The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 and the first road course race of the season. Motorsports 101 debates which driver is the greatest road course driver of all-time in Cup Series action.
1960's Road Ringer – By Clayton Caldwell
It’s a hard debate. Who is the greatest road racer in NASCAR history? Jeff Gordon has an impressive nine wins, Ricky Rudd was one of the best at the road courses and finished up front almost every time. Tony Stewart has seven wins on road courses and you have to throw him on that list as well.
However, Motorsports 101 is going to go with a name that many NASCAR fans may not be all that familiar with. Imagine Boris Said or Ron Fellows or a few road ringers nowadays hoping in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and winning, all the time, against NASCAR’s biggest stars. That’s what Dan Gurney did in the 1960’s.
Dan Gurney may not have the record for most wins on a road course but he certainly was awesome. The Wood Brothers Racing team used to create a car just for Gurney and Gurney would get into the big, heavy stock cars of the 1960’s and beat Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough. That shouldn't be said. He didn’t just beat them. He kicked their butts.
In the 1960’s Gurney won five races at Riverside International Raceway and dominated them all. He won his first race in 1963 for the Holman Moody Ford operation and went out and led 120 laps and won by over 36 seconds over AJ Foyt.
His next win came in 1964 where he dominated the competition, lapping the entire field on the 2.7 mile road course at Riverside and led 142 laps. In his next win Gurney led 126 laps and won by 27 seconds in 1965. The following season he won by 70 seconds over David Pearson leading 148 laps. His final win came in 1968 where he led 124 laps and dominated.
Gurney was too busy in other forms of racing to run Riverside in all the races NASCAR ran there in the 1960’s, so he only ran it in the January every season. There was a time when the January Riverside race belonged to Gurney and it wasn’t a question of who is going to win, it was a question of who was going to finish second to Dan Gurney.
While Gurney only made 16 starts in his NASCAR career you have to keep in mind that in the 1960’s there was no power steering, no driver comfort, and the cars just didn’t handle like they do nowadays. Add that to Riverside where some considered that the most dangerous turn resided and you got yourself a great road course racer.
There is no telling how many road races Gurney would have won if his career continued into the 1970’s in NASCAR, but one thing is for sure. When it came to Riverside in the 1960’s and you needed a win, Dan Gurney was the guy you called on and most of the time he would win it and that’s good enough for Motorsports 101.
Nine Wins Says It All – By Mark Eddinger
From 1958 to 1988 the Cup Series went to Riverside International Speedway. Then in 1989 Cup switched to a new road course in California and that is what is now Sonoma Raceway. Watkins Glen International has hosted a race every year since 1986. At those three tracks there are eight drivers in Cup Series history that have five or more wins.
Dan Gurney, Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, and Darrell Waltrip all scored five wins at Riverside. Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace scored two wins at Riverside, Sonoma, and Watkins Glen for a total of six each. Tony Stewart has won twice at Sonoma and five times at Watkins Glen for seven total. All of them are phenomenal road racers but not the greatest in Cup history.
That distinction goes to Jeff Gordon who has nine total wins, five at Sonoma and four at Watkins Glen.
Gordon won three in a row from 1997 to 1999 and four of five races with another in 2001 at Watkins Glen. He has not won since at the 2.45 mile road course in the Fingers Lakes region of New York and actually only has one top 10 in that stretch. Still Gordon is a great road racer and the fact is that the COT Cup car brought more parity to road racing than ever before. Also drivers started to put more focus on the craft and every driver has taken huge steps forward in recent years to be competitive on the road courses. It will be interesting to see how the Gen-6 car races on the road courses.
Gordon also won three races in a row at Sonoma from 1998 to 2000. He then won in 2004 and 2006 also at the 1.99 mile track. Gordon's luck at Watkins Glen has faded recently but since his win in 2006 at Sonoma, Gordon has finished in the top 10 in all of the last six races as well.
He has won nine of the 40 road races he has been in at the Cup Series level and will once again try to capture number 10 this weekend to solidify his greatness even more.
Tags: Clayton Caldwell, Dan Gurney, Jeff Gordon, Mark Eddinger, Motorsports, NASCAR, Riverside International Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, Watkins Glen International
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