted Multiple Seasons

The massive pile-ups were not exclusive to Circuit of the Americas. They also occurred at Watkins Glen International, the Charlotte Roval, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, which led to some strong comments from the Cup Series regulars.

Ryan Blaney, in particular, said after the playoff race at the Roval that all of the road courses lead to drivers just running over each other. He said that some drivers try to win the race from the 15th position while plowing through the field and “making yourself look like a dumba**.”

The drivers have been vocal about the level of respect — or lack thereof — at the various road courses on the schedule. They have made it clear that they don’t want this chaos to unfold when they are battling for wins.

So how do they fix this problem? Do the NASCAR officials need to get involved, or is there another solution? Single-file restarts could be one method, but the drivers could also show some restraint on these restarts.

The drivers have the best control of the situation. They are the ones in the cars, and they are the ones choosing to use each other up on restarts. Stopping the chaos will take a concerted effort from the entire field, but it is possible before the trip to Sonoma Raceway in June.

Read More