Ok, ok. I know what you’re thinking. NASCAR?! How lame and boring, all they do is go around in circles for 500 miles every week. Well, this race is just a little different from the other races in the NASCAR Nationwide series. It’s one of the few NASCAR races on a road course!
The Nationwide Series has been experimenting with different road courses for a few years now, going to Canada, Mexico, and other tracks around the United States. This, however, was their inaugural race at the Mid Ohio Sports Car Course. With the American Le Mans series, Grand Am, IndyCar, and various SCCA races already held at Mid Ohio, it seemed right to finally have a NASCAR series present.
Being the rally nut that I am, I’ve always been a fan of Travis Pastrana, so I was excited to finally get to see him race in NASCAR. Although he’s been struggling since he came into the Nationwide series, I was hoping maybe he’d see a change in his luck at the new course.
Along with the Nationwide Series, the Trans Am series was playing support for this weekend. The wide body V8 cars were awesome to look at, and still kept a close tie to the original Trans Am cars of the ’70s.
Nationwide was setup so they’d qualify the same day they raced. I’m not sure the exact reason for that, but maybe just to condense the time and not need three or four days to race. NASCAR adopted a new road course qualifying approach too. Instead of the usual single car getting two laps to set the grid, they run five or six cars at a time for five minutes to allow them to get used to the course and have a few more opportunities to get a good run in case the driver goes off or forgets a turn.
It reminds me of Sports Car racing or Touring Cars in Europe. I really like it and it shows that NASCAR wants to be able to still progress forward and not stick to the same route they’ve been taking since their inception. Although, I may be biased since NASCAR was my “gateway drug” into the automotive and racing world, so it’ll always have a special place in my heart no matter how “boring” people say it is.
The way the cars are set up, they’re super rigid since most of the courses are ovals. Once they get to the road courses, the different turns, uphill and downhill, and the torque combinations end up lifting one of the front wheels off the ground, depending on which way they’re turning.
After qualifying, it was time for the Trans Am Series race. I love the oversized wide body of the cars in the top class. The Corvettes and Camaros looked fairly close to their street car counterpart. The racing Mustangs however were almost totally different from a street Mustang, they seemed much lower and longer than normal.
Unfortunately, much of the race was run under caution so there wasn’t too much action to be had. But when they did run in the green, their engine notes were good enough to make up for the cautions. Aside from the two Porsches running in Trans Am, the entire weekend was all V8 power. ‘Merica.
With the Trans Am race over, it was time for the Nationwide pre race activities. The driver introductions took place on the main straightway, open to all the spectators who could fit. Local favorite Sam Hornish, Jr., from a town just two hours away from Mid Ohio, was introduced with Grand Marshal Grant Reed. Reed made the headlines when he named his cancer “Michigan,” than proceeded to beat it. He was one of several Patient Champions from the nearby Nationwide Children’s Hospital that were there to escort the driver they were paired with, along with a few other children that were represented right on some of the cars.
With the start of the race coming, I headed up to the Keyhole turn. The Keyhole is hairpin right hand turn with a straightway leading up to and away from it. With roughly 30,000 horsepower and 43 cars funneling into the corner all at once, it seemed like the perfect place to watch the start.
Unfortunately for me, everybody behaved themselves here, but throughout the rest of the course they weren’t afraid to lay on each other. It was only the second lap and Brian Vickers already had his front end caved in. By the end of the race, that damage would be nothing.
At the Keyhole there’s a slight downhill bit at the apex, which really showed how low these car sit to the ground. Although they weren’t completely touching, it seemed like they had no extra room to give throughout the course.
There was a time a few years ago where teams would bring in another driver, or Road Course Ringers they ere called. They’d substitute in the hope that with their skill on road courses, they would finish higher and give the team some much needed points in the standings. One of those drivers is Ron Fellows. With wins at Le Mans, Sebring, and 24 Hours of Daytona, he seemed like the perfect driver to bring in. Although he has four wins in the Nationwide Series, all at road courses, the regular drivers in both Nationwide and Sprint Cup have since adapted to road course themselves, overcoming the need for the road course ringers. Fellows would end up 25th at Mid Ohio this time around.
