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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 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, qualified for second position Friday, August 22, 2014 for Saturday evening`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to win Sunday, August 17, 2014 in the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet SS finished second. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates with a burnout after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
With General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, holds the Michigan Heritage Trophy after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. In 2013, MIS began awarding the Michigan Heritage Trophy as a recognition and celebration of the automobile and it`s importance to the race track and the manufacturers competing in NASCAR. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates with his crew after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, lead the field to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, races Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, captured the pole position Friday, August 15, 2014 for Sunday`s Pure Michigan NASCAR Sprint Cup 400 race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. The was Gordon`s second pole position this season. He set a new track record in the final round of qualifying with a lap of 206.558 mph. Gordon is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates capturing the pole position Friday, August 15, 2014 for Sunday`s Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. The was Gordon`s second pole position this season. He set a new track record in the final round of qualifying with a lap of 206.558 mph. Gordon is second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 15, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, qualifies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 15, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Scott Products Chevrolet SS, races to win Sunday, August 10, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Christa L. Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #47 Scott Products Chevrolet SS, celebrates his first Sprint Cup win Sunday, August 10, 2014 in the Cheez-It 355 race at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Christa L. Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
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