Is Road America A Viable Home For Fourth of July Weekend?
The name says it all. Road America. To host a race on America’s birthday goes hand-in-hand for what NASCAR is trying to do. A year after a sold out event on the 4-mile Wisconsin road course, we have to wonder if this is the new future of NASCAR racing on his holiday weekend.
Rumors are the sport is eyeing a street race in Chicago on this date next year and with Road America not having a contract in place with NASCAR past this weekend, the future of this track with the Cup Series is in question.
From 1959 through 2019, the annual pilgrimage for this weekend always went through Daytona Beach. It felt weird when we went to Indianapolis in 2020. Even more so was that it was behind closed doors. Last year the race was moved to Road America for the 3rd different venue on this holiday weekend in as many years.
Is it here to stay or are we looking at a 4th different venue in 5 years?
“For me, I have personal ties to Daytona and just the July 4 race being there because that’s how I grew up, and that’s where I’ve spent over probably half of the July 4ths in my life,” Chase Elliott said last year.
Elliott went out and won this race a few days later. Did his thoughts change? He’s open to it.
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“Who knows what mainstay is going to be?” AJ Allmendinger also said last year. “It’s important to find places in the schedule that attracts people at that time of year. There’s so much camping and cooking out there, I would agree it feels like way more Fourth of July-ish than at Indy, where you’re standing on black pavement all day.
“It has the potential. It’s a beautiful place, for sure.”
We’ll potential shined in 2021 and here we are back again for 2022. In a day and age of an ever evolving schedule, this has the makings to be a new prime spot on the calendar. The anticipation is high again this year for another marquee event. Is it enough for a return?
Can HMS/JGR Find Victory Lane Again Or Is Trackhouse The New Road Racing Aces?
Heading into COTA back in March, it was an early test to the Next Gen’s parity. We’ve seen it prior, but would it also end Hendrick Motorsports’ road course reign. Prior to COTA, HMS had accumulated 9 road course wins in the last 11 tries including being 1-2 on that very track in 2021.
Throw in JGR into the road racing equation of the past car and you get out of the last 18 road course races run entering this season, they or a satellite team (Furniture Row Racing) had won 14 of them.
They’re since 0-for-2 with this new car in going 2-3-4-7-12-18-28-29-32-38 in COTA and 8-9-15-16-18-26-27-30-31-36 in Sonoma.
Hendrick went 1-2 in COTA, 1-2 in Sonoma, 1-2 in Watkins Glen and 3-4 in Indy just last year. Chase Elliott had won six of the last 11 road course races in general at that point with the only four that he didn’t win being last February in Daytona when he led the most laps but was screwed for a caution being displayed for rain in which he was going to cruise to an easy victory. The other was a runner-up in Sonoma and Watkins Glen as well at Indianapolis to where he had a top two car that day before the last race chaos.
Kyle Larson won 3 of the 7 road course races himself last season and now doesn’t even have a top 10 to show for it in 2022.
Does the Next Gen car take away their past advantages though?
It did in COTA and again in Sonoma. While they each looked like the class of the field in Nashville, I think this weekend will be different.
This is another week for this new car to produce more parity. HMS won here a year ago but maybe they don’t have that road racing advantage that they once had anymore. Maybe Trackhouse does since they’re 2-for-2 on road courses instead.
For JGR and even 23XI Racing, I wonder how hard it is to bounceback after a dismal end to Nashville. Toyota had led 253 of the 300 laps on Sunday night. Before the final caution, 3 of the top 4 drivers belonged to JGR.
None of them would win.
Will We See Another Fluke Winner?
In 3 of the last 4 road course races we’ve seen some newness to victory lane. AJ Allmendinger on on the Indy Road Course last August for his 2nd career win and then you see Ross Chastain smashing a watermelon following his COTA win this past March for his 1st career triumph. Kyle Larson (Charlotte ROVAL) 2nd road course victory and Daniel Suarez (Sonoma, 1st career win) also won in this span.
