NASCAR made their first right turns of the year on Sunday at the much-awaited race at Sonoma. Road racing has become immensely popular in NASCAR over the last 6 or 7 years and Sonoma is always a highly anticipated race since it’s the first road course of the season. Would we have a repeat of 2016 when Stewart made a last lap, last corner pass on Denny Hamlin? Would the carousel bring some action to a race that really lagged the last two years?
Unfortunately, Sunday’s race followed the trend of rather mundane races. We’re talking record lows in every category NASCAR aimed to improve with this package.
Sunday’s race featured six-year lows in the number of leaders, lead changes, green flag passes, and quality passes. Good lord that was a lot to type out. The return of the carousel combined with the 2019 high downforce package didn’t yield the results NASCAR had hoped for, like most races this season.
The 2019 race at Sonoma saw the return of the carousel section that hadn’t been raced on by NASCAR since 1997. The addition of that section added .6 miles onto the lap and cut the race from 110 laps to 90 laps. In the process it took out one major passing zone, potentially two depending on who the driver is. The carousel is a fun section of track but in 2019 NASCAR it’s not what the series needs. Hamlin put a pass on Larson there that FOX missed in real time but that appeared to be one of the few Top-15 passes to happen in the carousel. That long left-hander combined with the massive amount of front and rear downforce on the cars this year helped create bad racing.
Even with a quarter of the field on a different strategy in the first two stages that included green flag stops and a full slate of green flag stops in the third stage didn’t help the numbers. A record low number of cautions hampered numbers too. Imagine if there were no green flag stops, we’d be looking at even lower numbers. Stage racing has also killed road course racing, either NASCAR needs to scrap stages at road course or adjust the lap count.
The 2019 package was designed to make racing better at 1.5-mile tracks. While it has done that in some cases what NASCAR didn’t expect was for it to make racing poorer at every other track. Numbers don’t tell the whole story if fans leave the track being entertained then numbers don’t matter. This is one of the weeks where the majority left dissatisfied and the numbers show why.
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