For the first 15 races run in the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit, the drivers have raced on a variety of ovals ranging in all different sizes with the common link being that they make left turns all race long. This week at Infineon Raceway, NASCAR fans get to see the drivers make right and left turns on the Sonoma road course, one of only two road races run on the season.
The change of pace and seeing these big heavy stock cars whip in and out of the turns is a welcomed sight. With the technical aspect of racing on road courses, the list of candidates to win is vastly different from what we normally see on ovals. While Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and the Busch brothers have hogged most of the wins and headlines this year, at the road courses, the names of Marcos Ambrose, Robby Gordon, and Juan Pablo Montoya get their chance at the limelight.
Marcos Ambrose has had a tough season thus far sitting 30th in points with only one top-10 finish, but based on the way he practiced Friday and Saturday, things are about to get better really fast. Not only was Ambrose faster than everyone else in all three practice sessions, but he did it by a wide margin in both single and average lap times. There isn’t anyone even close to Ambrose.
If looking at what Ambrose has done in his last three road course races where he had similar practice results, there is good reason to believe that Ambrose could be in line for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. Between the last three combined races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, Ambrose has finished no worse than third-place.
The drivers that would appear to give Ambrose the most trouble Sunday have been the two best road warriors over the last 12 years. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have combined to win 16 road races in their career. While Gordon hasn’t been the same dominant road racer he once was, Stewart is still in his prime having won at Watkins Glen last season.
Gordon and Stewart didn’t have very good practices on Saturday, but their good starting positions and past history suggest they will be just fine on race day. Stewart is also coming into this race with back to back top-five finishes, his best run of the season.
Kevin Harvick has never been known for his road racing skills, but his skills are pretty advanced in comparison with some of the others regulars. He won at Watkins Glen in 2006 and finished runner-up at Sonoma in 2007. Outside of Ambrose, Harvick had the best combined practice and qualifying sessions placing within the top-six of each.
Harvick’s Childress Racing teammates all should have decent runs Sunday as well. Jeff Burton has only one career top-five in his 16 Sonoma starts, but he was getting around the track pretty good on Saturday as he had the third fastest practice lap during happy hour. Clint Bowyer has shown just by his past performances at Sonoma that he likes the track. In four starts, Bowyer has an average finish of eighth that include two fourth-place finishes.
The Ganassi entries of Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray should fare well Sunday. Montoya has road racing in his blood with his huge credentials from his CART and F-1 days. In his first year of NASCAR racing, Montoya won this race, his only win to date. In his last two runs at Sonoma, Montoya has finished sixth.
During practice, Montoya didn’t wow anyone with speeds, but McMurray did. After starting slow on Friday, McMurray got things together and reeled off the second fastest lap of the day during happy hour. McMurray’s best finish at Sonoma was second-place in 2004.
Martin Truex Jr had a great practice Saturday finishing with the fifth and sixth best times. The speeds shouldn’t come as a surprise just because of all the good information that Marcos Ambrose relayed to his teammates. Truex Jr has shown in the past that he’s pretty good on the roads when he won the 2005 Mexico road race while in the Nationwide Series.
Another past Mexico winner is Denny Hamlin who won there in 2006. Hamlin had his best Sonoma run last year finishing in fifth. In four starts, Hamlin’s average finish position has been 13.5.
Robby Gordon swept the two road course races in 2003 while driving for Richard Childress. He’s one of the best in NASCAR, but he hasn’t had the equipment to show off the last few years while driving the car he owns. Nevertheless, the roads are the great equalizer where the driver has more to do with winning a race than any other on the circuit. Should Gordon’s car stay on the track for the entire race, he’ll make a strong run at stealing this race.
Kasey Kahne turned some heads with his win at Sonoma last year. He had never shown anything in five previous races at Sonoma where his best finish was 23rd in 2007, but he battled hard and won. The way he held off Tony Stewart, who was breathing down his neck in the final stages of the race waiting for Kahne to make a mistake, raised Kahne’s level as a NASCAR driver in many peoples book. Kahne is starting on the pole, but had very ordinary practice times on Saturday.
Roberts Weekly Driver Ratings
Each week I will provide an analysis of my top rated drivers on how well they will do in the race based on the following criteria:
• Practice sessions leading up to the weekend’s Sprint Cup race
• Chassis information on what was brought to each track by each team, good or bad
• Driver tendencies at certain tracks
• Recent and overall histories for each driver at each track
• Decipher poor past results with what really happened, good car — or bad luck?
