The idea of road course ringers in NASCAR has been around as long as cars have attempted to turn right. A team would employ a driver for one or two events in a year hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and steal a win. Over the last 10 years or so the idea has turned into a tactic from teams outside the top-35 in owner points to try and make up ground.
The truth is these so called “ringers” haven’t exactly been ringing the bell of late. Simply look at the guys who have won events at Infineon, all are guys who are regulars on the circuit who have raced full time. No ringers to be had.
The last real “ringer” surprises happened in 2005. That year PJ Jones finished 4th at Infineon and Boris Said managed a third place run later that year at Watkins Glen.
While guys like Said are talented so are some of the regulars on the Sprint Cup circuit. With the series visiting two road courses a year and drivers spending four or five years behind a wheel of a car they are gaining in terms of experience. The new drivers of today are versed in turning right in addition to the usual left.
Perhaps the real “ringers” on the entry list are guys who are seldom more then also-rans on a typical Sunday.
Juan Pablo Montoya has won two road course events and while everyone in the media waits for him to hit paydirt on an oval, the truth is Montoya enters Sunday’s race as a favorite. That’s something you would never hear on an oval. Sure he’s managed his share of top-5’s (15) and top-10’s (37) over the last two and a half years but can you recall a single oval you thought Montoya was going to win?
Another name is Marcos Ambrose. Ambrose has been fighting to get and stay inside the top-20 in points this year. Last year he had the field licked in Sonoma but stalled his car while trying to save fuel he wouldn’t need to complete the race. This year he’s 21st in the points, his best points finish was 18th back during his sophomore season of 2009.
It wouldn’t be a road course weekend without talking about Robby Gordon. Gordon finished second at Infineon last year and was barely much more then a start and park car the rest of the year. While Robby has won on an oval, the only way he could ever sniff victory lane again would be by sneaking one on a road course. Gordon’s equipment is subpar these days but he’s still talented enough to figure out how to win one of these roadies.
So while guys like Brian Simo, Tony Ave and Andy Pilgrim will show up to make the race, don’t expect them to do too much more. After-all the proof is in the stats.