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NASCAR Sonoma Preview

by Dave Grayson
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

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Kyle Busch on way to victory in 2008
The teams that comprise the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be found in the wine country of northern California this weekend at the Infineon Raceway. Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 will see the teams taking on one of the most challenging road courses in the country. The track is demanding on the cars especially on the brakes. It's also a physical challenge for the drivers that often attacks their levels of patience especially during the waning laps of the race. As always this race is loaded with special guest drivers, known as "road course ringers", who have expertise in the ability to turn both left and right.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Toyota/Save Mart 350, measured in kilometers, is actually 218.9 miles/110 laps around a 1.99 mile road course with ten turns.

The track opened in 1968.

The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held there in 1989.

The track presently can seat 47,000 but has plenty of hillside space for lawn chair spectators.

The race will be broadcast by TNT beginning at 3:30pm eastern time. The re air will be on Wednesday, June 24th, on the Speed Channel beginning at 12pm eastern.

The race has 46 entries vying for the $5.6 million total purse.

There are 11 teams outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points, aka the "go or go home" list, who will have to qualify their way into the race on speed.

The 2008 defending race champion is Kyle Busch in the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

But it's Hendrick Motorsport's Jeff Gordon who rules the stats at this track. Gordon tops the list with 5 wins and 5 poles. He also holds the record for the most laps led, 92, by a race winner.

Because of Gordon's stats Chevrolet tops the manufacturer's win list with nine.

Infineon Raceway has two track qualifying records due to reconfiguration that occurred in 2005. Rusty Wallace set the qualifying record, on the old course layout, in 2000 with a speed of 99.309 MPH. Jeff Gordon holds the record, for the modern day layout, set in 2005 at 94.325 MPH.

An Infineon Raceway event has it fair share of caution flags. The record is nine set in 1990. The fewest amount of cautions was four back in 2002. But it needs to be pointed that these are full course cautions. Local yellows, used frequently in road course racing, is an entirely different set of numbers.

A VERY IMPORTANT RACE FACTOR

The double file restart policy, recently established by NASCAR, may turn out to be most interesting on this road course. The new restart rule has been extremely successful in the last two races and the fans love it. However this Sunday the double file restarts, while heading into a left hand turn followed by a sharp right hander, could become a huge factor in the outcome of the race.

A RACE FACTOR THAT'S NOT AS IMPORTANT AS IT USED TO BE.

That would be the presence of the road course ringers. There are seven of them entered into the Infineon race featuring well known road course names such as Boris Said and Ron Fellows. Back in the day these ringers were hired by NASCAR teams because their skills in this form of racing far exceeded those of the team's regular drivers.
That theory doesn't seem to be as effective today as it used to be. There may be two basic reasons for this. First, is the availability of the high quality road course driving schools all over the country. Many of the modern day Sprint Cup drivers have attended these schools over the years. The second reason is the young group of drivers in the Sprint Cup that began their racing careers as young children. Many of these drivers started in kart racing. In that particular world road courses are often a major part of that racing format.

It also needs to be pointed out that nearly all of the road course ringers, in Sunday's race, are driving for teams on the "go or go home" list. The lone exception is road race veteran Patrick Carpentier who will be subbing for Michael Waltrip.

However there are a few Sprint Cup regulars who came from road racing series who will bear watching. The names Juan Pablo Montoya, Robby Gordon, Marcus Ambrose and Scott Speed immediately comes to mind.

THE VEGAS REPORT

The latest line for the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, WSE, indicates no real surprise that Kyle Busch tops the rankings at 5 to 1 odds to win at Infineon.

Another rather interesting wager might be series' points leader Tony Stewart who is rated at 11 to 2.

Jeff Gordon, who leads all of the major categories connected to this race, comes in at 6 to 2 as does former road racing veteran Juan Pablo Montoya.

From that point the WSE doesn't seem to be confident about some of the other driver ratings such as Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick set at 16 and 18 to 1 respectively.

The same sentiment applies to the quartet of Mark Martin, Ron Fellows, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson set at 20 to 1.

There's not a lot of optimism for drivers Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Patrick Carpentier at 25 to 1 and it's the same sentiment for Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne at 30 to 1.

Now brace yourself members of the Junior Nation because this one is going to hurt. The WSE has ranked fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr at 40 to 1 this Sunday.

SOME VERY WORTHWHILE CAUSES.

This Sunday the Infineon Raceway will be paying tribute to four fallen members of the nearby Oakland Police Department, OPD, who perished in the line of duty this past March. Four OPD motorcycle units will lead the 43 car starting field at the beginning of the race. Additionally the OPD will be manning a booth to accept donations to aide the families of the four officers.

The raceway will also be hosting their fourth annual track walk following the conclusion of the Toyota/Save Mart 350. Fans will be allowed to walk around the track searching for blue and gold painted lug nuts that they can turn in for prizes. Some of those upper level prizes include a wide screen television, Save Mart gift certificates and tickets for the 2010 race. Participation in the walk is free of charge but fans will be encouraged to consider making a donation to the Speedway Children's Charities. This was an innovation by raceway owner Bruton Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc. who established one of these charities at each of the race tracks owned by SMI. The Sonoma County Chapter of Speedway Children's Charities benefits youth groups in the area and has raised over $3 million since its inception in 2002.

The Infineon Raceway will also be saluting the 50th anniversary of the NFL's Oakland Raiders this weekend and named former quarterback Ken Stabler as the Grand Marshal for the race. Stabler was the quarterback who led the Raiders to their first Super Bowl win back in 1977. On Friday night Stabler will also be presiding over the annual Children's Champions Grand Marshal's Banquet. This prestigious event also benefits the Speedway Children's Charities.

KEEP A SHARP EYE ON THE WEST SERIES RACE AS WELL.

The companion event, for the NASCAR weekend at Infineon Raceway, will feature the NASCAR Camping World West Series running the Bennett Lane Winery 200 presented by Super Cuts this Saturday afternoon. The 64 lap event has 46 entries vying for the 40 starting spots.

The race also has some rather interesting special guests. Absolutely topping that list is 81 year old Hershel McGriff. This ageless wonder retired from active driving in 2002 following a stellar career that covered seven decades. Claiming that he got bored with retirement, McGriff plans to drive the three road course events on this year's Camping World West Series schedule. He'll be bringing a wealth of experience to Saturday's race. McGriff is a four time series winner at Infineon and has three pole position awards there.

McGriff's entire NASCAR career is loaded with impressive stats that include:

The 1986 West Series championship.

Third on the all time series win list with 35 victories.

Third on the all time series pole winner list with 37.

His 12 wins in the 1972 season still stands as a series record.

He became the oldest West Series race winner at age 61.

He was voted the West Series most popular driver 12 consecutive years from 1981 to 1992.

He's the recipient of NASCAR's Award of Excellence.

He listed among NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers.

If he can find the checkered flag this Saturday he will become the oldest NASCAR winner from any of their series.

Also on the guest list for this race is NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Joey Logano. His presence with the Camping World West Series is the latest intelligent move by his team owner Joe Gibbs Racing. Logano in this race will provide the young driver with needed road course experience as well as lap time on a track he's never raced on before.

Also in this race is Sprint Cup regular David Gilliland. As a former Camping World West Series veteran, Gilliland knows the fast way around Infineon and could likely become a major player in the race.

The same can be said for road course ringers Boris Said and Tom Hubert who will also be paying a visit to the West Series this Saturday.

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