The “Road Course Ringer” is an interesting piece of NASCAR history. Back in the early days when there were only one or two road courses on the schedule, certain drivers would skip road course races and give those rides to road course veterans. Nowadays, since road courses are far more common, and full-time drivers being more common now than ever, the Road Course Ringer is less common than it once was.
That being said, there are a few drivers throughout NASCAR history who made their money on road courses. This is not a list about the greatest road course racers in NASCAR history, rather, a list of drivers who were in NASCAR either primarily or purely because of their prowess on road courses.
Dan Gurney (5 Cup Series Road Course Wins)
Dan Gurney was NASCAR’s original “Road Course Ringer”. While he did make three starts at the Daytona 500 with a best finish of fifth in 1963, Gurney primarily ran on road courses. He made nine starts at Riverside International Raceway in California.
In 1963, his third career Cup start, Gurney made a start for Holman-Moody in the 28 car typically driven by Fred Lorenzen, and Gurney went on to win. He would win four more times in the Cup Series all at Riverside. He was so good, that some of the sports most iconic teams called for his serviced on road courses.
The Wood Brothers put Gurney in the 121 car at Riverside five times, and Gurney won four times. In 1970, petty Enterprises entered Gurney at Riverside in the 42 car, and Gurney won the pole before finishing sixth. In 1980, Gurney made his final career start at Riverside for Rod Osterlund, who would win the Championship that year with Dale Earnhardt driving.
Marcos Ambrose (2 Cup Series Road Course Wins; 5 Xfinity Series Road Course Wins)
While Marcos Ambrose did run seven full-time NASCAR seasons, two in Xfinity and five in Cup, his success was primarily on road courses. Even when he was running full-time in Cup, he was tabbed six times by both JTG-Daugherty and Richard Petty Motorsports to run road courses in the Xfinity Series even times between 2009 and 2014. Ambrose won four of those races.
In the Cup Series, Ambrose won at Watkins Glen twice in a row in dramatic fashion. In 2011, Ambrose beat out Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch on an Overtime restart for his first career Cup Series win. In 2012, Ambrose worked his way through an oil-slicked track past Keselowski on the last lap for his second career win.
Some may remember Ambrose for stalling the car under caution at Sonoma, while others may remember him for botching the last corner at Montreal in the Xfinity Series in 2009. However, that would be ridiculously short sighted. Ambrose was a threat every time the Cup Series came to a road course, and he was truly one of the best at it.
Ron Fellows (4 Xfinity Series Road Course Wins; 2 Truck Series Road Course Wins)
A two-time winner at Le Mans in the GT category, Ron Fellows was always a popular pick for race teams to race on road courses. While most of his success came in the lower series, Fellows had some success in the Cup Series finishing second at Watkins Glen in 1999 and 2004.
Five of his six career NASCAR wins came at Watkins glen with two in the Truck Series and three in the Xfinity Series. In 40 races between the two series, Fellows had 20 top-10s and 16 top-5s.
His finest hour came at Montreal in the Xfinity Series in 2008. For the first time in NASCAR history, rain tires were used, and, while others struggles, Fellows kept his car steady. In a chaotic race that was shortened to 48 laps, Fellows took the win, his final win in the Xfinity Series.
Justin Marks (2016 Mid-Ohio Xfinity Series Winner)
Before Justin Marks was a team owner, he was a driver. He won eight times in the NASCAR Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series, a precursor to the current IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. This included a GT class win at the 2009 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
His only ARCA Racing Series win in 2010, of course it was at a road course. In 35 career Xfinity Series races, Marks had seven top-10s, all of which came on road courses. This included his finest hour as a driver in NASCAR at Mid-Ohio in 2016.
NASCAR had to break out rain tires again at Mid-Ohio, and the race was, to put it lightly, a mess. However, Marks was running seemingly as if the track was dry. Marks led 43 laps on the way to his only Xfinity Series win.
Boris Said (1 Xfinity Series Road Course Win, 1 Truck Series Road Course Win)
Boris Said has attracted a bit of a cult-following during his career. He’s won at prestigious races such as the 24 Hours of Daytona, 24 Hours of Nurburgring, and the 12 Hours of Sebring. In NASCAR, Said has had tremendous success on road courses.
While running full-time in the Truck Series in 1998, Said won a race at Sonoma. He would run mainly road courses the rest of his career garnering seven road course top-10s in the Cup Series and one pole at Sonoma in 1998. As much success as he had on road courses, he could not get back to victory lane, until 2010.
Said ran a one-off race for Robby Benton at Montreal in the Xfinity Series in 2010, and he found himself up front on the last lap. After being passed by Max Papis heading into the final turn, Said squeezed underneath Papis, and took the win by 0.012 seconds. A long-awaited win for Said.
With the recent one-off performances of drivers like Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen, and the announcement of Kamui Kobayashi, the “Road Course Ringer” may be having a resurgence. It’s always cool to see these drivers try their hand at NASCAR racing. Usually, these drivers impress too.