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Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

NASCAR at Sonoma
June 18, 2007
By Micah Roberts

This week’s road course race in beautiful Sonoma County, California will be the seventh “Car of Tomorrow” race run. Many NASCAR fans don’t like the road races. They say it’s too slow, not enough passing, and you can’t see the whole race track. Much of that is true on the surface, however, I like to believe that road racing keeps NASCAR within its roots as a series and also as one of the major Auto Racing players in the world.
NASCAR was built by great characters, some who drove their cars on weekdays delivering goods that happened to be illegal in most counties. Those winding narrow roads they hauled their jugs and jars in look more like a road course than an oval to me. What’s wrong with having two out of 36 races a year run on the road course as a tribute to those from the past.

On a global level, roads and street circuits are all that the fans and drivers know abroad. I remember an Englishman commenting on NASCAR and what his thoughts were. He said NASCAR reminded him of a round-a-bout on the Champs Elysee in Paris. Most Europeans just can’t get into it. However, they can relate to a road race. When they see a driver from an International series they recognize, like a Klaus Graf, that creates interest for them.

I think of the NASCAR on the roads much like baseball, which many say is too slow of a game to follow. It can appear to be dull, but the real excitement is the little battles within on every pitch. There’s the strategy of game knowledge mixed in with the guessing each time a pitcher throws the ball. On a road course, the driver has to do so much more with far little time to do it. He has to set up his passes with precision and calculate exactly where everything is going to be and then has to execute. The Track position and fuel game on the roads create far more drama than anywhere else.

The diversity of a road course is also quite refreshing after seeing left turns exclusively through 15 races. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve seen the COT run, so here’s a quick recap of how it has gone so far after six races, “Hendrick still rules the COT universe”.

The last COT race run at Dover showed at least some of the teams and more importantly, other manufacturers, might be catching up a little bit with the Hendrick stable. Martin Truex Jr won that race in convincing fashion for his first career win. Four of the top six finishers drove a Ford or Dodge led by Ryan Newman and three Roush drivers. Denny Hamlin still continued his COT strut with a fifth, but the Hendrick guys didn’t fare so well. Jeff Gordon, who had finished no worse than fourth in any COT race finished ninth. Jimmie Johnson struggled with a 15th and Kyle Busch took a 17th. So, maybe things are evening out.

Before we get too sure that other teams are closing gap on Hendrick, let’s remember where the race is this week. It’s a road course where the driver means more than any race run on the Cup circuit. Drivers are either good or their not, plain and simple. There’s no, “He’s sort of good”. Usually the drivers that are good, race in several sports car series and are hired by team owners specifically for this race and the one in Watkins Glen.

The owners take their regular driver and tell him to sit while a quality road driver boosts the teams points enabling them to have a better chance at getting into a race without qualifying on time by being within the top-35 in season points. Regular Cup drivers sitting this week are Tony Raines, Michael Waltrip, David Reutimann, and possibly David Stremme.

The top Cup road course driver is Jeff Gordon. He has 28-career starts on roads and has won nine of them. Gordon has won two of the last three seasons at Sonoma. Oh yeah, he also hails from Vallejo, California which is just a skip away from the track. The benefit of it being close for Gordon is that he gets to hear cheers when he is introduced to the fans, a rarity for sure. When you mix in all the data Gordon has going for him at Sonoma and then remember that it’s a COT race as well, it kind of looks like he’s got a slight edge this week. He is the only driver to finish in the top-10 of every COT race.

One aspect that is a bit unusual is that Gordon’s wife is expected to give birth to their first child this weekend. Mark Martin is standing by to be the relief driver should Gordon not be able to race. Because of where Gordon stands in the points with a 264-point lead, it would be a much easier decision for Gordon to take the day off. Because of that scenario, the field presents a good value with great potential upside. Not only do you get Martin, who has four road wins in his career, but you may just get Scott Pruett, Terry Labonte, and a few others.

In the last few years of road course racing we have seen the likes of Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon, and Kevin Harvick come to the forefront and compete for wins against Gordon. We have also seen the hired assassins do very well when they take over cars. Boris Said and Ron Fellows have been the most sought after drivers over the years for these races because they know every inch of the track so well. They have taken awful cars to quality finishes just because of their skills.

This year, there is a little something different for Gordon to deal with. Instead of the three really good Cup regulars and a few hired guns, Gordon now has a real Ace to go against which is going to add some flair to the road race like never before. Juan Pablo Montoya has taken a back seat all season while on a learning curve. He’s taken his lumps, been criticized, and hasn’t run well in many races. Now the table has turned and he gets to be the teacher and show everyone just how good he is. Montoya’s COT program has not been good when looking at the finishes. It may be more about the tracks than the COT. Bristol, Martinsville, Richmond, and Darlington will be tough on anyone in any car.

Despite Montoya winning in all series on all continents on the toughest road courses from Laguna-Seca to Monaco, many didn’t think he’d fare as well in the bulky stock car. His first test was in Mexico City for the Busch race earlier this season where he looked awesome. He wanted the win so bad that he raced his own teammate, Scott Pruett, harder than most might late in the race and took the win in his first stock car road race.

The Gordon-Montoya battle will be interesting if it does unfold and it will be great for NASCAR globally if Montoya does something special in this race. Got a feeling he’ll do very well this week.

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

Sonoma: Odds and Ends
June 18, 2007
By Micah Roberts

TOP 5 Sonoma Finish prediction:
1)       #24 Jeff Gordon (5/2)
2)       #42 Juan Pablo Montoya (6/1)
3)       #20 Tony Stewart (6/1)
4)       #2 Ryan Newman (18/1)
5)       #2 Kurt Busch (10/1)

Infineon (Sonoma) Raceway Data
Race #: 16 of 36 (6-24-07)
Track Size: 1.99 miles
Race Length: 350 Kilometers
Qualifying/Race Data
2006 pole winner: Kasey Kahne
(185.644 mph, 38.784 seconds)
2006 race winner: Kasey Kahne,
118.788 mph, 6-18-06)
Track qualifying record: Jeff Gordon
(94.325 mph, 75.950 secs., 6-24-05)
Track race record: Ricky Rudd (91.007
mph, 6-23-02)
Estimated Pit Window: Every 30-32
laps, based on fuel mileage


• There have been 18 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races at Sonoma Raceway since the first race
there in 1989.
• Rusty Wallace won the first Cup Bud Pole.
• Ricky Rudd won the first Cup race.
• There have been 10 different Bud Pole winners; only three have won more than one.
• There have been 10 different race winners; five have more than one victory there.
• Seven race winners have also won Bud Poles.
• The track opened as a 2.52-mile road course and drag strip in 1968.
• The first NASCAR race was held in 1989.
• The first nine Cup races at Sonoma were 300-kilometers. The race switched to a 350-k format in 1998.
• The track was re-configured 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.
• Hendrick Motorsports has won five races – two more than any other car owner.
Six drivers have competed in all 18 races: Dale Jarrett, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Ken
Schrader, Sterling Marlin, Michael Waltrip
• There have been four different Bud Pole winners in the last five races. Jeff Gordon is the
only repeat Bud Pole winner there since 2002.
• Jeff Gordon (five) leads all Bud Pole winners. Ricky Rudd has four, including three
consecutive (1990-92).
• There have been consecutive Bud Pole winners three times: Ricky Rudd (1990-92), Jeff
Gordon (1998-99 and 2004-05).
• There have been only four different race winners in the last nine races. Jeff Gordon (five),
Tony Stewart (two), Robby Gordon (one) and Ricky Rudd (one).
• Jeff Gordon (five) leads all other drivers in victories at Sonoma. Ernie Irvan, Ricky Rudd,
Tony Stewart and Rusty Wallace (two each) are the other multiple race winners.
• Jeff Gordon is the all-time leader in Cup road course victories with nine.
Five of Gordon’s road course victories have occurred at Sonoma. He has three more victories
than any other driver at the Napa Valley track. Gordon also heads the all-time Bud Pole
winners list for Infineon with five and has led the most laps there (437).
• Five of 18 Sonoma races have been won by the Bud Pole winner, including three times by Jeff Gordon. His victory from the Bud Pole in 2004 is the most recent.
• The 1991 race was won from 13th by Davey Allison – the deepest in the field that a race
winner ever started.
• Jeff Gordon won three consecutive Sonoma races (1998-2000), the only consecutive wins streak in Sonoma history.
• There have been 111 Cup races in California:

