by Tom Jensen February 20, 2021
These NASCAR stars were as skilled at turning right on road courses as they were turning left on ovals.
In 2021, NASCAR is going road racing in a big way, with seven points races where the drivers will have to navigate twists, turns and fierce competition along the way.
Road racing in NASCAR is nothing new, of course. The premier series first raced on the old Daytona Beach & Road Course in its inaugural season of 1949, although that circuit was an oval. NASCAR began racing on road courses in earnest in 1954, when it hosted the International 100 on the Linden Airport circuit in New Jersey. That race, by the way, saw Al Keller win Jaguar’s only NASCAR race, with three other Jaguars finishing in the top six.
In NASCAR history, just six drivers have won at least six races on road courses. Not surprisingly, five of the six already are inductees to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, while the sixth has been on the ballot as a nominee in recent years.
The six NASCAR drivers with the most career premier series road course victories:
Ricky Rudd, 6
Nicknamed “The Rooster” for his toughness and scrappy nature, Rudd’s most famous road course victory may have been his first. It happened in June 1983 at Riverside International Raceway, where Rudd delivered the first victory for car owner and Hall of Famer Richard Childress (2017). Rudd also won at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International and scored road course victories for Robert Yates (2018), Bud Moore (2011) and Rick Hendrick (2017), as well as King Racing. Rudd’s 26 top-five finishes on road courses leads all drivers.
Rusty Wallace, 6
Like Ricky Rudd, Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace (2013) won road races at Riverside International Raceway, Watkins Glen International and Sonoma Raceway, at one point winning three consecutive premier series road races in 1987 and ’88. Wallace also won a big race overseas, putting his Team Penske Ford Thunderbird in Victory Lane in 1997 at the Suzuka East road-course circuit in Japan. Though the Suzuka event was strictly an exhibition, it was still a definite feather in Wallace’s cap.
Bobby Allison, 6
All six road course victories for Bobby Allison (2011) came at the old Riverside International Raceway course in Southern California, where NASCAR used to race twice a year. In an especially memorable 11-race stretch at Riverside from June 1970 to June 1975, Allison won three races and finished second six times. During that streak, Allison’s worst finish at Riverside was sixth and his average finish was 2.36. Allison’s Riverside victories came with four different teams and in four different brands of car: AMC, Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford. Also, Allison holds the record for laps led on a road course with 924.
Richard Petty, 6
NASCAR raced four times at the 2.85-mile Bridgehampton Raceway on Long Island. In July 1963, Richard Petty (2010) won the second of the four Bridgehampton races, a 35-lap affair that paid $1,000 to win. The top finishers in that race featured nine Hall of Fame drivers and a Hall of Fame team owner in Glen Wood (2012), who fielded the No. 21 Ford that Marvin Panch finished third in behind Petty and Fred Lorenzen (2015). Petty’s other five road course victories all came at Riverside International Raceway.
Tony Stewart, 8
Without question, Tony Stewart (2020) was one of the sport’s all-time greats on road courses, winning a record five times at Watkins Glen International and three more times at Sonoma Raceway. In 2005, Stewart won at both tracks, giving him a season sweep of the NASCAR road courses. Stewart’s most memorable road-course victory was his 49th and final career win, which took place at Sonoma in 2016. After a fierce late-race duel, Stewart and his former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin passed each other on the final lap, with Stewart muscling past Hamlin to score a highly emotional victory.
Jeff Gordon, 9
The king of NASCAR road-course racing is Jeff Gordon, a native of Vallejo, California, which is just 13 miles from Sonoma Raceway. Incredibly, from 1997 to 2000, Gordon won six consecutive NASCAR road races, three each at Sonoma and Watkins Glen International. Gordon added two more victories at Sonoma in 2004 and ’06, giving him a record five at the Northern California track. All of Gordon’s road course victories came behind the wheel of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet owned by Rick Hendrick (2017).