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NASCAR Infineon Preview - Time for right turns too

by Dave Grayson
Friday, June 18, 2010

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Last year's winner Kasey Kahne leads Tony Stewart
It's going to be a major change of pace for the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams this Sunday during the running of the Toyota/SAV MART 350. The traditional left hand turns from the oval tracks will be replaced by left and right hand turns on a 1.99 mile road course. The Sprint Cup teams will be making their annual journey to the wine country of northern California to the Infineon Raceway.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

This is a road course that will severely challenge both the physical and mental capabilities of the drivers. It's a race that has often created some highly entertaining acts of road rage. It's also a race where a driver is going to have to take care of his equipment especially the brakes. This race is also famous for the outcome being determined by fuel conservation.

The crew chiefs will be equally challenged at Infineon. With the diversity of left and right hand turns, initial car set ups, and the subsequent adjustments, will be crucial. Even the pit crews will be dealing with something different. At Infineon Raceway the cars come down pit road the opposite way. In other words the right side of the car will be parked alongside of the pit wall.

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Back in the day NASCAR Sprint Cup team owners had a tendency to make a temporary driver change for the two annual road course events at Infineon and Watkins Glen. Known as road course ringers, team owners signed professionals from the world of road racing who expertise would hopefully put their cars in victory lane. In many cases this driver switch turned out to be lucrative over the years.

But over the past few years we've seen fewer of these road course ringers in the field for the Infineon race. One of the reasons for that is the fact that the modern day Sprint Cup driver is more evolved. There are plenty of established road course racing schools all over the country. More and more the teams are scheduling tests at road courses. There are two road courses, within relative close driving distance of the team's North Carolina headquarters, that are favored by these teams: the Virginia International Raceway and the Carolina Motorsports Park in South Carolina.

There's also the fact that many of the Sprint Cup regulars entered in Sunday's Infineon race have extensive road course experience on their resumes. Those stand outs include the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, who won his first Cup race at Infineon. Others who will bear watching this Sunday include Marcos Ambrose, Robby Gordon, Sam Hornish Jr, A J Allmendinger, Scott Speed and Max Papis.

There are a handful of teams honoring the old school road ringer tradition in Sunday's race but there are some questions regarding how effective they will be in the final finish because they will be driving for underfunded operations. P J Jones, son of the legendary Parnelli Jones, will be driving a second team Toyota for Robby Gordon Motorsports. The Said Heads are happy that their favorite driver, Boris Said, is entered in this race driving the #26 Ford for Latitude 43 Motorsports. Road racing veteran Brian Simo will be taking over the wheel of the #36 Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing.

But there are two other road course ringers in this race that has seemed to garner a little more attention than the others. The first is Jan Magnussen who will be driving the #09 Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing and team owner James Finch. From Denmark, Magnussen has a wealth of experience in Formula One, the IRL, CART, the Grand American Sports Car Series and the American LeMans Series. He's also a General Motors factory driver who has tested Chevrolet stock cars in the past for Hendrick Motorsports.

At a time when there were some recent heavy rumors that said Finch and Rick Hendrick might be teaming up to find a temporary home for Kasey Mears next year while he awaits to take over the HMS #5 car in 2012, it's rather interesting that the Finch Infineon entry is sponsored by Hendrick's online auto center known as Hendrick Cars Dot Com.

Another interesting entry is Swedish driver Mattias Ekstrom who will be driving the #83 Toyota for Red Bull Racing. Ekstrom drives the Red Bull Audi in the DTM which is a German based touring car road racing series. He has 14 wins and two championships in the series. Ekstrom tested Red Bull's Sprint Cup car at the Virginia International Raceway and impressed everyone with the way he quickly got comfortable in the car and got it up to speed.

This seat assignment comes in the middle of a whirlwind of driver changes for the team. It began when driver Brian Vickers was medically sidelined due to the presence of blood clots. Casey Mears was assigned to drive the car for the remainder of the year but apparently that arrangement wasn't working out for Red Bull Racing. Earlier this week RBR announced that driver Reed Sorenson will be taking over the #83 after the Infineon race.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Toyota/SAV MART 350 is race number 16 on the Sprint Cup's 2010 schedule and is110 laps/218 miles around the Infineon Raceway's massive 1.99 mile, 11 turn, road course.

The race has 46 entries. Ten of the entries are on the go or go home list meaning they do not have a guaranteed start in the race because they're currently outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points. These teams will have to rely on their qualifying times to make the race.

