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NASCAR At Sonoma 2012: Why Road Course Ringers Don't Succeed

Perhaps more than any other track in NASCAR, the drivers themselves matter the most at Sonoma.

Curiously, though, the so-called "road course ringers" like Boris Said, Tomy Drissi and Chris Cook don't seem to make much of an impact during NASCAR's two annual road racing events.

For example: Despite all the hype, Said has never finished in the top five at Sonoma during 12 career starts. If he's a road-course ace, then what gives? Why can't someone like Said come in and dominate guys who typically run on ovals?

Drivers cited two main factors as the reason ringers don't succeed: The difficulty of the cars and the level of talent in the Sprint Cup Series.

"I think you would struggle to find another racing car that handles quite like these NASCAR Sprint Cup vehicles," said Marcos Ambrose, a former road racer in Australia. "They are a beast to drive. Most road racers are used to a car driving them around the track pretty much. A stock car won't do that around here."

Kevin Harvick said the Cup cars are way different than the ones used in a series like Grand-Am, which come with sequential shifters and a ton of downforce. In NASCAR, the cars have more horsepower than grip, and drivers have to manhandle the cars all around the track.

"You can't race these cars once or twice a year and be competitive, because they are hard to drive," Harvick said. ... I think a lot of people that come in and have driven the cars will tell you that. I think the road race guys will tell you that."

Last year, the highest-finishing road racer at Sonoma was 26th-place Andy Pilgrim. At Watkins Glen, Said led the way with a 22nd-place result.

Road racers haven't fared well at Sonoma so far this weekend, either. Brian Simo replaced David Stremme in the No. 30 car, but failed to qualify for the race. Drissi wrecked Tommy Baldwin Racing's No. 10 car during Saturday's final practice. And Said was only 33rd in Saturday morning practice.

Another reason road course ringers have a hard time succeeding is because drivers in the Sprint Cup Series have gotten a lot better at road racing over the last few years. By doing so, it reduced the need for ringers and also made a good result more difficult to achieve.

Jimmie Johnson noted the lack of opportunities for drivers like Scott Pruett and Ron Fellows and cited the "dramatically improved" talent in Cup as the reason.

"Those (ringers) were go-to for a long, long time," Johnson said. "They have some opportunities, but not the top-tier stuff any longer."

Ambrose said there's a perception that about only half the Cup field is capable of succeeding at a road course, but he called it "a fallacy." And Kasey Kahne said drivers like Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch have "really stepped up" on non-ovals.

"They just make it hard for any road course guy or anybody who wants to come in just to straight up beat them," Kahne said. "Those guys are good."