These final ratings should help assist in final betting strategies with the Las Vegas books or match-up and prop plays, as well as help in NASCAR fantasy leagues.
Micah Roberts Top 10 Driver Ratings
Toyota/Save Mart 350
Infineon (Sonoma) Raceway
Sunday, June 20, 2010 – 12:18 pm (PDT)
Rating Driver Odds Practice 1 Qualifying Practice 2 Practice 3
1. Marcos Ambrose 6/1 1st 6th 1st 1st
Has finished no worse than third-place in his last three Sprint Cup road race starts.
2. Jeff Gordon 5/1 7th 5th 21st 13th
Nine career road course wins; five wins at Sonoma with last coming in 2006.
3. Tony Stewart 5/1 32nd 7th 15th 23rd
Seven career road course wins; two wins at Sonoma. Won at Watkins Glen last year.
4. Kevin Harvick 12/1 5th 4th 6th 4th
Won at Watkins Glen in 2006, best Sonoma finish came in 2007 with second-place.
5. Juan Pablo Montoya 12/1 14th 14th 13th 12th
Won this race in 2007 and finished sixth the last two seasons; his best track in NASCAR.
6. Martin Truex Jr 40/1 10th 10th 5th 6th
Outstanding Saturday practice using a set-up similar to Ambrose. Won at Mexico in Nationwide series road race.
7. Denny Hamlin 12/1 16th 12th 7th 8th
Won 2006 Nationwide series race on Mexico’s road course. Finished fifth last year at Sonoma.
8. Jamie McMurray 40/1 24th 25th 9th 2nd
Best finish came in 2004 with second-place. Had one of the fastest cars during final practice.
9. Kasey Kahne 6/1 4th 1st 17th 25th
Last years surprise winner at Sonoma; It was his first finish inside the top-20 in six previous starts.
10. Robby Gordon 35/1 13th 16th 14th 14th
Two-time road course winner, sweeping the 2003 season — his last top-15 finish at Sonoma.
Odds courtesy of the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book.
Micah Roberts, a former race and sports Director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. He currently writes for multiple publications covering all sports. He can be reached at MM.Roberts7Gmail.com.
TONY STEWART ON WHY HE LIKES RACING AT SONOMA:
“I just like the road courses. I’ve always liked Sonoma. It’s really a driver’s track. It’s tough to make your car drive perfect all day. You can have a really good car, but it’s going to slide around and you’re going to struggle for grip, and that’s what makes it so fun. You have to do the work behind the steering wheel.”
DAVID REUTIMANN’S FAVORITE PART OF GOING TO A ROAD COURSE?
"Leaving (laughs). I mean, it’s just another racetrack. There are tracks on the circuit that aren’t necessarily your favorite, but you have to go to them anyway and not make it a big deal. That’s how this deal is for me."
JIMMIE JOHNSON ON WHAT IT WOULD MEAN TO WIN ON A ROAD COURSE:
"It would mean a lot. Man, every year, since the start of the No. 48 team, we’ve tested more for road courses than any other specific race track. I continue to run the Grand Am series when I can to help. I feel like last year, we were close. We tend to qualify well, but fade in the race some and last year was kind of the reverse of that. We qualified decent and had some troubles early in the race but rebounded and came through and ended up fourth. I have a lot of confidence but at the same time, after eight years of trying, I’m hopeful we have overturned a stone that we have missed in the past. I don’t think we have forgotten any area or missed something, but we’ll go out and give it a shot and see what we can do and I am ready mentally, physically and we did some testing. I think we found a couple of small things that will bring speed to the cars."
SONOMA ODDS & ENDS: TOYOTA/SAVE MART 350
· The track opened as a 2.52-mile road course and drag strip in 1968.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held in 1989.
· The first nine races were 300 kilometers and switched to a 350k format in 1998.
· The track was reconfigured to 1.949 miles in 1998 with the installation of an 890-foot chute between the original Turns 4 and 7.
· The track was reconfigured to 2.0 miles in 2001 and re-measured at 1.99 miles in 2002.
· There have been 21 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Infineon Raceway since the first race there in 1989.
· Rusty Wallace won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup pole.
· Ricky Rudd won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
· 13 different drivers have won poles; only three have won more than one.
· Jeff Gordon (five) leads all pole winners. Ricky Rudd has four, including three consecutive (1990-92) and Rusty Wallace has two.
· There have been five different pole winners in the last five races.
