Looped In

Looped In: Don't count on the ringers

August 08, 2013, Mike Forde, NASCAR.com

Drivers like Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon minimize success of road-course intruders

Maybe we need a new name for the Boris Saids of the world, those drivers with extensive road-course racing backgrounds. The so-called “road-course ringers.”

The “ringer” moniker doesn’t really work anymore, does it? Shouldn’t a ringer come in, clean up shop and drive off as the defeated gnash their teeth and shake their fists?

That hasn’t happened in 40 years, not since ringer Mark Donohue opened the 1973 season with a win at Riverside International Raceway.

But maybe the name fits perfectly. A ringer, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “one that enters a competition under false representations.”

The representation: At Watkins Glen and Sonoma, ringers hop in full-time rides and steal points (and wins) from those running for a championship.

That rarely happens. So “false representation” is about right. Fine, ringer it is.

Let’s look at Sonoma in June: You have to dig all the way down to 18th to find the top-finishing ringer -- Boris Said. Said, by the way, is entered in the No. 32 FAS Lane Racing Ford this weekend.

Said also had the best finish by a ringer in last year’s Watkins Glen race -- a 25th driving the No. 32.

You have to go all the way back to 2010 to find any real success from a road-course ringer. Said is the last ringer to score a top-10, finishing eighth at Sonoma in 2010 while driving the No. 26 Ford. Ron Fellows scored the last top-five by a ringer, finishing fourth at Watkins Glen in 2007 driving the No. 96 Chevrolet.

Why have those drivers with road-course backgrounds failed to crash the Victory Lane party? Simply put: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars have upped their game considerably.

Jeff Gordon, the all-time road course winner with nine victories, explains: “We used to head into road-course events feeling confident we would gain points and have a shot at the win. With the competition so much stronger, it's a battle just to get a top 10 now.”

A few stats illustrate Gordon’s statement beautifully. One, Gordon hasn’t won a road-course race since 2006. From 1997 through 2006, a 10-season span, he never went more than two years without a road-course win -- and once went five consecutive seasons with a road-course victory.

Then there’s the unbelievable Sonoma stat. Each of the last seven Sonoma races have been won by a driver who had never previously won a road-course race. That includes June’s winner, Martin Truex Jr.

Clint Bowyer is the poster boy for the new generation of unsuspecting road course prowess.

In the mind’s eye, Bowyer is a short-track racer first. Statistically? Bowyer boasts better stats at road courses than any other track type. The average finish breakdown:

Road Course: 12.1

Short Tracks: 12.8

1.5 and 2-milers: 14.6

Restrictor Plate: 15.5

And finally, there’s this: Only one driver has scored a top-five finish in each of the last three road-course races: Clint Bowyer. Who knew?

In other words, this Sunday, it’s anybody’s race. Except for the ringers.