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Is the 'ringer factor' still relevant to NASCAR?

How do you flesh out the entry list for a NASCAR Sprint Cup race?

Hold it on a road course.

On the circuits where right turns won't necessarily get you in trouble, you'll routinely see drivers who rarely appear on the staple of stock car racing - the ovals.

Sunday's race at Watkins Glen won't be an exception, with P.J. Jones, Ron Fellows and Brian Simo entered in the race. Sports car ace Andy Lally will make his Cup debut in a second car fielded by Kevin Buckler. For the second time this season, Patrick Carpentier will take the wheel from Michael Waltrip for a road-course event.

Not that long ago, the so-called road-course 'ringers' were capable of contending for victories in Cup races. Fellows has come closest, having finished second at Watkins Glen in 1999 and 2004. If the ringers were a factor, so were the Cup drivers with polished road-racing skills — but you didn't need two hands to count them.

Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon invariably appeared at the top of the list of favorites to win on a road course.

Recently, however, road-course events have been much more competitive. It still helps to have a road-racing background, as Marcos Ambrose proved by driving from the rear to consecutive third-place finishes in the most recent races at Watkins Glen and Infineon Raceway. But road-course skills are no longer a guarantee of relative success, as Fellows and Boris Said have found in recent races.

Yes, testing and practice have improved skill levels throughout the field, and yes, drivers from oval backgrounds are far less hesitant to mix it up with the ringers than they used to be. If there's one factor, however, that has taken an advantage away from the ringers and road-course savvy Cup drivers, it's NASCAR's new racecar.

That, at least, is the way Jeff Gordon sees it.

“Yeah, I think this car has closed up the gap quite a bit,” Gordon said. “It's just hard to have much of an edge over the competition anywhere we go, and it shows up as well on the road courses. Everything NASCAR has done has really put us into a box as far as our transmissions and obviously with the car.”

Perhaps coincidentally, Gordon hasn't won on a road course since 2006. The new car has been in use on road courses ever since. Then again, Gordon was leading at the Glen two years ago when he spun in turn one with two laps left, in essence handing the victory to Stewart.

“For me, if I get out in front, don't wheel-hop getting into turn one and spin out with two or three laps to go — that's what I'm going to be working on,” Gordon said facetiously.

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News



Related Pictures

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Jeff Gordon at Watkins Glen [Pic credit: Getty for NASCAR]
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS finishes in fifth place, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS finishes in 33rd place in the Daytona 500 Sunday, February 22, 2015 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Gordon, who led for 87 laps,  was involved in a multi-car incident on the last lap. (Photo by HHP/Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, lead the field to the green flag for the running of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
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Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, and Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, lead the field to the green flag for the running of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Budweiser Duel 1 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, captures the Daytona 500 pole for the second time in his career Sunday, February 15, 2015 after posting the fastest qualifying time for next Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Daytona Beach, Florida. Gordon, who has said this is his last full season of racing, has won the Daytona 500 three times. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies second and will also start from the front row. (Photo by HHP/David Tulis for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, captures the Daytona 500 pole for the second time in his career Sunday, February 15, 2015 after posting the fastest qualifying time for next Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Daytona Beach, Florida. Gordon, shown with his team and crew chief, Alan Gustafson, said this is his last full season of racing. Gordan has won the Daytona 500 three times. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies second and will also start from the front row. (Photo by HHP/Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, is congratulated by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, after capturing the Daytona 500 pole for the second time in his career Sunday, February 15, 2015. Gordon posted the fastest qualifying time for next Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Daytona Beach, Florida, which he has won three times. He has said this is his last full season of racing. Johnson qualifies second and will also start from the front row.(Photo by HHP/Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, captures the Daytona 500 pole for the second time in his career Sunday, February 15, 2015 after posting the fastest qualifying time for next Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Daytona Beach, Florida. Gordon, who has said this is his last full season of racing, has won the Daytona 500 three times. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies second and will also start from the front row. (Photo by HHP/Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, during qualifying for the 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 15, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, his crew chief, Alan Gustafson, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, pose with the Daytona 500 Pole Award and Front Row Award after qualifying for the pole position and front row for the 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 15, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole position for the 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 15, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, leads Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, who is not in the Championship Four final phase of the Chase, won the pole position Friday, November 14, 2014 for Sunday`s final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. He will be joined by Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS on the front row. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 14, 2014 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, speaks to the media after failing to advance to race for the championship in the season finale after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 9, 2014 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)

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