Sonoma Streakers
• Kurt Busch has started in the top 10 in five consecutive races.
• Ryan Newman has finished in the top 10 in four out of five races.
• Boris Said has finished in the top 10 in three of the last four races.
• Tony Stewart has finished in the top 10 in four of the last five races.

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

TOYOTA/SAVE MART 350 - Odds to Win

Jeff Gordon     5-2

Tony Stewart     4-1

Kurt Busch     12-1

Kevin Harvick     12-1

Denny Hamlin     12-1

Robby Gordon     12-1

Juan Pablo Montoya 10-1

Ron Fellows     15-1

Boris Said     15-1

Jimmie Johnson     20-1

Ryan Newman     25-1

Martin Truex Jr   25-1

Kyle Busch     30-1

Jeff Burton     35-1

Carl Edwards     40-1

Matt Kenseth     40-1

Jamie McMurray     40-1

Dale Earnhardt Jr 40-1

Casey Mears     40-1

Ricky Rudd     60-1

Greg Biffle     60-1

Clint Bowyer     60-1

Terry Labonte     75-1

JJ Yeley     75-1

Kasey Kahne     100-1

PJ Jones     100-1

Bobby Labonte     100-1

AJ Allmendinger 100-1

David Gilliland     100-1

Reed Sorenson     100-1

David Stremme     100-1

Regan Smith     100-1

Elliott Sadler     100-1

Field (Any Other Driver)     15-1

[img] … a_4075b_20[/img]

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RacingOne Power Rankings

The latest edition of the RacingOne NEXTEL Cup Series Power Rankings as the series heads to Infineon Raceway for Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350, which features NASCAR's comprehensive statistical ratings system using a detailed formula to calculate each driver's performance.

1. Jimmie Johnson:
Hopefully fuel mileage won't come into play this weekend for Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe's Team. Even though he finished 19th at Michigan after running out of fuel, Johnson's third-best average driver rating in the Citizens Bank 400 puts him back on top of the rankings for another week. But will he stay there another week? Johnson has only scored two top-10 finishes in five starts at Infineon Raceway.

Infineon Finishing Average: 20.6
Infineon Wins: 0

2. Jeff Gordon: If baby Gordon does not arrive this weekend, expect Jeff to jump back on top of the rankings next week. Gordon, who has nine overall NEXTEL Cup road course wins, leads all drivers that have made six or more starts at Infineon with a 9.9 finishing average. On Sunday in Michigan he recorded the ninth overall driver rating at 103.7 and led 18 laps.

Infineon Finishing Average: 9.9
Infineon Wins: 5

3. Tony Stewart: Stewart said he dropped back to the rear of the field at Michigan so he could say he came from dead last to his eventual third-place finish. However this weekend, you probably won't see him do that as no driver has yet to win at Infineon outside of a top-15 starting position. That should be no problem for Stewart as he holds the second best starting average at 7.0. Stewart, who set a new Michigan record on Sunday by gaining 38 positions, has a solid record at Infineon, which includes two wins and four top 10s.

Infineon Finishing Average: 10.5
Infineon Wins: 2

4. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin, who finished 14th at Michigan, was the best of the 2006 rookie class on road courses. After winning in Mexico in the Busch Series, Hamlin went on to post a 12th-place finish in his first NEXTEL Cup start at Infineon. In the past two weeks, Hamlin has respectively posted the first and ninth best average driver rating in the events at Pocono and Michigan. His Infineon driver rating in 2006 was 19th best at 74.5. If he can lead his first laps on a road course on Sunday it will add to his series leading 581 laps led in the Car of Tomorrow.

Infineon Finishing Average: 12.0
Infineon Wins: 0

5. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth recorded his first DNF since April 2006 at Michigan after a multi-car accident on the backstretch. With the 42nd-place finish, Kenseth is hanging on to the fifth slot in the rankings. Hopefully the same result will not happen to him at Infineon where he has been running at the finish in his seven career starts - just like his career stats showed at Michigan prior to Sunday. Infineon is the only track on the circuit where Kenseth has yet to post a top-10 finish.

Infineon Finishing Average: 22.0
Infineon Wins: 0

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr: Earnhardt Jr. proved he wasn't going to let his recent announcement that he was moving to Hendrick Motorsports interfere with his performance at DEI. Junior started 23rd and used 53 quality passes (passing a car while running in the Top 15) to score a fifth-place finish just as the car ran out of gas. Junior will probably have to score his first top 10 at Infineon, which is his worst track by finishing average at 23.3, in order to surpass Kenseth in the rankings next week.

Infineon Finishing Average: 23.3
Infineon Wins: 0

7. Kurt Busch: Busch remains as the driver with the worst position (16th) in the point standings among the drivers that are ranked in the top 10. Since finishing 42nd and being handed a 100-point penalty at Dover, Busch has posted an average finish of 20.5. He will look to improve his points position at Infineon where he won the pole and finished fifth in his first road course event with Penske Racing.

Infineon Finishing Average: 16.5
Infineon Wins: 0

8. Kyle Busch: With Mark Martin dropping out of the top 10, Busch was able to move up one spot after his sixth-place finish at Michigan. He will look to use his 10.2 average finish with the Car of Tomorrow to improve his Infineon record where he has finished 40th and 11th, respectively.

Infineon Finishing Average: 25.5
Infineon Wins: 0

9. Carl Edwards: Edwards ended a 52-race winless streak and a nine-race absense from the Power Rankings top 10 with his victory at Michigan. He posted an average driver rating of 131.8 at MIS to jump from 11th to ninth. After finishing 38th in his first race at Infineon, he captured a sixth-place finish in 2006.

Infineon Finishing Average: 22.0
Infineon Wins: 0

10. Jeff Burton: Although he's holding on to the 10th slot, Burton continues to fall in the rankings after posting the best overall driver rating of 109.3 in the season opening Daytona 500. Since his win at Texas in April, Burton has posted one top 10 and an average finish of 21.6. Last year he finished seventh in his second race at Infineon with Richard Childress Racing.

Infineon Finishing Average: 20.6
Infineon Wins: 0

Power Mover

Martin Truex Jr: Truex continues to climb up the points standings and sits right outside the top 10 in the rankings with an 86.7 average driver rating. He finished 15th at Infineon last year, but based on his recent performances you can basically throw out looking at his 2006 stats.

Infineon Finishing Average: 15.0
Infineon Wins: 0

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Mayfield not racing at Infineon this weekend

Jeremy Mayfield and his No. 36 Bill Davis Racing team will not make the trek to Infineon Raceway for this weekend's Toyota/Save Mart 350.

