Full disclosure: some of this was originally published here in 2007, but since you can't plagiarizer yourself, let's kick it, 2014 style.
This weekend's NASCAR race at Sonoma (June 22, 3p.m., TNT) is a perfect time for everyone to EMBRACE THE TWISTY ("twisty" is must my short hand for road or street course races). By that I mean watch a road and street race without losing consciousness. YOU CAN DO IT. If you're a NASCAR fan, you've got a season full of ovals, with just a few road course races thrown in there like crushed cloves of garlic for flavah.
I used to be a twisty race hater, but now I find them a nice change of pace. I still prefer ovals, and not all twisties are created equally, but there is a way to grab some enjoyment. The big five are:
1) Starts and restarts
2) Pit stops
3) Pit strategy
4) Circus Music Moments (also know as Crazy-Ass Shit).
5) (Especially in NASCAR) who's car doesn't fall apart by the end.
And the Guiding Principle (GP) of Road Races: It's hard as hell to pass on the track.
Keep those five and the GP in mind, and here are some tips on how to watch, maybe even enjoy, street races.
First, the Guiding Principle. If it's hard to pass on the track, you gotta take advantage of those precious few opportunities for overtaking. Let me break the race down for ya:
1.) The start and restarts. If there's going to be LUNACY in this race -- as in someone getting punted or driving randomly off the track -- the start is the most likely place. Why? Because it's so hard to pass on the track. The start represents a rare opportunity to pass on the track, and that's like waving red meat in front of starving dogs -- at least some of them are going to do some goofy stuff to get it. Often this resembles slamming your car into a tiny hole in the traffic, gritting your teeth and hoping for the best.
So, lots of potential for the circus to roll into town on starts and restarts. There's tons of chances that a Festival of Carbon Fiber/Sheet Metal (trashed cars all over the place) will beak out as well.
Same deal for restarts. Again, it's another rare chance to pass on the track so you'll see drivers do some goofy-ass shit. This happens on hard-to-pass ovals as well. Drivers get the whole "now or never" bit between their teeth and lunacy ensues.
2). After the start, we often proceed to the Fuel Mileage Phase. If you're ever going for beer, now is the time. You might even want to leave the house and drive to the store for that beer, because between the start and the first pit stop it's likely to be a Lockstepathon. Here's where all the drivers kind of settle in, figure out what is what, get used to the course during race conditions, maybe make some personal calls on their cell phones.
The goal here is to not be passed, don't use up your car (especially the brakes) and save fuel.
Eventually, we'll come to the third phase of the race ...
3.) First pit stops. Be sure to be back from your beer run in time for the first pit stops. Pit crews are even more important in road/street races. Because of the GP (it's hard to pass on the track), passing in the pits becomes a golden opportunity. That means awesome lap times coming into the pits, a freakishly fast pit stop and an awesome out-lap (the first lap after a pit stop).
Usually, one of the cars starting in the back will roll the dice and come in early to get on an ...
4.) Alternate pit strategy. The standard strategy is lead the race, stretch out your fuel while still maintaining the lead (or go like hell and put a crap ton of distance between you and P2), then fill full each pit stop and win. That assumes the race is all green or even mostly green. Hahahahaha. An all-green road race, especially in NASCAR, is like a unicorn ... strictly mythical. When there are yellows involved, then we can get "off strategy" and that may just screw faster cars.
- Car A isn't the fastest car, but the race strategists roll the dice and bring Car A in to pit on lap, say, 15.
- Then the rest of the field pits on lap 21. Car A cycles to the lead.
- Round about Lap 28 we get a yellow.
- Car A pits, full fills and comes out. The leaders stay out because they just pitted seven laps ago.
- Now Car A sitting 10th, but he's full of fuel and the leaders have 9 laps on their fuel.
- That means Car A can stay out probably 9 more laps than the leaders.
- If this scenario plays out late in the race, and we get some yellows that let Car A conserve fuel, he could make it to the end on vapor while faster cars finish behind him. BOOM.
You can see how it becomes interesting to see if the dice roll will come up SEVEN or snake eyes. We get this on ovals too, of course, but when there are several yellows in the race, the twisty strategies take on about a trillion wrinkles. Very cerebral stuff. Do you pit now and pray for a yellow? Stay out and hope the track stays green? Pit now, make fuel, hope for a strong tail wind, make yourself wide and steal one?
If the race stays green alternate pit strategy goes out the window. The fastest car will cycle to the front. But if a festival of Carbon Fiber/Sheet Metal breaks out, strategies spring up like weeds in an unkempt lawn.
With pit strategy and pit stops ruling the day, we throw in the spice of:
5.) Circus Music Moments (AKA Crazy-Ass Shit). Again, everything goes back to the Guiding Principle. Since it's hard to pass, and the speeds are relatively low, you'll see drivers try some insane stuff to get around people, especially in NASCAR where the drivers are never adverse to banging each other. Or you'll see a leading car pushing so hard he or she makes a mistake which either lets the pursuing car POUNCE or can lead to a yellow, which feeds the Pit Strategy Beast.
So, when to pay attention? At minimum: Starts and restarts and scheduled pit stops. Be sure and focus from the last pit stop to the end of the race, because that's when we find out of any alternate pit strategies are going to pan out, and it's do-or-die time for drivers to pass people on the track. While overtaking is difficult on twisties, it's not impossible, so after the last pit stop you're most likely to see drivers going for it on the track. Now throw in the NASCAR win-and-your-in Chase format and WHAMMY, you got the potential for some full-contact final laps.
Also at the end of the race the concept of who's car sucks less comes into play. NASCAR cars are NOT made for road courses. They're like the lumbering rhinos of twisty racers. So you usually get random stuff falling off them and the brakes especially are SHOT by the end of the race. That creates errors and even hilarity, so BE ALERT.
Also, stay alert for yellows since they can touch off some alternate pit strategy that adds interest. And, always have at least one eye out for crazy-ass shit, like cars upside down on the track. Besides being entertaining, they set off a Festival of Strategzing.
Give it a try. Street/road races aren't so bad. And while NASCARs are like rhinos running on a twisty, the are also bashing into each other and, as I said, slowly disintegrating, so that adds interest. Once you're onto it, you might just find yourself entertained. Seriously.