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Which Sonoma Layout is better? “The Chute” or “The Carousel”

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What’s Happening?

Like many road courses worldwide, Sonoma Raceway has multiple layouts, and NASCAR has competed on different versions of Sonoma Raceway. NASCAR originally raced on the “Long course,” including “The Carousel,” before a new layout was constructed in 1998 and modified in 2001, bypassing “The Carousel,” instead adding a right-angled turn and “The Chute” into turn seven. Which of these layouts is better?

  • The layout NASCAR currently competes on the “NASCAR Circuit,” which is 1.99 miles long. The original version of this layout from 1998-2000 featured a wide, fast turn, called turn four, just after “The Carousel”, before rejoining the original layout in turn seven. Turn four was reprofiled in 2001 to become a sharper turn with a harder braking zone with a short “Chute” into a modified turn seven hairpin called “7a”, and this layout has been used from 2001-2018 and 2022-Present.
  • The “Long Course” layout is generally the same as the track’s original layout from its 1968 construction. After turn three, drivers brake quickly for a righthander into “The Carousel” before the longest straightaway on the course into a hairpin Turn seven.
  • Fans are split on which layout is better. However, both sides have passionate fans, and there are genuine pros and cons to both race tracks.

Circle B Diecast Block

“The Chute”

“The Chute” is a much shorter layout at Sonoma, over a half-mile shorter to be exact. A shorter layout typically means that drivers are less likely to get quite as strung out, creating closer racing. This doesn’t impact Sonoma too much, but it’s still worth noting.

This layout showcases itself most in the run from four to seven. Drivers have two short blasts with fairly heavy braking zones, which means prime opportunities for passing and incidents. Perhaps the best example was in 2008, when Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, and Jamie McMurray got together in the closing laps.

Due to the action that turns like Turn 7 create with this new layout, fans tend to enjoy it. One could argue that it produces a more action-packed racing product, and it gives drivers a chance to beat and bang, similar to short tracks.

However, turn four also presents a danger to drivers due to the wall jutting out very close to the circuit off the corner after a large swath of run-off. By some miracle, no major incident has happened due to that wall, at least not yet.

Some fans also may not love the constant banging and incidents in those corners and prefer drivers to pass each other cleanly with a little more finesse. However, “The Chute” layout does have its supporters.

Jake says that “The Chute” produces a better overall racing product than the other layout, and he also likes the camera shots it creates.

Zac fully believes that “The Chute” is easily the better product.

Add Christian Whiteley to the list of “Short Course” supporters.

“The Carousel”

“The Carousel” is the original layout of Sonoma, and that’s a big feather in its cap. It’s the way the track was originally constructed, and many fans who have watched racing at Sonoma are partial to the original layout.

This layout also forces drivers to use finesse to pedal their way through the never-ending carousel. This leads onto a long straightaway that gives drivers an even heavier braking zone into a hairpin turn seven. Passing into “The Carousel” isn’t impossible either, as Dale Earnhardt proved in 1995.

However, the layout reduced Sonoma’s race length from 110 laps to 90 laps to complete 350 kilometers in 2020 and 2021. For those at the race track, that means fewer times the cars are blasting past the fans in attendance

Also, does it really produce better racing? NASCAR left the layout not once but twice. That doesn’t happen for no reason. However, “The Carousel” has a ton of supporters.

Kity Kusner normally associates Sonoma with “The Carousel.”

Vito Pegliese cites races at Sonoma in the 1990s as a reason for NASCAR to return to “The Carousel”. We already mentioned the 1995 race above, but, the 1991 race is arguably the best in Sonoma history.

Devin Cook is another who is “Team Carousel”.

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Joshua Lipowski

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