Road Courses in NASCAR

NASCAR stock cars racing at Watkins Glen road course


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Until 2017, NASCAR teamed up with Sprint each year to host the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup, but as of 2017, the 69th season of professional stock car racing is co-hosted by Monster Energy, and the cup has been renamed the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup, though the tournament remains basically unchanged except in name.

Teams entered into the competition compete in one of three manufacturer's cars: Ford, Toyota, or Chevrolet. The official season typically launches with the Sprint (now Monster Energy) Unlimited race at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, and continues through 37 other regular races until the championship race, held in 2016 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway's Ford Ecoboost 400 tournament.

Each year, the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race around these 38 circular tracks, excelling at turning left. However, twice each year, NASCAR tests the drivers' road racing skills at two of the finest road courses in America at the Watkins Glen International and Sonoma tournaments, where 37 full-time teams compete for the title.

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Watkins Glen International

Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at The Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 11, 2013 in Watkins Glen, New York.

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This historic race track in New York State first hosted NASCAR's top racing series in 1957 when Buck Baker took the checkered flag on the winding, hilly road course.

Watkins Glen only saw three NASCAR races until 1986 when Tim Richmond won the first race of NASCAR's proud return to The Glen, but NASCAR's top performers have raced there once per year ever since.

Typically a sponsor takes over the official competition at the Watkins Glen International, and in 2016 the race was called the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen, won by Martin Truex Jr. In 2017, the NASCAR Monster Energy cup race was hosted August 7 and named the I Love New York at The Glen tournament.

This 90-lap, 220.86-mile stock race challenges drivers on winding turns on each of the 22-mile laps. Typically NBC owns the rights to broadcast this exciting race, but in 2016 the USA network broadcast it instead since the Olympics were on NBC at the time.

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Sonoma Raceway

Carl Edwards, driver of the #19 Stanley Toyota, and AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Ralph's/Kingsford Chevrolet, lead the field on parade laps prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 26, 2016 in Sonoma, California

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Known as Sears Point Raceway until 2002 and then called Infineon Raceway until 2012 this winding race track in Sonoma California puts drivers to the test.

NASCAR first came to Sonoma in 1989 as Ricky Rudd took the checkered flag that day in the Banquet Frozen Food 300. Since then the track has hosted one NASCAR Sprint Cup race each year, though these have gone by a variety of names including the Save Mart 300K, Dodge Save Mart 350, and now the Toyota Save Mart 350.

The track has undergone a number of configuration changes to shorten the course and provide more passing opportunities. Originally checking in at 2.52 miles the current version of the track now measures 1.99 miles.

This 110-lap, 218.9-mile cup puts drivers to the ultimate test of control and speed. However, this track brings with it a bit of controversy as fans and organizers alike debate about whether or not to include this difficult course in the standard cup series.

Still, each year the Sonoma Raceway also brings a number of "road course ringers," those racers who only appear at the two road course races in the cup each year.

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What Makes Road Course Races Different?

Stock Car Racing cars on racetrack
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As opposed to the typical stock car racing tracks, which all but two of are exclusively oblong circles that drivers must driver nearly a hundred laps around to finish the race, road course races challenge drivers to navigate around sharp left and right turns on a winding track, often through hills or countryside.

Road course races provide an added challenge to stock car racing as speed isn't the only factor that determines the winner. Handling of these extremely fast vehicles can get quite tricky, especially on the large back turns of the following two courses.

In fact, a number of racecar drivers have passed away over the years competing on this expert-level courses, losing control on one of the winding turns and careening off the track.

It's no wonder NASCAR fans especially love tuning into this unique course races — they're just more exciting than the standard "90-laps-around-the-circle" type of even the other 36 regular season tournaments maintain.