I’m a big fan of road courses. While I love oval racing and NASCAR is obviously synonymous with it, there is a charm to watching stock cars make their way around tracks that are clearly not built for them and defy the left-turn stereotype, and various road course races have gone down in history from the dramatic final-lap battle between Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski at Watkins Glen in 2012 to the chaotic rain races of the Xfinity Series at Mid-Ohio in 2016 and the Charlotte Roval this past year. Heck, my home NASCAR track is a road course too as I live a little over an hour away from Sonoma Raceway.
That being said, times seem to be changing as NASCAR enters the new decade (or second year of the decade if you count last year as the first of the 2020s). The 2022-bound Next Gen car is supposedly more compatible with road courses as drivers testing them and fans have drawn comparisons to vehicles like Trans-Am and the Supercars, while the 2021 Cup Series schedule features a whopping seven road courses. The latter is not exclusive to the top flight either as the Xfinity Series has eight and the Truck Series boasts a series-high four, while the ARCA Menards Series returns to Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen for the first time in decades and even the Whelen Euro Series calendar is exclusively road courses (though due to circumstances as the lone oval at Raceway Venray was removed due to COVID-19).
When the Daytona road course was added in December as a replacement for Fontana, I jested in my coverage for The Checkered Flag that NASCAR is in the midst of a “love story” with road courses. I can see why some fans would argue this influx of road courses is oversaturating the schedule, but I disagree; it is certainly a lot of RCs, but they aren’t comprising an absurdly high fraction of the calendar (unlike IndyCar).
As the Daytona RC race weekend nears and I looked for a way to put off my classwork, a new idea came to mind: with all these road courses, what if there was a championship within the championship?
Welcome to the NASCAR Road Course Cup (working name).
A Championship within a Championship
The playoff format is controversial for rather obvious reasons, even during its existence as the Chase. Opponents feel it ruins the season-long format, while supporters believe it adds some much-needed drama to the circuit.
At one point, I recall reading a post online suggesting a compromise of sort: eliminate the playoffs and return to the year-long points system, but also divide the calendar into mini championships based on similar traits between races like the West Coast Swing. Drivers will accumulate points like usual, but these mini championships will provide them with some incentive to push themselves, and whoever has the most points in a particular stretch can receive something like a trophy or bonus points. Various stick-and-ball leagues participate in tournaments similar to this concept in which teams can win some trophies in addition to chasing their main league championship, such as the Premier League with the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League.
Perhaps the best example (or at least the first that comes to mind for me) of a mini championship in a racing context belongs to ARCA. Besides the regular season-long title, ARCA Menards Series drivers also compete for the Four Crown, a trophy awarded to the best-performing driver across four certain races of differing track types (intermediate, short, dirt, road course), and the Short Track Challenge, for the best racer on—well—short tracks.
The Road Course Cup is similar to the Short Track Challenge, though with the obvious distinction of being for road courses. While the RCC would be fairly pointless for much of NASCAR’s modern era as the Cup Series usually only raced at two road courses, the increase in recent times has made this idea a bit more intriguing to pursue.
The rules are simple: score the most points in the seven RC races to win the RCC. Any driver is eligible to compete, from the usual full timer to the (now rare) road course ringer whose starts are exclusively on such tracks. As discussed above, the reward for the RCC champion can range from a little trophy to additional points, though the latter might not work if the playoff format is retained as the Roval is a playoff date. For the sake of this hypothetical, let’s assume the RCC winner gets just a trophy and lifetime membership in the totally-real Road Racing Society.
The trophy’s name? Let’s call it the Said-Fellows Cup, in honor of two of the greatest road ringers of all time.
If the RCC actually existed, it will likely just play things safe and use the normal NASCAR points system to keep things standardized. However, there are likely roadblocks when retroactively naming RCC champions, such as seasons before stage racing and the playoffs or races with abnormally large or small field sizes that do not align with the 1–40 system. With this in mind, I devised my own points format with inspiration from various series including NASCAR and Formula One. This is my system and my world so I do what I want!
Like how F1 only awards points to top-ten finishers, only the top twenty will get points ranging from 1 for 20th to 30 for the winner. Buffers of 3 to 5 points separate certain position ranges: the winner gets 30, while a top five will notch you somewhere between 22 to 25 points with one-point differences in between like NASCAR; I initially considered doing podiums similar to other road racing series, but NASCAR favors top fives so I chose to stick with that. The top ten will get 15 to 19, and anyone 11th to 20th will receive single digits.
While this means drivers too far down the running order will basically be racing for nothing, handing out points to only the top half increases their importance and allows for more scrambling and strategy among those in the late teens/early twenties positions (I’m also just a lazy butt who doesn’t want to calculate points for all 40 drivers). Speaking of strategy, some smart moves can still get these teams spots in the points column through bonus points.
To take a page from IndyCar’s playbook, one bonus point each will be awarded to the pole winner (poles set by rainout or some other method beside qualifying do not count) and anyone who leads a lap, while whoever leads the most laps will get two. I debated whether to use stage points before electing not to do so for three reasons: bonus points for leading laps were effectively replaced by stage points as both are intended to reward drivers for consistent performances, meaning keeping both would be redundant; while I like stage points, I dislike having cautions between segments and my petty side removes them entirely; finally, once again, I’m just too lazy to do the extra math.
In total, a driver can earn 34 points by winning the pole, leading the most laps, and winning the race. With the five-point buffer between first and second, the race winner will always have the upper hand in the standings even if the runner-up dominated the race.
On a closing note, drivers are not confined to earning points in just one series, meaning one can hypothetically win all three championships. Of course, this will be incredibly difficult as NASCAR places restrictions such as prohibiting Cup drivers from running certain races.
1 point for leading a lap
2 points for most laps led
The 2020 Road Course Cup (for demonstrative purposes)
TL;DR: Chase Elliott wins.
Since none of the races had qualifying due to a condensed race weekend schedule, the bonus point for the pole winner will obviously be waived.
Go Bowling 235
|Finish||Driver||Laps Led||Points Earned||Total Points|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||10||24+1||25|
|16||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||0||5||5|
|Outside T20||Kyle Busch (37th)||1||0+1||1|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||25|
|16||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||5|
Bank of America Roval 400
|Finish||Driver||Laps Led||Points Earned||Total Points|
|7||Martin Truex Jr.||0||18||18|
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||0||4||4|
|Outside T20||Ty Dillon (23rd)||5||0+1||1|
|Outside T20||Christopher Bell (24th)||6||0+1||1|
|Outside T20||Kyle Busch (30th)||3||0+1||1|
|2||Martin Truex Jr.||43|
|19||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||9|
Image credit: Terry Renna / Associated Press