BDR is taking two NASCAR Nextel Cup entries, though, with Dave Blaney driving the No. 22 Toyota as usual and road-course ace Butch Leitzinger competing in the No. 23 entry. The No. 23 will be sponsored by Caterpillar, which also sponsors Blaney's entry.

Mayfield and his team will return to competition for the following race at New Hampshire International Speedway, according to a BDR news release. Mayfield has struggled this season with the new group, which is outside the top 35 in owner points and thus must qualify for each race on speed. Mayfield joined BDR in the offseason after parting company with Evernham Motorsports last August. He has qualified for only five of the season's 15 races.

Leitzinger has made three starts in NASCAR Cup competition - all at the Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road course. He normally competes in the American Le Mans Series, driving with Dyson Racing. The 38-year-old has won three races in NASCAR's Busch North Series.

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Road-course specialists highlight 52-car Cup entry list

Several NASCAR Nextel Cup regulars will be sitting out the race at Infineon Raceway as team owners give the nod to road-course specialists. Fifty-two teams are entered in Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350.

P.J. Jones will replace David Reutimann in the No. 00 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. Brian Simo replaces Kevin Lepage in the No. 37 Front Row Motorsports Dodge, Klaus Graf replaces Mike Bliss in the No. 49 BAM Racing Dodge, and Terry Labonte replaces Michael Waltrip in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.

Regan Smith is driving the No. 01 Ginn Racing entry he shares with Mark Martin, but Martin will not completely have the weekend off. He's traveling to the track to stand by in case Jeff Gordon needs to leave for the birth of his daughter. Martin would drive the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports entry should this happen.

Other drivers who don't normally appear in a race who will be competing at Infineon are Brandon Ash in the No. 02 Ash Racing Dodge, Butch Leitzinger in the No. 23 Bill Davis Racing Toyota, Boris Said in the No. 60 No Fear Racing Ford and Marc Goosens in the No. 91 Riley-D'Hondt Motorsports entry.

The impact the debut of the car of tomorrow at road courses will have on these drivers remains to be seen. The top 35 teams are locked into the field, and both Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott, in the No. 21 Wood Brothers/JTG Racing Ford, have access to a past champions provisional. If both failed to qualify on speed, the provisional would go to Labonte as the most recent past champion.

A total of 17 cars will be competing for eight spots (seven in the provisional is used).

The drivers who need to qualify based on speed are Jones, Ash, Leitzinger, Simo, Graf, Said, Goosens, Ward Burton (No. 4 Morgan-McClure Motorsports Chevrolet), Scott Riggs (No. 10 Valvoline Evernham Racing Dodge), Paul Menard (No. 15 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet), Dave Blaney (No. 22 Bill Davis Racing Toyota), Dale Jarrett (No. 44 MWR Toyota), Kenny Wallace (No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet), Brian Vickers (No. 83 Team Red Bull Toyota), AJ Allmendinger (No. 84 Team Red Bull Toyota).

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Montoya goes road racing
June 19, 2007

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -It won't be hard for Juan Pablo Montoya to improve on last week's result at Michigan - all he has to do is avoid finishing last.

Problem is, anything short of a victory might be considered a disappointment.

Montoya, who finished 43rd on Sunday for the worst showing of his short NASCAR career, heads to the road course in Sonoma, Calif., this weekend expected to score his first Nextel Cup victory.

The former Formula One star is regarded as one of the top road racers in the world, and solidified that reputation by winning the Busch Series road race in Mexico City earlier this season. But in Sonoma, he'll be racing against NASCAR's very best and a handful of ringers.

``He was phenomenal in Mexico, absolutely phenomenal,'' said veteran Mark Martin, who is sitting out the race. ``Obviously (I'm) going to be watching with great excitement and enthusiasm to see how he stacks up ... with the best of the best, all of the best of the best.''

Montoya insisted the expectations come only from the media, not his own team, and was nonchalant about any pressure he might be under to win.

``Everybody expects me to go out there and win, and I don't care, to be honest,'' he said. ``Those races are so long and anything can happen. You can get tangled with somebody and all of a sudden you are 20th, and it takes awhile to come back.

``So I am not going to get involved with what everyone thinks the result will be.''

Montoya is being realistic, knowing that his Chip Ganassi Racing team lags behind NASCAR's elite teams. He was disheartened at a recent road test at Virginia International Raceway when he arrived in the only Ganassi car, only to see Hendrick Motorsports bring five cars.

It's a complaint many drivers have had this season. Hendrick has used an intense testing program to rack up 10 wins through the first 15 races.

``There's not much you can do about it,'' he said. ``We are backed up in the fab shop, we are behind. And how do you get on pace? You can't just go and hire 30 new people. If it's a business, you can't. If it's a hobby, you can.''

Compounding the problem is that Montoya has yet to drive the course at Sonoma. He'll have roughly two hours of track time to figure out the course before qualifying, and doesn't have many people he can turn to for advice about the layout. Ganassi teammate David Stremme has yet to race at Sonoma, and Reed Sorenson has raced just once there.

``I don't know what to expect,'' he said. ``We show up, gotta learn the track and then we'll see.''

He's not too worried about figuring out the course, and said his reputation in F1 was as one of the fastest learners whenever the series went to a new track.

And asked if he was the best road course racer in NASCAR, he seemed fairly certain of the answer: ``I would think so, yes. But Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are also very good, I am told, and Denny Hamlin was very good in Mexico.''

Because he has never seen the top Cup guys race on a road course, isn't familiar with Sonoma and the struggles of his Ganassi team, Montoya isn't planning a victory party just yet.

``I think we are going to be very competitive,'' he said. ``Do we have a chance of winning? Probably yes. Are we as good prepared as some of the teams like Hendrick or Gibbs? Probably no. So we'll see what happens.''

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mvbski wrote:

Because he has never seen the top Cup guys race on a road course, isn't familiar with Sonoma and the struggles of his Ganassi team, Montoya isn't planning a victory party just yet.

I think it will be a long day for Montoya on Sunday.  wink

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Tryson is Kurt Busch's new crew chief
June 19, 2007

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Pat Tryson was named crew chief for Kurt Busch on Tuesday, and will be calling the shots this weekend at Infineon Raceway.

Tryson, let go as Greg Biffle's crew chief last month, takes over for Troy Raker and becomes Busch's third crew chief this season. Raker had been filling the job on an interim basis because regular Roy McCauley is on leave as he tends to his ailing wife.

``I'm really looking forward to getting back to the races,'' Tryson said. ``Working with Kurt and the Penske organization is a great opportunity and I'm confident that we can accomplish great things together.''

Busch said he thought Tryson could ``really help take us to the next level.''

``Troy has done a great job filling in for Roy McCauley, and I think Pat's presence will add even more depth to our team,'' Busch said.

Busch and Tryson were at Roush Racing together when Busch drove the No. 97 Ford and Tryson was crew chief for Mark Martin's team.

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NASCAR Road Course Specialists Have Impressive Stats

Races at Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International have taken on an Us-versus-Them mentality between the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series regulars and the road course specialists.

Thus far, the battle is one-sided, with the regulars capturing win after win. But the road course aces have gained ground.

Take Boris Said, for instance. After an average finish of 31.3 over his first three Infineon Raceway appearances (2000-2002), Said has notched three top-10 finishes. Over the past two years, Said has earned the fifth-best Driver Rating at 104.3 and the fourth-best Average Running Position at 9.132. Additionally, he has run 191 Laps in the Top 15, which is fourth-most of any driver. 

