The road course races stand as markers during the season.
The Toyota / Save Mart 350k at Sonoma Raceway came during Week 16 with the season fully engaged. Summer was around the corner and teams were beginning to seriously contemplate the run to the playoffs.
Road course races are wild card events and one often thinks of them as an âopportunity raceâ for teams deep in the points to experience a miracle. Daytona International Speedway was to be run two weeks later â another wild card.
Now there are only five weeks remaining in the regular season and this is one of the final opportunities for teams to gamble on strategy. One might put the regular season finale in that same camp, however, because the 2.5-mile flat track of Indianapolis Motor Speedway opens the door for some very aggressive fuel gambles.
Last year NASCAR added the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval to the mix. Given its somewhat unique nature, we may need to take a season or two to fully appreciate how valuable it will be to a driverâs road handicap. On first glance it seems to be; most of the drivers who ran well there also did so at Sonoma and Watkins Glen International. And among those who didnât, one needs to remember the Pied Piper accident near the end when Brad Keselowski led the field into a Turn 1 wreck when he forgot to brake.
Martin Truex Jr.
If you have enough allocations for Truex, there is absolutely no reason not to use one this week. To say heâs been great on road courses lately would be an understatement. Truex has won three of the last five races on this course type and finished second once. He would have won at the Roval last year if not for a kamikaze move by Jimmie Johnson in the final turn of the final lap. If you are down to your last two or three allocations, he might still warrant a spot in the garage so he can be activated if he earns major Segment points.
In allocation management games too much can go wrong to overcommit on marquee drivers who will be more predictable elsewhere. Kyle Busch is a good pick; Kurt is safer. He swept the top 10 last year on road courses with a best of fifth at the Roval. That was his 11th top-10 finish in 13 races on the twisty tracks. The two results outside that mark still landed in the top 12. Busch is capable of winning on this track type. He has one road course win at Sonoma in 2011.
As the defending winner of this race, Elliott is an easy driver to profile. That victory was part of a sweep of the top-six in three road course races in 2018 and it made him a favorite when the series arrived in Sonoma in June. His engine failure there on Lap 60 doomed a lot of players and is part of the recent hardship this team has undergone. Hendrick Motorsports is too strong to stay down forever, and this is the type of track on which they can rebound.
Bowyer is another driver who needs a reversal of fortune. He is also a master of the road courses with four top-fives in the last six races on the course type. His other two results were 11th-place finishes, which kept him from draining points from his owners. Most of Bowyerâs best runs on road courses have come at Sonoma, but two of his 11 career top-fives were earned in New York. This is a track on which drivers can get into trouble, however, and Bowyer has seen a lot of that in recent weeks.
Jones is on a roll. By finishing third or better in each of his last three races he is peaking at the right time. There is no reason to believe he is going to lose any ground this week. He has four top-10s in his last five road course attempts. His best finish was a fifth in last yearâs Go Bowling at the Glen and the only time he failed to run that well in the last two seasons was because of crash damage at the Roval last year.
Suarez has been perfect in two starts at the Glen. He finished third in his inaugural attempt in 2017 and was fourth last year. There are plenty of opportunities to drive on road courses in his native Mexico and that may be part of the reason he is so good on the track type. Like several of the drivers listed above, Suarez needs a victory to insure he will be part of the playoffs. Five races remain and the cutline is volatile, so look for this team to gamble if necessary to get him out of that scrum for 16th.
Keselowski can certainly hold his own on road courses. He finished second at the Glen in three consecutive races from 2011 through 2013. He was third on this track in 2016 and seventh the previous year, but the bulk of his recent performances have not been exceptional. He finished 35th after experiencing a brake issue in 2014 at the Glen. His last two efforts on the fast road course have been 15th and 17th, which are part of a current streak of five straight races on the type outside of the top 10.