My how times have changed in the world of NASCAR road course racing.  It wasn't that long ago that guys like Jeff Gordon would walk into the garage at Sonoma and know that they really only had to beat, maybe, eight other drivers.

And, forget counting those road course ringers, they never won and rarely cracked the top-10. 

Now those ringers are about as hard to find as ice cream cones in January.  Yes, there will be a couple at Sonoma, but I'd be surprised to see them end up in the top-15.  This year, they do have one plus over so many of the past ringers; they will have a full-schedule pit crew as opposed to some guys thrown together for the weekend.  But the cars will still be a challenge as they're not what these guys are used to.

Another key reason the ringers are not around much is that, maybe, 18 of the series regulars have a shot at winning.  We've had 8 different winners at Sonoma in the last 8 years.  And, with the shortened regular season, and, now the win and you're in; drivers can longer start the season knowing two races that they'll be bottom-feeders.

You can see the change in the evolution of how these road course races are run, and how much the fan interest has increased.