The total race purse is $5,520,395.

Weather should not present any problems during the weekend. The northern California forecast calls for sunny skies with daytime highs ranging from the high seventies to the low eighties.

The defending race champion is Kasey Kahne. It marked his first ever road course win and the first win for team owner Richard Petty since 1999.

There has been five different winners in the last five years at Infineon Raceway.

But when it comes to winning at Infineon Jeff Gordon tops the list with five victories including three consecutive wins from 1998 to 2000. In fact he leads in total NASCAR road course wins, Infineon and Watkins Glen, with nine.

Gordon is also tied with Ricky Rudd for most top five finishes at ten and tied for most top tens with team mate Mark Martin at 13. Gordon also holds the track record for most laps led by a race winner at 92.

With those stats Gordon has placed Chevrolet on top of the raceway's manufacturer win list at nine. His five wins has also has placed Hendrick Motorsports on top of the team win list.

Track position is always important at Infineon and that places special emphasis on qualifying. Five of the 21 Sprint Cup races held there have been won from the pole.

Jeff Gordon holds the track qualifying record, 94.325, set in June of 2005. He also holds the track record for most poles at five.

Former San Francisco 49'er running back Roger Craig will be the race's Grand Marshall and will give the drivers the command to start their engines.

"The National Anthem" will be performed by Headline News anchor Robin Meade the host of HLN's popular "Morning Express" program.

The Toyota/SAV MART 350 will be broadcast live by the TNT Network with the pre race show beginning at 2 pm eastern time. The race re air will be on Wednesday, 12 pm et, on SPEED.

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THE TRACK BREAKDOWN

The Infineon Raceway opened in 1968 with a 2.52 mile road course and a drag strip.

The first NASCAR race there was in 1989 and was won by Ricky Rudd. Since that time NASCAR has sanctioned 21 Sprint Cup races there that has sent 13 different winners to victory lane.

The track was reconfigured three times, from 1998 to 2001, and now measures 1.99 miles with 11 turns.

It takes approximately eight miles of temporary fencing to lay out the Sprint Cup course.

The raceway has 47,000 seats but, with seating available on the hillsides overlooking the turns, can accommodate 102,000 fans.

The berms, at the base of each turn, are painted blue and gold in honor of track president Steve Page who is an alumnus from the University of California Berkley.

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THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

The Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE), has a rather interesting line up this week based on drivers with success in road racing along with past race winner. Topping that list is two time winner Tony Stewart at 5 to 1 odds. This is actually a solid bet because, traditionally, Stewart's racing efforts gets hot with the summer weather.

Ranked at 6 to 1 this week is Juan Pablo Montoya who scored his first ever, and only, Cup win at this track. The former Indy Racing League champion and Formula One driver is also a solid bet to win this race. Joining him in this category is every one's favorite Australian Marcos Ambrose. The former road race champion will be looking to change his bad NASCAR luck his team has experienced this year and Infineon could be the place to make that happen. This is also a solid bet. The third driver in the 6 to 1 group is Jeff Gordon and, with his stats at this track, he's heavily favored to win on Sunday.

All by himself, at 7 to 1, this week is former race winner Kyle Busch. This is a driver you never overlook and his team, Joe Gibbs Racing, has been red hot over the past several weeks. At 12 to 1 is his Joe Gibbs team mate Denny Hamlin. While not exactly noted for his road racing expertise, Hamlin and company has been red hot as of late and this might make a rather interesting long shot wager.

At 15 to 1 odds this week are drivers Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson. The duo of Kurt Busch and Robby Gordon are rated at 20 to 1 and either one of these drivers are an interesting long shot wager worthy of consideration. At 25 to 1 you will find Mattias Ekstrom in the Red Bull Toyota along with defending race winner Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray. At those odds Kahne could turn out to be a very lucrative long shot.

At the bottom end of the WSE listing this week you will find the quartet of Boris Said, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman. Closing the list out at 40 to 1 are drivers Jeff Burton, who will be making his 500th Cup start, along with A J Allmendinger and former race winner Mark Martin.

Now for the weekly disclaimer. NASCAR wants to remind you that these numbers should be used for entertainment purposes and they rather that you didn't place wagers on their events. As an alternative you may want to purchase more Red Bull. If they're going to replace Casey Mears with Reed Sorenson they're probably going to need the extra money.

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