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Fans Split on NASCAR’s Track Limits at COTA

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What’s Happening?

As road courses have evolved over time, asphalt run-off has replaced the traditional grass and gravel traps that align many road courses, making track limits tougher to police. This is especially prevalent in NASCAR, where they take a more hands-off approach to policing track limits, but, it can lead to some controversies. Should NASCAR police track limits at COTA closer than they have in the past?

  • COTA lends itself to track limits controversies thanks to its’ large swaths of asphalt run-off. This entices the drivers to push it just a little extra to gain a little extra speed using the extra pavement.
  • While NASCAR has been generally hands-off with track limits in the past, they have tightened up some in the offseason. This particularly came with a rule change at Watkins Glen during the off-season.
  • Fans are split on the track limits issues. Many road course racing purists prefer to see drivers stay within the track, but, others are okay with drivers pushing it a bit.

How NASCAR Polices Track Limits

While NASCAR is a bit free with track limits, they don’t just let drivers drive anywhere. NASCAR does not take kindly to drivers cutting corners, so, drivers who break track limits in that way are usually penalized. The esses at COTA, the bus stop at Watkins Glen, and the chicanes at the Charlotte Roval are good examples.

However, NASCAR will often let drivers venture slightly off the race track off of tight turns with large swaths of run-off. Turn 4 at Sonoma, turn 1 at Watkins Glen, and turns 1, 19, and 20 at COTA are great examples.

Circle B Diecast Block

However, we have seen a slight rules change in the offseason at Watkins Glen where NASCAR is looking to prevent these driver escapades. Watkins Glen will be adding extra rumble strips on the outside of turn one to prevent drivers from pushing the limits too far.

This is primarily due to the wall that juts inward off of that corner that drivers have to funnel through to get into the esses, and it was the sight of this big crash in 2011. While not caused by pushing track limits, it shows how dangerous a crash at that spot can be with cars tightly packed.

Why NASCAR Could Police it Tighter

Drivers going off the race track and into the runoff just looks unprofessional to some. Instead of taking the turn properly as the track was designed, drivers are using extra pavement to change the cornet slightly. Policing track limits to now allow drivers to use the extra pavement takes care of this problem.

It would also clean up a lot of messes on restarts. If there is extra asphalt off of the corner, drivers are more willing to knock other drivers off of the race track, which can cause problems. We saw above how the bottleneck at Watkins Glen can turn into a frightening crash, and we see below how a turn-one restart at COTA can turn into chaos very quickly.

Policing track limits forces drivers to be more careful. It may not prevent every accident, but, it does require drivers to be more cautious heading into a tight corner where big moves are made.

Ultimately, it’s a multi-faceted argument regarding both the spirit of the law and safety. If the track limits dictate where the track ends, then follow it. There’s a reason the track is only so wide.

Why NASCAR Should Keep it As Is

The crux of this argument is simple, if the asphalt is there, then use it. If drivers are on the outside of the race track, then they are technically taking a longer path to get around a corner. This would slow a driver down in some cases, so, there is a consequence to pushing the envelope too far.

On top of that, more racing room means more opportunities for drivers to be aggressive and overtake other drivers. Look at the finish to the 2022 race at COTA, where Ross Chastain, A.J. Allmendinger, and Alex Bowman all used all of the race track they possibly could.

If drivers are allowed to be more aggressive, then that creates more interesting racing. It’s not like the drivers are taking major shortcuts. They’re just pushing the track as far as they possibly can.

Ultimately, what’s the harm in certain track limits being a little fuzzy? It creates plenty of fun moments.

Which side of the argument do you fall on? Should track limits be more heavily enforced, or, should NASCAR keep the rules more free?

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Joshua Lipowski

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