News & Media


Chase road course? Helton says never say never

August 12, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

Jeff Gordon practices at Watkins Glen as he searches for his fifth win at the track and 10th on a road course. (Getty Images)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Gordon, a nine-time winner on road courses, supports it; Kenseth not so much

Never say never.

That basically was the summation of Mike Helton's answer Friday when asked at Watkins Glen International if he could ever imagine NASCAR including a road course in the Chase that determines the driving champion in Sprint Cup each season.

"In order to make the championship more fully complete ... the only thing we're missing in the Chase right now is a road course."

--JEFF GORDON

"I've learned over time to never not imagine the possibilities of something."

--MIKE HELTON

"I've learned over time to never not imagine the possibilities of something," said Helton, NASCAR's president. "But as we sit here today, we still maintain the thought process when we introduced the Chase that we were not going to shuffle tracks around to adapt to the Chase; that the Chase was the last 10 races. Now, however that may work out in the future, if someone comes to us and asks to change stuff around, we would consider it. But there is nothing on the table today.

"We wouldn't stack tracks up in the Chase for benefit of the Chase. The Chase is the last 10 races of the season. But as the evolution of changes go on, who knows what could end up the last 10 races?"

In other words, no road race is expected to be added to the Chase in the near or even foreseeable future. But who knows? Helton is leaving the door open, which pleases four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon.

"I've always said in order to make the championship more fully complete and find that true best team and driver, the only thing we're missing in the Chase right now is a road course," said Gordon, a four-time winner at Watkins Glen and a five-time winner at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., where the only other road course currently on the Sprint Cup schedule is located. "I feel like the Chase has about everything right now -- from short tracks to superspeedways to intermediates. So I think it's pretty complete right now.

"But if you wanted to just look at one little thing that is missing, it would be a road course. And as exciting as road courses have been here lately with these double-file restarts, I think the fans would be for it as well -- whereas in the past, you didn't have that kind of action and people would say road courses aren't as traditional as ovals in our sport, so why have one in the Chase? But I could see one in there."

Not all the Sprint Cup drivers would like to see it.

"There are only two road courses throughout the year [on the current Sprint Cup schedule], and that's less than 10 percent of what we do, so I don't think it does [make sense]," Matt Kenseth said. "If you asked somebody what they think about NASCAR racing, I don't think road courses would be near the top of their list. I don't think that's really what we do every week. It's kind of a novelty and it's fun to come and do because it's something different and changes the pace up, but I don't think it really needs to be in the Chase. But that's just my opinion."

Helton also was asked if NASCAR might be willing in the future to consider adding another road-course race to the 36-race schedule even if it was a non-Chase event. Again, he did not rule it completely out -- even if he didn't really rule it in, either.

"If I had a crystal ball, I wouldn't work weekends as much as I do," Helton said. "But what I have learned is you just don't know what the next corner is going to look like when you round it. The good thing about NASCAR, one of the greatest assets that I think NASCAR has, is adapting to whatever it runs into around the corner and making it work."

Helton also took a moment Friday to talk glowingly of how NASCAR has become a staple at Watkins Glen, which has hosted one race per year since 1986 [NASCAR also ran there once each in 1957, 1964 and 1965].

"Thinking back to when we first came to Watkins Glen, there was a lot of head scratching and a lot of off-course action, if you will," Helton said. "Throughout our history we've had a sprinkling of road courses like Riverside and others -- but when we moved the Cup Series up here, it was a learning experience for the whole garage area. This facility is an internationally recognized motorsports complex that has a very vast and deep history. For us to be able to sustain a program up here -- and oh, by the way, become very good at it -- is one of the feathers in NASCAR's bonnet.

"Our drivers can take this course as well as I think anybody in the world today. It wasn't always that way. So that's a great pride point for NASCAR. ... Watching our guys, like Jeff Gordon, lead the way and be really good road racers during the course of a championship season, when they don't do a lot of it, is something that makes us very proud."

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