Sonoma Raceway is one of two road course events on the 36 race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule in the 2014 season. Since road racing is so scare some teams usually elect to go with what is known in the NASCAR world as road ringers.
Road ringers usually run just the road course races for a team and are usually drivers who are much more familiar with road course racing. Over the past several years we’ve seen plenty of teams use road ringers to help make their car run better.
Whether teams needed more points to help get their car higher in owner points or whether teams just wanted to get their sponsor some recognition or simply get into the race, road ringers were common practice during road course events.
However, looking at this weekend’s entry list the list of road ringers is very few. Longtime road ringer Boris Said is driving in Go Fas Racing’s #32 Ford this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Alex Kennedy is driving the #33 Chevrolet for Circle Sport/Hillman Racing and that is it as far as the road ringers go in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It’s a stunning development we’ve seen in recent seasons. Even the most successful road ringer in NASCAR history, Ron Fellows, is without a ride in both the Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series races this weekend. The Nationwide Series runs at Road America, one of three road courses on their schedule. If Fellows fails to run a road race in NASCAR’s top three divisions in 2014, it would mark the first time since 1996 that Fellows has failed to do so.
There are several different reasons for the lower number of road ringers in Sunday’s field at Sonoma Raceway. One of the reasons is that Sprint Cup Series drivers in general have gotten better at road course racing than they were in past seasons. Several of the big named Sprint Cup Series drivers used to look at road course racing and not take it seriously. Now with the emphasis on winning higher than ever road racing has become an opportunity for a driver to make the Chase instead of just trying to stay out of trouble. Teams test a lot more at road course tracks than they did in previous years because of those reasons.
With that being said it’s still a surprise we didn’t see more road ringers on the entry list for Sunday’s race.
Some expected to see a road ringer in the #83 BK Racing Toyota replacing rookie driver Ryan Truex. Truex was hired prior to Daytona and has had a really up and down season in his rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series. Truex has run 12 of the 15 races so far in the 2014 season. In the other three races Truex has failed to qualify, including the season opening Daytona 500 and last weekend’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Right now the #83 team sits 41st in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner point standings. Just behind them in owner points is the #33 Chevrolet at of Circle Sport/Hillman Racing. That team hired Alex Kennedy to drive the car to try and help gain the team some points at the road course events. With Kennedy behind the wheel it makes you wonder if the #83 team missed an opportunity to hire a road ringer to try and stay ahead of the #33 team in owner points.
Not only that but Truex has only one career NASCAR start at a road course. That came in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Watkins Glen International in August 2012. Truex was driving a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing and finished 15th.
There is no doubt Truex is driving the #83 to learn and going to a road course track would further his education. However missing races is never a good thing and doesn’t help anyone. Can they afford to lose ground to one more team?
Maybe it is because the era of the road ringer is over. Ron Fellows is 54-years-old now and although he’s done a great job as a road ringer in the past, few others can say the same. Boris Said is another one of the most consistent road ringers over the last 15 seasons but even Said is starting to get up there in the age department. Said is 51-years-old and while he can still get the job done on the road course tracks he has only registered just one top 10 finish in his last 12 starts on a road course. Would hiring a road ringer really help the #83 BK Racing car?
Meanwhile drivers like Scott Pruett, Brian Simo, Chris Cook and others have passed through the NASCAR world as road ringers over the last few seasons and have found limited success.
We have come a long way from road ringers really doing well in the Sprint Cup Series. For whatever reason road ringers have seemed to become a lost art and it’s only a matter of time until they disappear completely.
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