Fun Facts From NASCAR’s Long History With Road Racing

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Fun Facts From NASCAR’s Long Road Racing HistoryGeorge Tiedemann - Getty Images

The NASCAR Cup Series has a long history with road racing, dating back to the second race on the 1949 schedule when the Strictly Stock class raced along the AIA in Daytona Beach, Florida.

NASCAR is at Sonoma, Calif., this weekend for the Save Mart 500 on the 2.5-mile road course at Sonoma Raceway. This will be the 35th Cup race at Sonoma, and the all-time NASCAR winner at the circuit is Jeff Gordon.

To get the racing blood pumping for somewhat of a change of pace to the schedule, here are some fun facts and figures about NASCAR’s long history with road racing:

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Red Byron won NASCAR’s first road-course race.RacingOne - Getty Images

NASCAR'S First Road Course Race

The sport’s second Cup Series race (called “Strictly Stock” at the time) was on a 4.150-mile circuit along part of Highway A1A south of Daytona Beach, Fla. in July of 1949. That stretch of public highway was about as close to “road racing” as anything NASCAR founder/president Bill France could manage.


The city let him close down a 2-mile stretch of the heavily traveled highway. His new-fangled stock car series could then race southward on asphalt before turning left at an opening in the sand dune, then head northward for about two miles on the hard-packed sand of the nearby beach.

Red Byron won that first “road race,” a 40-lap event that covered about 166 miles. Tim Flock, Frank Mundy, Joe Littlejohn, and Bill Blair finished top-5 in the race that featured Sarah Christian and Ethel Mobley, the sport’s first female racers.

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Riverside hosted 48 NASCAR Cup Series races before closing in 1988.Bob Riha Jr - Getty Images

17 Different Road Courses

Seventeen venues have hosted the 162 Cup Series road races since 1949. Riverside Raceway had 48 before closing after the 1988 season, leaving Watkins Glen (40) and Sears Point (34) as the current leaders. Fourteen other venues have hosted road races, including airports runways in Alabama, Washington state, and New Jersey, where Al Keller won in a Jaguar.

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Dan Gurney won his first NASCAR race at Riverside in 1963.The Enthusiast Network - Getty Images

First-Time NASCAR Winners

• Seven drivers got their first Cup Series victory at Riverside: Eddie Gray in 1958, Dan Gurney in 1963, Ray Elder in 1971, Mark Donohue in 1973, Tim Richmond in 1982, and Ricky Rudd and Bill Elliott in 1983;

• Juan Pablo Montoya got his breakthrough Cup victory at Sears Point in 2007 and Daniel Suarez broke through in 2023. First-timers at Watkins Glen International include Steve Park in 2000, Marcos Ambrose in 2011, A.J. Allmendinger in 2014 and Chase Elliott in 2018.

jeff gordon looked strong midway in the save mart kragen 350 nascar race at sears point raceway in sonoma, ca he went on to win the event this was gordon's third consecutive win at sears point raceway and his 6th consecutive
Jeff Gordon is NASCAR’s winningest driver on road courses with nine wins.MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images - Getty Images

Jeff Gordon is No. 1

The winningest road course drivers: Jeff Gordon (9), Tony Stewart (8), Chase Elliott (7), Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace (6 each), Richmond, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, and Martin Truex Jr. (5 each), and Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and Mark Martin (4 each).

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Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, was one of a record seven road courses on the 2021 Cup schedule.Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

Most Road Course Races on the Schedule

Only twice in NASCAR’s 76-year history has it gone a season without at least one road race: 1959 and 1962. Riverside was the only road course between 1967-1985 and had three races in 1981. NASCAR had a high of seven road races in 2021, then six in 2022 and 2023. This year’s schedule shows five: COTA (William Byron won there last month), Sears Point and Chicago in the regular season, then Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval in the Playoffs.

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Mark Martin was the master of Watkins Glen in the 1990s.RacingOne - Getty Images

Most Consecutive Road Course Wins

Four-time champion Jeff Gordon had an unworldly streak of road course success at one point. Between 1997 and 1999 he won five consecutive road races—three at Watkins Glen at two at Sears Point – then came back after a rare loss at Watkins Glen in 2000 to win at Sonoma in 2000 and Watkins Glen in 2001. … fellow Hall of Fame driver Mark Martin started from the pole and won the 1993, 1994, and 1995 races at Watkins Glen; Bill Elliott (1983 at Riverside) and his son Chase (2018 at Watkins Glen (are the father and on to have gotten their inaugural Cup Series victory on a road course.