Brian Simo could be another road course specialist in contention Sunday. He hasn’t raced at Infineon Raceway since 2005, but impressed with a 10th-place finish. In that race, Simo had a solid Driver Rating of 77.2 and an Average Running Position of 20.336, which is second-best among road course aces competing Sunday.

Still, the regulars sit atop all the Loop Data statistics. With finishes of third and fifth over the past two years, Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) has been the most consistent of the regulars. He has series-best numbers in Average Running Position (4.205), Driver Rating of (121.2) and Laps in the Top 15 (217).

Also among the statistical leaders are Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet) and Jeff Gordon, both of whom are regular road course threats. Stewart, who won at Sonoma in 2005, is second in pre-race Driver Rating with 119.1, second in Average Running Position at 5.455 and first in Fastest Laps Run with 39.

Gordon, the defending champion of this race, is fourth in Driver Rating with a 107.1 and fifth in Average Running Position at 11.582. He has 29 Fastest Laps Run, which is second only to Stewart.

Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge) is another driver who has taken to the road course terrain. With a career average finish of 7.8 over five Infineon Raceway races, Newman has proven formidable. Over the last two years – which were finishes of ninth and second – Newman has an Average Running Position of 5.923 and a Driver Rating of 117.6.

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Gordon remains on 'baby watch', but has CoT ready.
Wednesday, 20th June 2007

Jeff Gordon will have a tough choice to make should the birth of his first child with wife Ingrid decide to make an appearance this weekend, for the birth would coincide with an event where he has enjoyed success in the past.

The #24 DuPont Chevrolet driver remains on 'baby watch' - having been kept waiting for several weeks already - with various contingency plans, including veteran driver Mark Martin being on stand-by to fill in, still in place.

“It depends on when the baby is born,” Gordon said, “If she is born on Wednesday, then I'll have a day-and-a-half with her and Ingrid before heading west. If she is born on Thursday or Friday, then that would change things significantly. If she's born during the race on Sunday, then I'll see her when I get home. There's not a lot I can do about that, but I hope that doesn't happen.”

California's Infineon Raceway road course is familiar to Gordon, who grew up in nearby Vallejo, and is usually a track at which he runs well. In 14 starts there, he has nine top-five and ten top ten finishes, including a record five victories and five poles, with the last win coming only last season.

“Last year was an incredible weekend,” he recalled, “To announce my engagement to Ingrid and then to win the race was amazing. But this weekend could be even more special - and it won't even take a win to do that.”

Sunday marks the first time that NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow will run in a road course event, coinciding with F1 refugee Juan Montoya's Nextel Cup debut on anything but an oval. Gordon, who swapped cars with the Colombian during a promotional event several seasons ago, sees no reason why Montoya can't return to form in California.

“I think Juan will definitely be a factor during the race,” the four-time champion said, “But I think the Penske cars are going to be tougher, because they really had their road course programme together last year, and the Gibbs cars will be tough as well.

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The Toyota/Save Mart 350

The NASCAR Nextel Cup series moves to Infineon Raceway's 1.99 mile road course for the 16th race of the 2007 season, the Toyota/SaveMart 350. Race Preview has looked at past performances, practice sessions, and season trends to predict how the field might finish.

When: Sunday, June 24, 2007; 5:10 p.m./et

Weather: Sunny with a high around 83; wind out of the W at 15 mph Chance of precipitation 10%.

The Track: Infineon Raceway

Infineon is a 1.99 mile road course. It has 10 turns including some of the only right-hand turns NASCAR drivers will make all season.


Jeff Gordon has been the King of Infineon. In 14 career starts the No. 24 driver has won an impressive five races. Then there are the road track specialists. Drivers like Ron Fellows, Boris Said, P.J. Jones and Robby Gordon are always a threat to finish well on road courses.

Car Of Tomorrow: YES

Qualifying Procedures:

52 cars will attempt to qualify for 43 spots. Cars not in the top 35 in the 2007 point standings will have to qualify based on speed. Starting positions 1-43 will be determined by two lap qualifying runs that will be done on Friday, June 22 at 7:05 pm/et.

Fantasy Cheat Sheet:

Top 5

No. 24 Jeff Gordon: Gordon has been awesome at Infineon. He holds the all-time record for wins at the track with five. With no team better than Hendrick Motorsports in Car Of Tomorrow races he is an easy favorite.
No. 20 Tony Stewart: Stewart has been excellent at Infineon. In eight career starts he has two wins and four top 10 finishes.
No. 12 Ryan Newman: Newman is a great option on Sunday. In five career starts at Infineon he has four top 10 finishes.
No. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya: We have been saying all season to avoid Montoya…until now. If there is ever a weekend to use the former Formula One star it is this one.
No. 96 Ron Fellows: Road course specialist Ron Fellows will drive the No. 96 (finished third with Terry Labonte at the wheel in 2006) in Sunday's race. The Canadian has back-to-back top 10 finishes at Infineon and should be in the top 10 once again.

6 to 10

No. 60 Boris Said: Is a great option on Sunday. He is a virtual lock to crack the top 15.
No. 7 Robby Gordon: Road courses are where Gordon shines. We think he is a solid bet to make the top 10 on Sunday.
No. 48 Jimmie Johnson: Johnson has led just two laps during his career at Infineon. He does have a top five finish, but there are much better weekends to use him.
No. 2 Kurt Busch: Busch has three top five finishes in six career Infineon starts. We think he will be in the top 10 when the checker flag flies Sunday.
No. 88 Ricky Rudd: Rudd has cracked the top five in four of his last six Infineon races. He is an excellent option as a third or fourth driver on fantasy teams this week.

11 to 20

No. 11 Denny Hamlin: Hamlin turned 12th during his only career start at Infineon. The talented driver has showed he can drive on any surface and any track configuration making him a decent pick on Sunday.
No. 16 Greg Biffle: Biffle has finished in the top 15 in three of his four career Infineon starts. He is a decent option on Sunday.
No. 5 Kyle Busch: Busch finished 11th during last year's race at Infineon. He is a good pick in the always fast Hendrick Motorsports' Car Of Tomorrow.
No. 31 Jeff Burton: Burton four top 10 finishes at Infineon during his career.
No. 29 Kevin Harvick: Harvick has been good, but not great at Infineon during his career. We think he could crack the top 20 once again on Sunday.
No. 55 Terry Labonte: Labonte will pilot the No. 55 car on Sunday at Infineon. He has been very solid in his career at the road course. We like his chances to make the top 20 on Sunday.
No. 99 Carl Edwards: Edwards was solid during last year's race at Infineon. He won't win, but he should be a lock to crack the top 20.
No. 25 Casey Mears: Mears has been one of the top drivers in NASCAR the past four races. Even though Infineon isn't his best track he is worth taking a chance on as a fourth or fifth driver this weekend.
No. 07 Clint Bowyer: Bowyer finished 16th during his only Nextel Cup race at Infineon. He should finish in the top 20 on Sunday.
No. 26 Jamie McMurray: McMurray has never finished worse than 20th in four career Infineon starts. He could make some noise on Sunday.

