In the world of oval track racing, there isn’t always the greatest amount of variety. While the lengths of the tracks and the degree of banking may vary, the shape from one to another is relatively simple as there are basically four left turns and two straightaways. While yes, one of those “straights” may sometimes be bent to form a D-shape or a tri-oval, the differences among them are only slightly greater than subtle.
Fans, media, and the competitors themselves have acknowledged the sameness of oval tracks by sometimes applying the term “cookie cutter” to them as a descriptor.
However, the cookie cutter term cannot really be used when describing road courses. Each one of the tracks that feature both left and right hand turns has its own unique shape and distance. And that is particularly true of the circuit that will be used this weekend by the NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Road America, located in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, is a monster of a facility covering well over 600 acres of land in the upper Midwestern portion of the United States. The 14-turn layout measures at just a bit over four miles in length with elevation changes throughout to even further challenge racers. That distance makes this the longest of all NASCAR tracks.
This will only be the second time NASCAR’s top division has raced at Road America with other dating all the way back to 1956 when legendary driver Tim Flock wheeled a 1956 Mercury through the Wisconsin countryside to take the checkered flag.
Current NASCAR Cup Series driver Christopher Bell, unlike many of his fellow competitors, does have experience on this track. The driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota won an Xfinity Series race there back in 2019.
Although there will be several drivers who will take to the track for the first time this weekend, some have, like Bell, enjoyed success there. Cup Series regular Michael McDowell won an Xfinity Series race at Road America in 2016 while Chris Buescher once scored an ARCA Menards Series victory there. A.J. Allmendinger and Austin Cindric, who will each be making one of a limited number of Cup starts this Sunday, have also steered their rides into Road America’s victory lane in Xfinity Series competition.
During a Thursday afternoon NASCAR media availability, Bell stated that he is looking forward to the long awaited return of the Cup Series to the Wisconsin circuit.
“I’m excited about it and I love just going to new race tracks so being able to add a new track to the Cup Series schedule is really cool,” the Norman, Oklahoma native proclaimed. “Road America is a great venue. It’s always put on really good Xfinity races so I’m expecting the Cup race to be great as well.”
Bell says that few of his JGR teammates or other drivers have consulted with him about the track despite his past experience. However, the winner of this year’s Daytona Road Course race does not believe he will necessarily have a big advantage because of previous experience. He does, though, believe that one aspect of the layout will take some getting used to by those who have never raced at Road America before.
“I think a lot of people are definitely noticing how narrow the track is, that’s for sure,” Bell explained. “It’s very unique in that aspect for our stock cars but you still have enough room to move around and race too. I think a lot of them have simulator laps and Kyle(Busch), I think, came up here and tested as well. They’re world class race car drivers and they’ll figure it out. Honestly, a lot of them haven’t reached out to me but they’re going to be hard to beat when they get here.”
As with other road courses, NASCAR will employ the 750 horsepower/low downforce package for Road America. The sanctioning body will allow for one practice session as well as qualifying. With only a few minor differences, Bell believes that particular package will benefit those who have previously been on the track in Xfinity competition.
“I think it’s going to be very similar, especially because the rules package that we have right now is really close to the Xfinity cars,” the 26-year-old driver said. “I think brake markers and stuff like that are going to be slightly different and I think we might have a little more horsepower with the Cup car than the Xfinity car so that’s going to change things a little bit. But I think the on-track product will be really similar. We have a lot of really talented road course racers in the Cup Series so there are going to be a lot of competitive cars.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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