Author Topic: One for the Road  (Read 1491 times)


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One for the Road
« on: June 23, 2007, 04:13:01 PM »
FINALLY!  We've made it to a road course in the schedule.  I absolutely love road racing.  Mind you, I don't want a series made up of nothing but road course races, but I also don't want one comprised of just ovals.  The elevation changes, the esses, the rights, the lefts, shifting a dozen times or more per lap; man, it's just everything that a driver could want!

Infineon Raceway, formerly known as Sears Point, is one of the most beautiful road courses in the country.  Located in Sonoma, California, right in the middle of Northern California's Wine Valley, the track hosts a number of races and series throughout the year: NASCAR's Cup Series, the IRL, NHRA, Grand-American Rolex Sports Car Series, SCCA, as well as motorcycle racing.  Simply stated, it's a spectacular place to race at, in virtually any type of vehicle.

When it comes to NASCAR, there are several places on the track that are key to a good lap.  The right-hand Turn 2 is one of the first places that is a big key.  Coming up the hill as you hit Turn 2, you've got to be smooth and consistent through it.  The esses are the next spot that seems to really catch a lot of guys off-guard.  The cars carry a ton of speed through the esses and throughout the race you'll see a lot of guys lose the car through this section.  It's a lot of fun to watch!

Arguably the #1 key to a great lap at Infineon, however, is the combination of the really high-speed Turn 10 and the really, really, really slow Turn 11.  The consensus favorite "best place to pass" is Turn 11 under braking, but if you don't get through Turn 10 very well, you can pretty much forget about doing anything in 11.  It is this section of the track that you'll see the guys that are really good blow by the guys that aren't.  Lap after lap, you'll see cars passing one another in Turn 11.  You'll also see guys locking up their brakes and sliding way up out of the groove and being passed.  Also, you're almost guaranteed to see a few guys get run into and turned around in 11.  You might even see a guy lock up his rear brakes and spin all by himself.

Who to Watch
Who? #60, Boris Said (It's actually #160, but on the car it just says '60'.)
Why? Of all of the "road course ringers", Said is arguably the best of the bunch.  Boris has taught nearly every NASCAR "regular" at least some of the tricks to road course racing, and some of the drivers have stated that if it weren't for Said, they wouldn't know anything about road racing.  While he has yet to win in a Cup car, Boris is almost a lock for a solid Top 10 finish at Sonoma.  He has 3 Top 10s in his last 5 Sonoma starts, and he qualified 4th this weekend.

Who? #11, Denny Hamlin
Why? For some reason, the "hard" tracks seem to really fit Hamlin's style.  He has only 2 career road course starts, but has turned in a 10th and 12th place result in those two races.  He has had good cars all year long, and there should be no reason to expect anything different this weekend.  I think Denny will turn in a solid Top 15 run on Sunday, and very well might end up in the Top 10.

Who? #96, Ron Fellows
Why? Like Said, Fellows is a "road course ringer".  His resume is spectacular, and although he has not won in a Cup car, Ron has taken both a NASCAR Craftsman Truck (twice, 1997, 1999) and a NASCAR Busch Series car (three times, 1998, 2000, 2001) to Victory Lane on the road course at Watkins Glen.  The car he is driving this weekend was piloted by Terry Labonte to a 3rd place finish at Infineon last year, which was the team's first year of existence.  Starting 11th on the grid Sunday, Fellows doesn't have nearly as far to go to get the car to the front as Labonte did last year after starting 37th.  I don't think he'll win the race, but I would not be surprised to see the #96 with another Top 5 at the end of the day Sunday.

Who? #42, Juan Pablo Montoya
Why? JPM should be fun to watch this weekend.  He has really pissed off a lot of people this year, and I think this very well may be the race in which he gets what's coming to him.  I think a lot of the enemies he has made leave him alone (for the most part) on the ovals because they count on him taking himself out, which he has done more often than not.  However, on a road course, I think they see him as a serious threat, and I just have a sneaky suspicion that they're not going to let him run up front for very long, if at all.  After a very poor qualifying effort (32nd), Montoya has a lot of ground to make up.  If he manages to make it cleanly through the field, which doesn't seem very likely, he'll probably turn in a Top 5 run.  Whether he gets taken out or makes it through cleanly, either way he should be fun to watch on Sunday.

Who? #24, Jeff Gordon
Why? It's his year.  It's a road course.  Gordon has more road course wins than any other driver in NASCAR history.  His wife just gave birth to their first child on Wednesday.  He's got a point to prove after being forced to start in the back (41st).  Unless he gets caught up in someone else's mess, look for the #24 to be in the Top 5 by the race's end.

Who? #45, Kyle Petty
Why? You need a long shot, right?  Kyle's car actually looked really good in qualifying on Friday.  He has been middle-of-the-pack on the speed charts throughout the weekend.  He had a solid 3rd place finish about a month ago (Charlotte).  He has 1 win on a road course.  Who knows, maybe he can pull off another solid finish this weekend.

Who? #12 Ryan Newman and #2 Kurt Busch, Penske Racing
Why? These guys have both proven over the last couple of years that they are threats on the road courses.  After qualifying 9th and 14th, respectively, Newman and Busch should be at or near the front as the laps wind down yet again this weekend.

Who? #7, Robby Gordon
Why? It's a road course.  The guy is a phenomenal road racer.  If his car holds together for 110 laps, he'll be in the Top 5 at the end, and very well might pull off another win.  He's a legitimate contender, I believe.

Who's Going to Win
I had to rewrite my article this week after qualifying on Friday.  Quite frankly, I just don't think you can win from 41st on a road course.  I would, however, love to be proved wrong.  Terry Labonte took a mediocre car to 3rd from 37th.  As a rookie, Denny Hamlin took a decent car from 40th to 12th.  I fully expect the #24 to be a spectacular car, and we all know what its driver can do at Sonoma, so he might get it done, but I'm not counting on it.  Instead, it'll be Tony Stewart taking the #20 to Victory Lane in Wine Valley.

The one guy that consistently gives Jeff Gordon a run for his money each and every road race is Stewart.  Like the two Gordons, Smoke is a phenomenal road racer.  He has 2 wins at Sonoma (2001, 2005) and a runner up finish in 2002 as well.  Besides, it's late in the month of June.  Over his career, this is the time of year that Smoke starts, well, smoking the competition.  Look for the #20 Home Depot car in Victory Lane at Infineon Raceway on Sunday.

Happy racing.