21 to 30

No. 19 Elliott Sadler: Sadler has been great at Infineon during his career. We think he will be near the top 20 on Sunday.
No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior has averaged a 23.3 finish during his seven career races at Infineon. There are much better weeks to use No. 8.
No. 17 Matt Kenseth: We recommend steering clear of the talented Kenseth this weekend. In seven career starts at Infineon he has never finished better than 11th place.
No. 9 Kasey Kahne: Kahne is yet another top driver who has never had much success at Infineon. In three career races he has never been better than 31st.
No. 21 Bill Elliott: Elliott will pilot the No. 21 car on Sunday. He will be doing well to crack the top 25.
No. 66 Jeff Green: Green has a top five finish in his career at Infineon, but he will be doing well to crack the top 30 on Sunday.
No. 43 Bobby Labonte: Labonte has been excellent this season, but he hasn't been great during his career at Infineon. We don't recommend him.
No. 45 Kyle Petty: Petty hasn't finished in the top 10 at Infineon since 1999. There are far better options on Sunday.
No. 41 Reed Sorenson: Reed finished 29th during his first career start at Infineon. Another top 30 finish should be expected.
No. 6 David Ragan: The rookie could have a rude awakening in his first road course start. We don't recommend using him under any circumstances.

31 to 40

No. 18 J.J. Yeley: Yeley crashed during last year's race at Infineon and is a risky pick again on Sunday.
No. 40 David Stremme: Stremme was replaced by Scott Pruitt during last year's race at Infineon so he is making his first career start at the track. We don't recommend him.
No. 14 Sterling Marlin: Marlin has made the top 10 if four of his 18 career starts at Infineon. He isn't a good option on Sunday though.
No. 70 Johnny Sauter: Sauter has never made a start at Infineon during his career. We don't advise using him until he can prove he knows what a right-hand turn is.
No. 01 Regan Smith: Smith is another rookie who should be avoided.
No. 38 David Gilliland: Gilliland is a restrictor plate race star. This is a bit different.
No. 84 A.J. Allmendinger: Allmendinger has road course experience on his resume. He could surprise on Sunday.
No. 10 Scott Riggs: Riggs hasn't finished better than 24th in three career Infineon starts. Since he needs to make the race during qualifying we don't recommend him.
No. 23 Butch Leitzinger: Leitzinger is a road course specialist who should make the race and then finish in the rear.
No. 15 Paul Menard: Menard will make the race, but should be much of a factor.

Field Fillers

No. 00 P.J. Jones: Jones is a road course specialist who has never had much success at Infineon. We don't recommend him.
No. 83 Brian Vickers: Vickers hasn't been great at Infineon during his career and he will need to make the race during qualifying making him a very risky pick.
No. 49 Klaus Graf: Another road course specialist. May make the race, may not.
No. 91 Marc Goossens: "Goose" will be on the bubble to make the race.
No. 37 Brian Simo: Simo finished 10th in the 2005 Infineon race. He could surprise, but he will have to make the race first.
No. 22 Dave Blaney: Blaney will have to make the race during qualifying, a tough task at a track where he has struggled during his career.
No. 44 Dale Jarrett: Jarrett has four top 10 finishes in 18 career Infineon starts. We think he will make the race, but isn't worth using in fantasy leagues.
No. 4 Ward Burton: Burton will need a miracle to make the race.
No. 78 Kenny Wallace: Wallace will try and sneak the No. 78 car into Sunday's race. We doubt he will be able to do it.
No. 02 Brandon Ash: Ash will be on the bubble to make Sunday's race.

Brownie's Picks

Top Four:

1. Jeff Gordon
2. Tony Stewart
3. Ryan Newman
4. Juan Pablo Montoya


1. Ron Fellows
2. Boris Said


1. Matt Kenseth
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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Baby will decide No. 24's driver

Nextel Cup points leader Jeff Gordon says he has his priorities straight, and the most important thing on his mind has nothing to do with racing.

The four-time series champion said he would rather witness the birth of his first child than compete in Sunday's race in Sonoma, Calif.

Gordon has hired Mark Martin to drive the No. 24 Chevrolet in the road-course race at Infineon Raceway, should Gordon's wife, Ingrid Vandebosch, go into labor Friday or Saturday. The couple are expecting a daughter, due any day.

"If she is born (today), then I'll have a day-and-a-half with her and Ingrid before heading west," Gordon, who lives in North Carolina, said in a release. "If she is born on Thursday or Friday, then that would change things significantly. If she's born during the race on Sunday, then I'll see her when I get home. There's not a lot I can do about that, but I hope that doesn't happen."

If anybody could afford to miss a race and remain in playoff contention, it's Gordon, who leads second-place Denny Hamlin by a whopping 264 points. The maximum amount of points a driver can get for one race is 195, and that's for winning and leading the most laps, so Gordon is assured of maintaining the lead heading into the July 1 race in New Hampshire.

But for Gordon, missing this weekend's race would be like Dale Earnhardt Jr. not competing in Daytona, Fla., or Talladega, Ala., or Tony Stewart missing the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.

Gordon grew up in nearby Vallejo, Calif., and is the defending champion and all-time winningest Cup driver at Infineon.

In 11 starts, Gordon has nine top-10 finishes, including a record five wins and five poles. He also holds the record for laps led (437).

A year ago, Gordon won the Cup race after getting engaged to Vandebosch.

"To announce my engagement to Ingrid and then to win the race was amazing, but this weekend could be even more special, and it won't even take a win to do that," Gordon said.

Road warrior weekend

This weekend will be the first road-course event in a stock car for Cup rookies Juan Pablo Montoya, a former Formula One and CART star, and A.J. Allmendinger, a former Thornton resident and winner of the 2006 Grand Prix of Denver.

Allmendinger grew up in Los Gatos, Calif., just outside of San Jose, and the former Champ Car star has qualified for the past six Cup races after missing seven of the first nine.

"I'm looking forward to getting to turn right again," Allmendinger said in a release. "Road-course racing is what I've grown up doing and what I am most comfortable doing."

Eight other "road warriors" will attempt to qualify for the race. Those subbing for full-time drivers are P.J. Jones (for David Reutimann), Klaus Graf (for Mike Bliss), Terry Labonte (for Michael Waltrip) and Ron Fellows (for Tony Raines).

Road-course veterans Butch Leitzinger, Brian Simo, Boris Said and Marc Goossens will attempt to qualify for part-time teams.


Penske Racing hired Pat Tryson to replace Troy Raker as crew chief of the No. 2 Dodge driven by Kurt Busch. Tryson was the crew chief for Martin and Roush Racing during the three previous years, and most recently with Roush's No. 16 Ford driven by Greg Biffle. ... The Kyle Busch-driven Hendrick Motorsports crew that Earnhardt Jr. is scheduled to inherit next year captured Sunday's pit-crew challenge at Michigan. Busch spent a race-low 200.13 seconds on pit road en route to a sixth-place finish.

NASCAR's best athlete flips again

The driver who was recently featured on the cover of "Men's Fitness" is doing backflips again. Edwards' 52-race drought ended Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, where he did his celebratory backflip after taking the checkered flag. Edwards' victory snapped a 12-race winning streak for Chevrolet drivers. Edwards, who drives a Ford, is sixth in the standings and ranks second among non-Chevy drivers.

Hendrick's fourth driver improving

Mears, who is in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports, is finding his niche with the powerhouse team. He has gained 16 spots during the past four races, going from 35th to 19th. He finished fourth Sunday in Michigan for his third top-four finish in the past five races. Mears' climb in the standings began with his May 27 victory in the Coca-Cola 600.

