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A street race would be nice, but not easy for NASCAR

The NASCAR Pinty’s Series has raced at Exhibition Place in Toronto 12 times. (Photo by Caitlin Patrick/CANRace)

Being from Canada, opportunities to watch big races in person are rather limited. Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, commonly referred to as Mosport, holds the only major NASCAR series race that is held in Canada, the Chevy Silverado 250 for the Camping World Truck Series, an event that rarely disappoints. Then there’s IMSA’s annual adventure across the border, racing at CTMP a week after their big six-hour event at Watkins Glen.

But two of the nation’s biggest events happen to take place on street tracks: the Honda Indy for Indycar and GP3R at Circuit Trois-Rivières, just outside of Montreal. The NASCAR Pinty’s Series races at both events, with Trois-Rivières shutting the core of their city down for what is essentially a regional racing series, yet one that attracts major crowds and exciting events outside of the 11-turn race course.

Jeff Gordon recently called for NASCAR to add a street race in the future after watching a clip of Andrew Ranger make a daring pass on Alex Tagliani late in the race to win at Toronto.  NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell called it the best race of the weekend, which included a trio of races at Kentucky, a mile and a half track. Kyle Petty said on NASCAR America that he would love to see it with the current cup cars.

So, what gives? There’s certainly an interest for it, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Part of that has to do with the size of the cars itself. Formula One races on street courses and some of their best events happen to be on them. But with just 20 cars on the track at a time (many that are off the pace, mind you) at about 1,616 pounds each, it’s not exactly a fair comparison. Then there is IndyCar, who, outside of the four current street courses that make up five races on the schedule, have also raced at Baltimore, Houston and Sao Paulo (Edmonton was considered a street course, but the race was held at an airport). Heck, ChampCar raced at 21 street courses from 1979 to 2007.

The NASCAR Pinty’s Series races at two street tracks a year in Toronto and Trois-Rivieres. (Photo from Steven Ellis/CANRace)

Sure, Australian Supercars are quite bulky, weighing at just over 3,100 pounds, and they race some incredible street tracks. But let’s not forget one thing: those cars are specifically made for turning left and right each week and the drivers have more experience racing those types of tracks.

So while the racing is typically solid at street courses, it’s just not simple to put 40 Monster Energy Cup Series cars on the track at one time.

The NASCAR Pinty’s Series produces some incredible racing at street tracks, whether it be at the tight corners, physical battlefield at Trois-Rivières or the beautiful scenery that surrounds the streets of Toronto. With screens around the track, fans can still keep an eye what’s going on, and some lucky fans can watch the race from the comfort of their own balcony. There never seems to be a dull moment.

Back before NASCAR took over the CASCAR series, the 2000 Toronto race saw Kevin Dowler beat out 40 other cars in an incredible dogfight that saw just one caution, somehow. Two years later, Dowler came from last place (37th) to win it again, leading just three laps to beat out a field that included NASCAR crew chief Cole Pearn and part-time MENCS driver D.J. Kennington.

But we’re talking about cars that produce just less than half the horsepower with close to 500 pounds less weight. These days, the Toronto race only attracts around 20 competitors, which seems to work just fine.

Here’s the reality: putting 40 “stock cars” on a street track that doesn’t allow for much passing just isn’t simple. The defunct American Le Mans Series used to produce some incredible racing at Long Beach with over 30 cars, and the Weathertech SportsCar championship had a tremendous 35-car affair back in 2017. But sportscars are meant to be driven on the street, and Daytona Prototype International cars weight significantly less than the 3,300-pound stock car that doesn’t do a whole lot of right turns.

The scenery that surrounds street tracks are second to none. (Photo by Steven Ellis/CANRace)

This isn’t an easy issue. NASCAR can’t own a street track and they seem to favour going to tracks that they control. Logistically, how can you fit 40 cars and teams at the track without taking up too much space with support classes? A 40-car cup series field is going to require more space and resources than 40 Pinty’s cars, which typically have small crews and some teams still use small trailers to transport their vehicles.

Why bring up the fact that the cars are big and heavy? Because you’d think that NASCAR would have figured out how to make it happen at some point.

Could this be something that tries with the Camping World Truck Series? They already race at CTMP and have had some fantastic races at Eldora over the past few years, so their series isn’t afraid of a bit of rough stuff on the track. With just 32 cars in a truck field, that could be more doable. How fun would it be to watch them be a support series for IndyCar at Long Beach or Detroit?

That’s the thing: I think most people could agree that it would be fun. The close action would make it tough to beat. Street tracks these days are designed much better than we’ve seen in the past.

But where could a race take place? New York City, perhaps? Formula E races there already, so it could be doable. A race was done in Miami back in 2015, and Formula One has looked to racing there, but NASCAR already has a race at Homestead, and even though Homestead hosts the championship race, they could feel overshadowed by a brand new style of track if a street course was introduced locally.

Attendance in NASCAR Pinty’s Series races on street courses are among the highest on the schedule. (Matthew Manor/NASCAR)

You have to wonder that, with NASCAR’s decision to make the second Charlotte race a road course event (the first time the cup series will have ever attempted a roval), that they could consider shaking things up, especially if attendance continues to decline. Maybe NASCAR fans are too bored of the same tracks every year. That’s a possibility, but if you were a big fan, don’t you think you’d want to go to your local race if you had the chance? Maybe I see it differently because I’ve been to most of the major race tracks in Canada.

It’s not like a street track is hard to get to. If you live in the city, you’re essentially there. There’s no need to drive 50 miles outside of the main downtown core to go watch a race if you hold it in the middle of a city.

As fun as it would be to get one of NASCAR’s top three levels competing on a street track (you know, where cars drive all the time), the fact seems to be that it just isn’t easy enough. NASCAR is known for high speeds around big tracks. Street courses wouldn’t offer either of those. These aren’t IndyCars — they’d have to essentially go full-contact just to make a pass.

But it’s a different discipline that very few drivers have ever attempted (in a legal sense, of course). Kurt Busch raced in two of the three NASCAR Southwest Series races at the Los Angeles Street Circuit at the end of the 1990s and Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton came close to a victory there in 2000. Those three events in downtown Los Angeles were fun, and would be something that I bet drivers would be in favour of at the cup level.

If I was in charge, I know I’d make it happen. But I’m not in charge, and I simply can’t see it happening any time soon as it is.

Steven Ellis View All

Steven is a copy editor for Canadian Press - Pagemasters North America in Calgary, Alberta. Steven has also covered hockey for the past eight years and has covered NASCAR events since 2015.

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