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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]
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet SS, finishes in ninth place Sunday, July 19, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Crew members for Jeff Gordon (not pictured), driver of the #24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet, work on their car after an incident in the garage area with Clint Bowyer (not pictured), driver of the #15 5-Hour Energy Toyota, during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 18, 2015 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Pro Services Chevrolet SS races to a ninth place finish in front of Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet SS, who finishes in seventh place Saturday, July 11, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet SS, finishes in seventh place Saturday, July 11, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet SS, qualifies for third position, Friday, July 10, 2015, for Saturday night`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky. Positions are based on practice times since the qualifying session was cancelled due to inclement weather. Gordon is tenth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position, Saturday June 27, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 26, 2015 in Sonoma, California. (Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Joe Gibbs Racing`s Erik Jones in action during the rain-delayed Owens Corning AttiCat 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday June 21 2015. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Joe Gibbs Racing`s Erik Jones celebrates with the chequered flag after winning the rain-delayed Owens Corning AttiCat 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday June 21 2015. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Joe Gibbs Racing`s Erik Jones celebrates with a burnout after winning the rain-delayed Owens Corning AttiCat 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday June 21 2015. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Joe Gibbs Racing`s Erik Jones celebrates in victory lane after winning the rain-delayed Owens Corning AttiCat 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday June 21 2015. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Joe Gibbs Racing`s Erik Jones celebrates in victory lane after winning the rain-delayed Owens Corning AttiCat 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday June 21 2015. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Erik Jones, driver of the #4 Special Olympics World Games Toyota, practices for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway on June 19, 2015 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Erik Jones, driver of the #4 Special Olympics World Games Toyota, celebrates with the chequered flag after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway on June 19, 2015 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo Credit: Tim Bradbury/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Erik Jones, driver of the #4 Special Olympics World Games Toyota, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway on June 19, 2015 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo Credit: Tim Bradbury/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Erik Jones, driver of the #4 Special Olympics World Games Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway on June 19, 2015 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Panasonic Chevrolet SS, qualifies for sixth position, Friday, June 12, 2015, for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. Gordon is tenth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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