Infineon ratings

The 10 best driver ratings - the formula that combines wins, finishes, average running position, average speed under green, fastest lap and most laps led - during the past two years at the road course in Sonoma, Calif.

(Driver, Rating)

1. Kurt Busch 121.1

2. Tony Stewart 119.1

3. Ryan Newman 117.6

4. Jeff Gordon 107.1

5. Rusty Wallace 104.4

6. Boris Said 104.3

7. Ricky Rudd 103.6

8. Greg Biffle 94.4

9. Jeff Burton 93.8

10. Terry Labonte 91.7

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

mvbski wrote:

Baby will decide No. 24's driver

Jeff Gordon and wife have baby girl
June 20, 2007

NEW YORK, N.Y. (AP) -Jeff Gordon won't have to miss a race for the birth of his daughter.

NASCAR's four-time champion became a father Wednesday when his wife, model Ingrid Vandebosch, gave birth to a girl. Gordon announced on his Web site that Ella Sofia Gordon was born Wednesday morning.

``It's been an absolutely incredible experience,'' Gordon said. ``Ingrid came through amazingly and we're both really happy and overjoyed. We can't wait to get home and start our lives together as a family.''

Gordon asked Mark Martin to be on standby this weekend in case he had to leave the race in Sonoma, Calif., to return for the birth. He said he'll travel to California later this week and participate in all on-track activities at Infineon Raceway.

Gordon's baby was born two days after Tiger Woods' daughter.

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Labonte unretiring for some road racing fun
June 20, 2007

Terry Labonte isn't hedging about retirement, he just wants to help out a friend.

The two-time NASCAR champion, who supposedly retired from driving Nextel Cup cars last fall, will get back behind the wheel long enough to run the two Cup road races this season for Michael Waltrip Racing, beginning with this Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.

This has been a tough season for Waltrip, who started his new three-car program as one of the flagship teams for Cup newcomer Toyota. There have been cheating scandals, off-the-track embarrassments and, perhaps worst, Waltrip himself has qualified for only three of 15 races in 2007. Dale Jarrett and David Reutimann, his teammates and employees, haven't done much better.

Jarrett used up his six allowable provisional starts as a former series champion early in the year, but Labonte, making his first start since last November at Texas, is assured of a starting spot in Sunday's race thanks to his status as a former champ.

``Michael and I had a long talk the other day and I just decided that I would be up to running the road courses for him to see if I can help him out,'' Labonte said.

Has the former NASCAR Iron Man - he ran 655 of his 848 Cup starts consecutively - had a change of heart about racing at age 50?

``It's kind of funny; some days when I watch a race, I kind of wish I was there and there are some days I am glad I am sitting at home,'' Labonte said. ``I think when you have done something as long as I have, you still enjoy doing it.

``I still like the sport. But then there are other days where I am completely happy doing something else. The decision for me to run at Infineon and Watkins Glen is a good decision for me.

``It is so hard to start a new team these days,'' he added. ``I know Michael has a long way to go with where he wants to be, so I hope that I can help him out at these couple of events. I'll give him my honest opinion and, if I see something that I think I can help, I will certainly lend the NAPA team my support.''

Waltrip is grateful for the help.

``I like to think of myself as a good road racer, too,'' Waltrip said. ``But this is the perfect opportunity for me to sort of step back and look at what is going on, try to help my boys get better, try to make my NAPA Camrys faster, listen to Terry's input, listen to how he works with the guys and what he sees. He's a champion racer.''

Labonte has six top-five finishes and eight top-10s in 18 starts at Infineon, where he started 37th and finished third last year. But this will be Labonte's first time driving NASCAR's new Car of Tomorrow, which makes its road racing debut this week.

``I've always enjoyed going out to Infineon, and it's a lot of fun to drive,'' Labonte said. ``It is not an easy track by any means. And I'm sure it will be different this year with driving the Car of Tomorrow. I don't think anyone knows what to expect, so it should be interesting and a lot of fun.''

Labonte did get a little warmup two weeks ago when he briefly tested a Busch Series car on the road course in Montreal, where that series will race for the first time in August.

``It was fun,'' he said. ``I've gotten in my son's dirt car a couple of times, but it was good to get back into one of these types of cars. It was fun to run a few laps on the road course in Montreal. I am looking forward to Infineon.''

HE'S BACK: Boris Said will be back in his element this weekend, racing on the road course at Infineon Raceway.

Said is considered an ace on the circuits with both right and left turns and, for several years, was hired by NASCAR teams for road races as one of the ringers who always show up at the two Cup road races.

He has broadened his horizons the past few years, driving on some of the NASCAR ovals as well, but road racing is Said's bread and butter.

``Every year, I have two favorite races - the road course races at Infineon and at Watkins Glen,'' he said. And he is particularly excited about Sunday's race because it is the road racing debut of the Car of Tomorrow - a bigger, bulkier car with a rear wing.

Said's SoBe No Fear Racing team, with veteran crew chief Frankie Stoddard overseeing the operation, has done considerable testing and development on the COT.

``Every year, I really look forward to coming back to Infineon because I've won so many races in so many different types of cars there,'' he said. ``I think that this year, especially with the Car of Tomorrow, we have a realistic opportunity of running in the top five, and maybe even getting our first win.''

Said finished ninth at the Sonoma track last year.

STAT OF THE WEEK: New father Jeff Gordon will not have to miss the Sonoma race after all. His wife, Ingrid, gave birth to a daughter, Ella Sofia Gordon, on Wednesday. That's great news for the Gordon family and less than great news for his competitors, who will now have to deal with the man who has won a record five races at Infineon Raceway, including the one last summer.

Gordon also goes into the event leading the season points and several other statistical categories, including most races led (12), most laps led (718 of 4,759) and best overall record (10 top-fives and 13 top-10s in 15 races).

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Ringers Ready for Infineon

P.J. Jones, Butch Leitzinger, Klaus Graf, Boris Said, Marc Goossens, Ron Fellows…

Any other week of the year, those listed above would make for a highly competitive, all-star type sports car race, as each of those competitors has impressive credentials in that particular form of racing. However, this is one of two road course weekends on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series circuit and that means only one thing – ‘Ringers.’

As the Series travels to Infineon Raceway for the Toyota/Save Mart 350, several teams have continued the tradition of asking their regular drivers to step aside and employing road course specialists in order to boost their chances at tracks where drivers are forced to make both left- and right-hand turns.

“I thoroughly enjoy doing them, whether it’s Busch, Cup, Truck,” said Fellows about racing on a road course. “The Nextel Cup Series is the cream of the crop and on the competitive side of it; these guys are all very, very good. And, the racing is incredibly close. That’s enjoyable. It’s also a lot shorter than what I’ve been doing recently (Le Mans 24-Hour-race) and I don’t have to get out of the car during the pit stops.”

Fellows is substituting for Tony Raines in the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet.

Not only will the list of ‘ringers’ feel at home at the twisty Infineon Raceway, but they will also feel more normal inside the Car of Tomorrow, which will be making its debut on a road course this weekend.

While it may not look anything like a typical sports car, certain aspects of the COT came from the Daytona Prototype, which is run in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series.

"The Car of Tomorrow suits my driving style and experience,” said Graf, who is running in place of Mike Bliss in the No. 49 Paralyzed Veterans Dodge Avenger. “I am no stranger to road course racing and feel the COT will only enhance my performance on track."

