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Road America vets say caution pays off


ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) — With the caveat that it would be difficult to get race car drivers to agree on just about anything, here’s a general consensus on Road America: Drivers love the track, but aren’t thrilled with what it does to the mentality of some of their colleagues.

The four-mile road course’s combination of long, high-speed straightaways, followed by heavy braking zones and sharp turns, creates several potential passing zones — perhaps more than can be found at other road courses.

Most of the time, that’s a recipe for a pretty good show. But when the field is bunched up and streaming toward one of those sharp turns — say, on a late-race restart — it only takes one or two over-aggressive drivers to make a boneheaded move that causes big problems for everybody else.

“I like racing here; I don’t like wrecking here,” Nationwide series points leader Regan Smith said. “It seems like what we do at the end of these races is nothing but wrecking. You know, that’s the frustrating part as a driver, is you can do everything right all day long, not slip a tire, put yourself in the best possible position and still finish 30th because somebody decides they’re going to use you as their brake zone instead of using their head.”

Smith doesn’t mean that as a direct criticism of the track, or road-course racing in general.

“I want to choose my words carefully here, because I thoroughly enjoy road racing,” Smith said. “I like coming to the road courses. I think they’re a very important part of what we do. I think the fans like them. I think the excitement that builds up for those last 10 laps is unlike anywhere we go anymore.”

Continued Smith, “I think the racing is very good when we do it the right way. And I think there’s a fine line, as we said, between doing it the right way and just driving through people. And we’ve seen some of these guys in the past that just drive through people, and it’s aggravating. You can hear it in the announcers’ voices when they see it happen, you can hear it in the drivers’ voices afterward. But with that said, that’s also excitement after the race. It’s excitement all the way around.”

Said Sam Hornish Jr.: “People throw it down there and forget where their braking point is and plow into the back of somebody. And I’ve come up with a little strategy to keep myself from getting run over, and that’s to be behind the guys that run over you. But that doesn’t help you win quite as much. If you can be in the first two guys or three guys, that’s a good place to be, and if you can be, like, 10th, that’s a good place to be. To be anywhere in the middle, you’ve kind of got a problem.”

Bottom line?

“You stay on the racetrack, you’re going to have a pretty good day,” Hornish said.