· There have been consecutive pole winners three times: Ricky Rudd (1990-92) and Jeff Gordon (1998-99 and 2004-05).
· 13 different drivers have won races; five have multiple victories there – led by Jeff Gordon with five. Ernie Irvan,Ricky Rudd, Tony Stewart and Rusty Wallace (all with two) are the other multiple-race winners.
· Jeff Gordon is also the only driver with consecutive wins, winning in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
· There have been five different race winners in the last five races: Tony Stewart (2005), Jeff Gordon (2006), Juan Pablo Montoya (2007), Kyle Busch (2008) and Kasey Kahne (2009).
· Five of 21 races have been won by the pole winner, including three times by Jeff Gordon. His victory from the pole in 2004 is the most recent.
· The lowest starting position by a race winner was 32nd, by Juan Pablo Montoya.
· Jeff Gordon is the all-time leader in road-course victories, with nine. Tony Stewart is second, with seven.
NASCAR in California
· There have been 127 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in California:
· 411 drivers from NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as California.
· There have been 33 race winners from California in NASCAR three national series:
Driver NSCS NNS NCWTS
Jeff Gordon 82 5 0
Jimmie Johnson 50 1 0
Marvin Panch 17 0 0
Ernie Irvan 15 3 0
Dick Rathmann 13 0 0
Kevin Harvick 12 36 8
Dan Gurney 5 0 0
Eddie Gray 4 0 0
Parnelli Jones 4 0 0
Eddie Pagan 4 0 0
Robby Gordon 3 1 0
Ray Elder 2 0 0
Danny Letner 2 0 0
Marvin Porter 2 0 0
Casey Mears 1 1 0
Dick Brooks 1 0 0
Marvin Burke 1 0 0
Jim Cook 1 0 0
Lou Figaro 1 0 0
Danny Graves 1 0 0
Johnny Mantz 1 0 0
Bill Norton 1 0 0
John Soares 1 0 0
Danny Weinberg 1 0 0
Ron Hornaday Jr. 0 4 45
Jason Leffler 0 2 1
Mike Skinner 0 1 28
Joe Ruttman 0 1 13
David Gilliland 0 1 0
Matt Crafton 0 0 1
Boris Said 0 0 1
Scott Speed 0 0 1
Brandon Whitt 0 0 1
Infineon Raceway Data
Race #: 16 of 36 (6-20-10)
Track Size: 1.99 miles
Race Length: 110 laps/219 miles/350 kilometers
Driver Rating at Infineon Raceway
Tony Stewart 113.2
Juan Pablo Montoya 111.3
Kyle Busch 101.9
Kurt Busch 101.4
Marcos Ambrose 99.6
Ryan Newman 98.8
Jeff Gordon 97.1
Jamie McMurray 89.6
Boris Said 88.8
Denny Hamlin 87.1
Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005-2009 races (5 total) at Infineon Raceway.
2009 pole winner: Brian Vickers (93.678 mph, 76.475 seconds)
2009 race winner: Kasey Kahne, 71.012 mph, 6-21-09)
Track qualifying record: Jeff Gordon (94.325 mph, 75.950 secs., 6-24-05)
Track race record: Ricky Rudd (81.007 mph, 6-23-02)
Estimated Pit Window: Every 30-32 laps, based on fuel mileage
NASCAR ODDS TO WIN FROM THE LAS VEGAS HILTON SUPER BOOK
TOYOTA/SAVE MART 350
SUNDAY, JUNE 20, 2010
TONY STEWART 5
JEFF GORDON 5
KYLE BUSCH 18
JUAN MONTOYA 12
MARCOS AMBROSE 6
DENNY HAMLIN 15
KEVIN HARVICK 12
KURT BUSCH 12
ROBBY GORDON 35
JIMMIE JOHNSON 7
JAMIE McMURRAY 40
CLINT BOWYER 40
RYAN NEWMAN 40
KASEY KAHNE 6
JEFF BURTON 60
CARL EDWARDS 40
BORIS SAID 40
GREG BIFFLE 30
MARK MARTIN 40
MATTIAS EKSTROM 100
AJ ALLMENDINGER 50
MAX PAPIS 100
JOEY LOGANO 100
MARTIN TRUEX JR 40
MATT KENSETH 200
SCOTT SPEED 100
DALE EARNHARDT JR 100
ELLIOTT SADLER 100
DAVID RAGAN 300
PJ JONES 200
BRAD KESELOWSKI 500
SAM HORNISH JR 500
DAVID REUTIMANN 500