With all these advantages, will a ‘ringer’ finally make it to victory lane? NEXTEL Cup regulars like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon along with former open-wheel standouts like Juan Pablo Montoya and AJ Allmendinger may have something to say against that this weekend, but keep an eye on the road course specialists, they may make things interesting come Sunday afternoon.

This weekend’s action gets underway Friday afternoon with a 90-minute practice session beginning at 3:30 p.m. (ET) before qualifying takes place at 7:05 p.m. (ET). Teams and drivers will get two final practices on Saturday (Noon - 12:50 p.m. (ET) and 3:20 - 4:20 p.m. (ET)) before Sunday afternoon’s running of the Toyota/Save Mart 350, which gets underway at 5 p.m. (ET).

Live coverage of the 16th race of the NEXTEL Cup Series season will be available on TNT (TV), PRN Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio.

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Matt McLaughlin's Driver Handicaps : Infineon Edition

*2007 Infineon Driver Handicaps *

Jeff Gordon – Gordon’s win at Sonoma last year was his fifth triumph in fourteen starts. He also has a pair of second and a pair of third place finishes here. Given that he’s also won four races at the Glen, Gordon is always on a short list of favorites when NASCAR goes to the road courses.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin didn’t do too badly on the road courses last year as a rookie. He finished twelfth here, tenth at the Glen and won the Mexican Busch race.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson finished tenth in this race last year and led two laps. He finished fifth at Sonoma in 2004, so he now has Top 10 finishes in two of his five starts here. He won at Watkins Glen in 2004 and has Top 5 finishes in each of the WG races run since.

Matt Kenseth – Kenseth has started seven Cup races here without ever posting a Top 10 finish. He didn’t miss by much in 2005, when he finished eleventh, but his average finish at Infineon remains a lowly 22nd.

Jeff Burton – Burton’s seventh place finish here last year was his best result at Sonoma in thirteen Cup starts; he has three additional Top 10 finishes in those thirteen races. However, Burton’s best road course result to date was a second place finish at the Glen in 2001, which as my nephew might say was “a whole lot of yesterdays ago.”

Carl Edwards – Edwards enjoyed a pair of Top 10 finishes in last year’s two Cup road course races.

Tony Stewart – Stewart is one of the circuit’s better road course racers. He’s won at Sonoma twice and at Watkins Glen three times, once with a set of drawers full of excrement. So next time someone tells you Tony is full of it, tell them sometimes he leaks.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick finished third at Sonoma in ’03 and won at Watkins Glen last year, so he knows the difference between an apex and Ajax.

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer finished fourteenth and sixteenth in last year’s two Cup road course races. Well, I suppose that’s better than a poke with a stick to the eye.

Martin Truex, Jr. – Truex drove to an unremarkable fifteenth place finish here last year, but he’s showing remarkable improvement this season.

Kyle Busch – Busch didn’t do too badly on the road courses last year with an eleventh place finish here and a ninth place result at the Glen.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Junior has no Top 10 finishes at Sonoma after seven Cup starts here. He does have three Top 10 finishes in Cup and a Busch series win at the Glen.

Jamie McMurray – McMurray opened a lot of eyes with a second place finish at Sonoma in 2004, but his other three Cup results here were decidedly midpack.

Ryan Newman – Newman finished second here last year and has Top 10 finishes in four of his five Cup starts at Infineon.

Kurt Busch – Busch won the pole here last year and has three Top 5 results in six Sonoma Cup starts.

Bobby Labonte – Labonte isn’t noted as much of a road course racer, at least in NASCAR events. He has two Top 5 finishes in fourteen career Infineon Cup starts and two more in fourteen starts at the Glen.

J. J. Yeley – The two Cup road course races were a disaster for Yeley last year with a pair of 33rd place finishes.

Casey Mears – Mears managed a pair of Top 10 finishes at the Cup road course races in 2004, but his other finishes here and at the Glen were less than remarkable.

Greg Biffle – Biffle did manage a fourth place finish last year, but Infineon remains his Waterloo with a best finish of thirteenth in three other Cup starts.

Others to Watch

Juan Pablo Montoya
– Montoya won the Mexican Busch race this year (in ugly fashion) and used to race F1 and CART, so you’ve got to figure he knows a thing or two about road course racing.

Robby Gordon – Gordon won here in 2003 and pissed away a chance at a win at Infineon in 2001 when he lost his temper. He also won at the Glen in 2003 and was denied a victory there another year in bizarre fashion, when telemetry equipment the network had aboard his car overheated and set itself ablaze.

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

Fantasy Picks 'N' Pans: Toyota / SaveMart 350

NASCAR heads to Sonoma for the first of two road course races on the schedule this year. The twists and turns of these tracks always offer fantasy owners a chance to pick up a seldom used driver and score some points; the different style of racing leads to a different pack of drivers running up front more often than not. This year, there’s also an added wrinkle involved in picking your fantasy lineup; the Car of Tomorrow makes its debut on a road course, putting handling and performance in question for part-time road course racers who are not yet used to the new vehicle. Even with the full-time Cup road course specialists, talent will not automatically lead to triumph out in Wine Country; there will be some doubts as to whether teams that have not done well with the CoT so far can get it working well enough to turn right as well as left.

So, who’s going to end Sunday afternoon off in the California dirt, and who’s going to spend the weekend shoving dirt on the rest of the competition? Find out as we help you set your lineup in this week’s edition of Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans.

Cami’s Race Rewind:

The King reclaimed his crown last year at Infineon Raceway. No, not Richard Petty; it was Jeff Gordon who earned the ninth road course victory of his career in the 2006 Dodge / SaveMart 350. Gordon, who ended a 19-race winless streak with the victory, started from 11th position and led his first of 44 laps on lap 49. In order to claim the win, though, he had to work his way past former teammate Terry Labonte in the closing laps. Labonte, driving for Hall of Fame Racing, used pit strategy to gain the top spot, but a series of late race cautions and red flags proved to be his undoing as the lead he built up quickly evaporated. Ryan Newman edged Labonte for second place, with Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch rounding out the Top 5. Tony Stewart was going for a fourth straight road course win, but a pit road speeding ticket and late race cylinder problem dropped him to a 28th place finish.

Mike’s Keys to the Race:

Of the two road courses on the Nextel Cup schedule, Sonoma is far more technical than Watkins Glen. That means drivers who have the most success are generally the drivers with the most road course experience: past success is going to be a direct indicator of the potential for a solid finish this weekend. The only reason to have any doubts is the fact that this is going to be a Car of Tomorrow race, which could make things difficult for everyone. Fortunately, two of the strongest road course racers also drive for two of the strongest CoT teams. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have strong potential for impressive runs this weekend. Of course, two potential hidden gems for this race are also Juan Pablo Montoya and A.J. Allmendinger. Both drivers are experienced road racers with open wheel backgrounds, but are not normally on teams in draft leagues. Both should be available for little salary, so consider adding them for this weekend to pick up some bonus points.

Mike’s Picks:

Crank ‘Em Up:

Juan Pablo Montoya is one of the best road racers in the world, and now he runs in the Cup series. While he hasn’t lit the world on fire yet this year, there is no doubt that he will be a strong threat for the victory this weekend in Sonoma. He has already notched a road course win in a stock car by taking the victory in the Busch Series race held in Mexico this year, and needs a strong run to keep the upper hand in his Rookie Of The Year battle with David Ragan. As long as he can avoid ruffling feathers of some of the other drivers who are known to lose their cool from time to time, Montoya should be near the front, if not in first place, when the checkered flag falls.

