The Big Question: Is the Road Course Ringer Dead?
By Matteo Marcheschi
There has been a lot of talk about road course ringers in the last few days. Is this the end of the road for part-time drivers crossing into NASCAR for only the road course events on the schedule?
First, let me throw out a few stats. This weekend, six road course ringers ran the Cup series race: Billy Johnson (subbing for the injured Aric Almirola), Boris Said, Alon Day, Kevin O’Connell, Tommy Regen, and Josh Bilicki. All of them, with the exception of Said, made their Cup debut Sunday at Sonoma. They finished 22nd, 29th, 32nd, 33rd, 34th, and 36th respectively. Not exactly earth-shattering. All of them finished the race, but none of them scored even a single stage point. While they largely drove for backmarker teams, it doesn’t seem worth it for the team to risk putting a driver unfamiliar with their car, and the series in general for that matter, to try to get a couple more spots. No matter the driver, these teams are not going to contend. Their equipment just isn’t up to the task. So what chance do ringers have?
Gone are the days of ringers stepping into big-time rides and contending for wins. Big teams are committed to one driver for a whole season because of sponsorship, championship eligibility, and consistency. Joe Gibbs Racing or Hendrick Motorsports isn’t going to kick out one of their drivers for two races a season because they think that driver is better on road courses. It’s no longer practical. Ringers end up stuck in backmarker cars, and occasionally the mid-pack car, in the case of Billy Johnson. They run near the back, and are lucky to get a top-30. There is still an option for ringers who want a chance to win, though.
The Xfinity Series offers a shot for ringers that isn’t possible in the Cup Series: To run in a top-tier car, with an experienced team. Between the Team Penske #12 and #22, the Joe Gibbs Racing #18 and #20, the Richard Childress #2 and #3, and the Chip Ganassi Racing #42, ringers have plenty of options to be competitive. The series also has three road course events, rather than the Cup series’ two, and they all occur within a four race stretch. This allows teams to gel with their ringer, and allows the ringer to get comfortable in their ride. This allows road course ringers to contend for wins, instead of running outside the top 25 all day.
So, is the road course ringer dead? Short answer: In the Cup series, the concept is all but dead. In the Xfinity series, however, it will thrive for a long time, mostly because of the large number of high-end teams not running with only one driver. So, to any road course ringers wanting to make it big in the Cup series: Good luck, you’ll need it.