Turn 1 is a fast left hander up to the Keyhole. When I got there a safety worker was there watching. He said this was a good corner because they carried so much speed through it, and the car would raise up on three wheels. Although I didn’t see it as well when I was there, I couldn’t believe just how much lean Andrew Ranger had in his Challenger when I was looking through the photos when I got home.
Most of the race was dominated by Max Papis and Sam Hornish. Whenever Sam would take the lead, the entire course would erupt in roar of applause for the local.
And speaking of crowds, I’ve never seen a crowd this big at Mid Ohio before. The area at the S-Turn here is usually pretty full, but there’s usually always room and a few kids throwing a football back and forth. Today though, it was a sea of people no matter where you went. I have no idea of the numbers, though I did hear one photographer say he thought he heard they were expecting over 100,000 people to show up.
Along the Keyhole, the Esses are the most popular spot at Mid Ohio no matter who’s racing. A long straightaway leads into a sharp right hander that goes uphill into a downhill off-camber left turn that turns into a sweeping right hander. Throw some 700HP NASCARs into that area, and they’re going to be all over the place.
Much like the V8 Supercars, the NASCAR drivers love to hop the curbs. Trying to cut all the time they can around the course, hopping the curb just gets you that much closer to the apex. Here we see Marcos Ambrose taking the curb. He’s of course no stranger to curb hopping with his extensive background in V8 Supercars, so this is totally normal for him.
Not too sure what happened to Mike Wallace here, but it sure looked cool! At first I thought his engine let go, but he still finished the race so maybe it was just an extreme tire rub or something simple within the engine.
While the wheels were often lifted up into the air, sometimes they’d be in the air so long they would actually come to a stop.
Most of the race Pastrana was doing fairly well and hanging mid pack, but near the end he passed by me with a little smoke and a lot of damage to the rear. Running in 17th, he just lost the car and spun it into the wall. His crew would get it back to together enough to salvage a 31st place finish.
Owen Kelly’s Toyota seemed to be shooting more flames than any other car out there. Maybe it was his Aussie driving style, but on every corner you’d be sure to see a nice flame out of the side of his Monster Toyota.
I always tell people who don’t like NASCAR, watch the first 15 laps and the last 15 laps. That’s when you’re guaranteed to see the most action. As the laps ticked down at Mid Ohio, everybody was pushing. Normally going three wide in NASCAR is no big deal, but when it’s on a road course in a tight right to left hander, it’s usually out of haste to make up time.
I stayed in the final corner for the last 15 or so laps, since I now had no idea what was going on. Once they called a caution, I heard it was going to be a green-white-checker finish. Thinking that being in the last corner for the last two laps was going to be the best spot, I became very excited for what was coming. A big battle for the lead? Cars bouncing off each other all throughout the final turn? Well no, AJ Allmendinger had a dominating day and managed to gap the field in the final two laps with no problems.
A little deeper in the field it was a little more interesting. Coming to the white flag, Justin Allgaier was cutting some grass. Whether he was trying to avoid someone, or just cut it for time, I have no idea.
But the trend continued with Parker Klingerman cutting the last corner on the last lap. And by cutting, I mean cutting. Look how early his marks start in the grass.
With Klingerman going through the grass, Kenny Habul spun coming through the Carousel. I think that was either the third or fourth time he’d spun or gone off track that day.
AJ Allmendinger would finish off his dominate day with the win. Leading 73 of the 94 laps, he was one of the few cars left that wasn’t covered in gaffer tape.
This was AJ’s second win this season, and second win at a road course. It’s also the 3rd straight win for the number 22 Mustang, with Brad Keselowski winning the previous two races. For the inaugural race at Mid Ohio, I don’t think it could of gone any better. Plenty of action, a huge crowd, and an awesome racetrack. Hopefully the Nationwide Series plans on coming back again next year, and maybe someday the Sprint Cup will expand their road course list too.
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