Kurt Busch might be a bit of a surprise pick for a road course, but he has had some success in the past at Sonoma. He sat on the pole at Sears Point and Watkins Glen in 2006 and has finished third and fifth the last two times the series visited the wine country of California. Driving for Penske is also a plus, considering the owner’s open wheel experience and the success that Rusty Wallace had on road courses. There is a good chance Busch will be near the front this weekend.

Sit ‘Em Down:

Jimmie Johnson is the defending Cup champion and drives for the most powerful team in the sport, but he is not very good when it comes to road course racing. In five previous visits to Sonoma, he has one Top 5 and two Top 10s, with two finishes of 35th or worse. This is one of the few weeks when it is a good idea to leave Johnson on the bench.

Jeff Burton has been running less than stellar over the last few weeks in the Cup Series. Since AT&T has been on the hood, Burton has finishes of 12th, 13th, and 24th twice. Add to that an average finish at Sonoma of 22.2, and it totals up to be a good weekend to keep Burton on the sidelines.

Roll The Dice

Robby Gordon has been doing amazing things as an owner / driver this year. He is 29th in the driver standings right now with his single-car operation, and now, he’s headed to a road course, one where he always is a threat to win. Gordon has indeed won at Sonoma before and, if he can keep his temper in check, will be a threat to win again this weekend. There are only a couple of times a year that Gordon is worth running on your team, and this is definitely one of them.

Cami’s Picks:

Crank ‘Em Up:

Last year at Sonoma, Jeff Gordon celebrated his engagement to his now wife Ingrid Vandebosch with a victory. This year, he heads to Infineon Raceway looking to win a race for his newborn daughter, Ella, and there is a good shot of that happening. It’s no secret that Gordon is one of, if not the, best NASCAR driver on road courses, which is proven by five career wins at Infineon. Add to that the fact that he can seem to do no wrong this year, and Gordon is primed for a good finish this weekend.

One of Gordon’s main rivals on the road courses is Tony Stewart. In fact, Stewart came into this race last year looking for his fourth straight road course win, only to have mechanical problems take him out of contention. There is no doubt that Stewart is hungry to get into Victory Lane this year, and with a 10.5 average finish at Sonoma, this weekend could easily become feeding time.

Sit ‘Em Down:

Road course racing is hard for some drivers to get a knack for. Some get the hang of it over time, while some never seem to come to grips with making right-hand turns. Perhaps Reed Sorenson will fall into the first category in years to come; but right now, he isn’t a bright prospect for this weekend. In his first race at Sonoma, he finished 29th and managed to improve at Watkins Glen later in the year. But with only one Top 10 in the last 10 races, things really aren’t going Reed’s way right now. There are plenty of other drivers out there to use instead.

Sterling Marlin proves that not all drivers do get the hang of road course racing, no matter how long they have been at it. In 49 road course appearances, Marlin only has one Top 5 finish and ten Top 10s. You have to go back six races to find a race at Sonoma where Marlin finished higher than 18th; that was his career best road course finish of second in 2000. While rumors are swirling about Marlin going part-time next year, it’s best to give him time off right now from your fantasy team.

Roll The Dice

When you think of Ryan Newman, a few things automatically come to mind: engineering graduate, cell phone pitchman, and Mr. Bud Pole Award. But road course ace? You wouldn’t think of Newman right away when giving a short list of the best left and right turners in the sport, but, in fact, his average of 7.8 at Sonoma is tops among active drivers. In five Infineon starts, he has no finish lower than 14th and four Top 10s. With the roll that he is on already, look for Newman to pad those stats this weekend.

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes


1 Juan Pablo Montoya.
The former Formula One driver will be in his first Nextel Cup road race this weekend. It should be interesting to see what he does in his own element. He won the Busch series road race in Mexico earlier in the year.

2 Jeff Gordon. He has won two of the last three races at Infineon. He is driving well and leading the points. He will also be going for his fifth victory of the season. Yes, he could be considered a favorite.

3 The cars. Sunday’s race will mark the road-course debut for the Cars of Tomorrow. The winged things have gotten mixed reviews on the short tracks this season because of their difficulty in handling high-speed corners. There are no high-speed corners at Infineon Raceway.

•Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.

•3 p.m. Sunday on TNT

•The track is a 1.99-mile road course, 350 kilometers in length with 110 laps

•The purse is $5,477,835

•Last year’s race winner was Jeff Gordon. Kurt Busch won the pole.

Road killers

Politely, the drivers some teams bring in to race road courses are known as Road Warriors. Not so politely, they are called ringers. Whatever, there will be at least eight of them at Infineon Raceway on Sunday.

They are: P.J. Jones (No. 00 Toyota), who will step in for David Reutimann; Klaus Graf (No. 49 Dodge), for Mike Bliss; Terry Labonte (No. 55 Toyota), for Michael Waltrip; and Ron Fellows (No. 96 Chevrolet) for Tony Raines.

Also, four road-course specialists will attempt to qualify. They are Butch Leitzinger (No. 36 Toyota), Brian Simo (No. 37 Dodge), Boris Said (No. 60 Ford) and Marc Goossens (No. 91 Toyota).

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Toyota/Save Mart 350 HOT! Sheet    
With all the attention at Hendrick Motorsports recently focused on Jeff Gordon’s quest for a 5th title, Jimmie Johnson’s quest to repeat, and Kyle Busch’s quest for a new ride, it’s been Casey Mears that has shined above them all. After only one top 15 in the first 11 races, he has an average finish of 5.5 in the last four. It all started when he got a blackjack after gambling on fuel in the Coca-Cola 600 and gained his first ever victory. At Dover he managed to come from 41st up to 13th. Then it was back-to-back 4th place finishes the last two weeks. Until he cools off, we’d suggest you leave him in your lineup.

Second on the rundown this week is Martin Truex, Jr. To get a gauge on what kind of current success he’s experiencing, all you have to do is look in the “last 3” column. No, that’s not a misprint. He really has been running that good. At Dover, he dominated the field, leading well over half of the race en route to his first career trip to victory lane in the Cup series. At Pocono, he may have made it two in a row but the rains came and he settled for 3rd. Last week at Michigan, he was fast the second they took the car off the hauler and ended up 2nd. He doesn’t have much experience turning left and right, but we think he’ll be fine this weekend.

It wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when” the #99 team of Carl Edwards was going to get back to victory lane. After a year and a half wait, it finally happened last weekend at Michigan. Making it a little extra special was the fact that it came in his 100th career start on the circuit. It continues a stretch of the last 6 races in which his worst finish was 15th at Charlotte. He is solidly placed among the top 12 and is now just racing for more victory bonus points. Keep him active.

At the other end of the spectrum this week is a man who has been falling in the standings. David Stremme started off the season with 6 top 20s in the first 7 races. But in the last 8 events, he’s only posted two of them. In that span, the team has only finished on the lead lap twice. His average finish in the last three races is right at 33rd position. His inexperience on road courses leads us to believe the struggles will continue this Sunday.

It’s not too often that you’ll find the name Jimmie Johnson near the bottom of our rundown, but that’s the case this week. In the last 3 races, his average finish is a whopping 25th place. He has also finished at least one lap down from the leaders in each of those three. At Dover, he limped his way to a 15th place showing. On a track that he has been highly successful at, Pocono, he had a tire issue and was forced home 42nd. Last week, he managed to lead over a quarter of the race before the problems hit and he was scored 19th. By no means are we saying bench him, however he does get our “buyer beware” label this week.

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