Do we see another favorite like a Chase Elliott win Sunday’s race in Road America or another fluke winner like an Allmendinger or Chastain or Suarez?
I think Christopher Bell is one to watch. He was runner-up here last year, was 3rd in the next race at Watkins Glen before a run-in with Kyle Larson, had a top 5 in Indy before the late race melees and 3rd in COTA this year.
His lone Cup win came on the Daytona road course last season so I wouldn’t put it past Bell to put his No. 20 Toyota to victory lane on Sunday in Road America. He has 6 top 10’s in his last 7 races run on the season too.
You also can’t discount someone like Michael McDowell either. He’s a road racer by nature and has 5 top 10’s since Easter including a 3rd place finish in Sonoma. He too scored his 1st and only win at Daytona last year as well.
Chris Buescher has 1 career win (Pocono 2016) and was runner-up to Suarez in Sonoma last month.
Also I like Tyler Reddick who was in the hunt to win at COTA earlier this season and could factor into this thing on Sunday to score his 1st career win.
How Difficult Is It To Land Road America Setup Right?
This is arguably the toughest track to get right. When you have a track that spans 4 miles in length and has the long straights, tight corners, sweeping fast corners and braking zones all mixed in one course, you have to pick the parts that you want to excel on and just get by on the ones you can give up.
So which parts do you get right and which areas could you afford to give a little? That’s what makes Road America so tricky. There’s a balance here but it’s hard to find in a sense you don’t have much practice time and with the track being so large, you don’t have time to turn many laps. If you’re also in the pits making changes, you’re wasting track time too so there’s a right combination that will be landed by someone and a wrong direction taken by others.
Will Anyone Bump Their Ways Back into The Playoff Field?
This weekend starts the month of July and the midway mark of 2022. Right now we have 12 drivers locked into the postseason or so they think unless we get more than 4 more winners in the next 9 weeks.
I’m starting to wonder if we may have some drivers sweating things out now as the last guy in points that has a win.
So far, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th in points have won a race this year but 20th is Hamlin who’s won twice. 19th is Suarez who’s 1 point behind Briscoe who’s also 3 points back for being the last guy in points as a winner. The race between these 3 to stay off 16th will be a wild one.
So is the wildcard race. In fact, we’re starting to see some distance made between guys on the good side and guys on the wrong side.
Ryan Blaney (+112), Martin Truex Jr. (+73), Christopher Bell (+37) and Kevin Harvick (+9) hold the final 4 wildcard spots into the postseason. Aric Almirola (-9), Tyler Reddick (-52), Austin Dillon (-53), Erik Jones (-58), Michael McDowell (-97), Chris Buescher (-127), Justin Haley (-128), Bubba Wallace (-139), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-143), Ty Dillon (-176), Cole Custer (-179), Harrison Burton (-199), Todd Gilliland (-200) and Brad Keselowski (-217) are all on the outside looking in.
So does anyone new bump their ways in?
Among the 14 below the cutline, 9 of which have reached victory lane on the Cup level before. However, a lot of the 14 are going in the wrong direction.
Almirola has 1 top 10 in the last 9 starts on the year.
Reddick has 3 top 10’s (2 are runner-ups) in his last 11. 6 of his last 8 have seen him finish 16th or worse.
Austin Dillon has 1 top 10 in his last 7.
Jones has 1 top 10 in his last 6.
Buescher has been 16th or worse in 4 out of his last 5.
Haley, Wallace and Ty Dillon each have 1 top 10 all season. Custer, Burton and Gilliland have none.
The best chances could reside from someone like Keselowski, Stenhouse Jr. or McDowell but 2 of the 3 have a combined 3 wins in their careers.
On the flipside, the guys on the good side of the bubble are starting to heat up. Blaney has 3 straight top 6 results. Bell has 6 top 10’s in his last 7. Harvick has 6 in the last 8. Truex has cooled some but the speed is there despite the finishes not being so.
I can see these 4 separating themselves more and more over the next month which leads me to believe most of those below the cutline may be forced to win because at this rate, even if the 4 winless do win, that’s still 16 winners.