Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

Toyota/Save Mart 350 PreQ    
Over the last few months Denny Hamlin has been in contention to win only to see his chance evaporate late in the event. It occurred once again as his pit crew failed him at Michigan sending him back in traffic on the final pit stop. Hamlin has been running well despite the failure to make it to victory lane and once again comes out among the top drivers to grab for the road course race at Infineon Speedway. Many would not consider selecting Hamlin on a road course but those thoughts should be dismissed. Hamlin placed 12th at Infineon last season while recording a 10th place finish at Watkins Glen International. He is even more dominant in the road course races at the Busch level winning the event in Mexico last season while taking the runner-up spot to Juan Pablo Montoya this season. Hamlin will once again be among the top finishes for the Toyota/Save Mart 350.

Hamlin’s teammate, Tony Stewart, is a driver many fantasy players will have in their starting lineup as he dominates the series on road courses. In the last three seasons Stewart has won three of the six road course races while averaging an 8th place finish. He did have some problems in this race last season finishing in 28th place. However, it was his only finish outside the top 15 in his eight career starts at the track. Stewart, like Hamlin, is still searching for his first win of the season and it would not be much of a surprise to see the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet in victory lane at the end of the day.

As always with the road course events there will be a handful of ‘ringers’ on the entry list. The most notable is Boris Said. Said is averaging a 10th place finish in his last four starts at Infineon making him on of the best road course specialists in the series. It also helps that Said runs in a handful of other events during the season which keeps him used to the competitive at the Cup level. Along with Said look for strong runs from Ron Fellows who will be behind the wheel of the of the Hall of Fame Racing #96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet. Fellows has a pair of top 10s in his last three starts at Infineon. Also consider long time Cup veteran Terry Labonte who will be driving the MWR #55 NAPA Toyota as Michael Waltrip steps down for the event. Labonte has posted a 12th place finish and a 3rd place finish in the last two races held at the track.

There is, of course, the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to road course events with plenty of drivers hating these types of races. One of those is Kasey Kahne. In six career starts on road courses Kahne has just two top 20 finishes with an average of 26th place. Kahne is off to a horrible start to the season sitting well back in the point standings as he has virtually no chance of making the Chase for the Championship. With a pair of road course races still on the schedule he will more than likely take hits in each. Avoid him for the race this weekend as well as the event coming up at Watkins Glen.

Kahne’s teammate, Scott Riggs, also struggles on the road courses. In six career starts he has never finished in the top 20 in road course events while averaging a 28th place finish. Riggs, like Kahne, has had all sorts of problems this season as he sits in the 36th position in the point standings and will have a difficult time even making the race this weekend. Riggs can only hope to at least make the race and salvage a decent run. It is unlikely, however, as Riggs, and Dodge in general, has had a rough 2007 season. There are plenty of other ‘road course specialists’ to grab this weekend. Avoid overpaying for drivers that will not produce.

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

Driver Handicaps: Sonoma

This weekend the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to Infineon Raceway for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 - the seventh Car of Tomorrow race of the 2007 season. To help you make your Dale Jr. Reality Cup Racing fantasy picks, RacingOne brings you our weekly detailed look at some of the field for the 110-lap event.

Who's HOT at Infineon

* Jeff Gordon, the defending winner, leads all drivers with five victories.
* Ryan Newman has the best average finish among all drivers at 7.8.
* Tony Stewart has finished second or better in three of the last six races, which includes two wins.
* Two-time winner Ricky Rudd leads all drivers with 10 top fives.
* Robby Gordon is the only other driver entered in this event with a win.

Keep an Eye on at Infineon
* Road course "Ringers" Boris Said and Ron Fellows have combined for five top 10s at Infineon.
* Kurt Busch's average driver rating of 121.2 leads all drivers at Infineon.
* Rookies Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the Mexico Busch race, and AJ Allmendinger have had a bunch of success on road courses in open wheel racing.
* Kevin Harvick has won at the track in the NASCAR West and Southwest Series.
* Denny Hamlin leads all drivers with 581 laps led with the Car of Tomorrow.
* Jimmie Johnson, has two top 10s at Infineon, and has a 6.7 average finish with the COT.
* Martin Truex Jr., who won the 2005 Busch race in Mexico, will look to push his 2007 top five streak to four.

COT Performers

Jeff Gordon leads all drivers in starting average (3.7) and finishing average (3.3) in the six Car of Tomorrow races that have been contested so far. Gordon is tied with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for the most wins with two. Kyle Busch, who won the first COT race driving for Hendrick, has a finishing average of 10.2. Denny Hamlin has dominated the competition by leading an impressive 581 laps, but has yet to win a race. Hamlin ranks third in average start (9.3) and second in average finish (4.8). Matt Kenseth (Ford), Ryan Newman (Dodge) and Brian Vickers (Toyota) hold the best average finish among their manufacturers at 8.0, 17.2 and 25.7, respectively. David Gilliland has the worst average finish among all the drivers that have made every COT start at 36.0. COT Driver Averages | COT Lap Leaders

Runnin' It
Since the Car of Tomorrow will be phased in on the road courses this weekend, that will mean all new COT chassis for Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350. Although the COT has not been in competition yet on the road courses, a majority of the teams have tested the new car on courses that include Road Atlanta and Virginia International Raceway.

Infineon Rookie Report
None of the Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates have made a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series start at Infineon Raceway. Paul Menard is the only one with road course experience in a Cup car, finishing three races at Watkins Glen with an average of 28.3. Juan Pablo Montoya, who won this year's Busch race in Mexico, built his career up winning races on road courses in Champ Car and Formula One. AJ Allmendinger is another rookie with open wheel success on road courses and is looking forward to this weekend. David Ragan has never competed at Infineon, but he has been to the track twice to test. David Reutimann will not race this weekend and will concentrate his efforts on the Busch race in Milwaukee. Rookie Standings

Qualifying Tidbits
Jeff Gordon has won five of the last 10 Bud Pole Awards at Infineon Raceway, including two consecutive in 2004, 2005. In 2003, Boris Said captured his first Cup Pole driving for the injured Jerry Nadeau in the No. 01 U.S. Army Pontiac. Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch are the only two full-time drivers that have won a pole in the 10 race span, with Busch the most recent in 2006. Gordon's 2005 lap of 94.325 mph still stands as the track record. Past Pole Winners | Starting Positions of Infineon Winners

Top 20 Driver Notes - Based on Current Standings

1. Jeff Gordon
(Points: 2392): Last year, Gordon led 44 of the 110 laps from the 11th position en route to his last win (fifth overall) at Infineon Raceway. Gordon's 92 laps led en route to his 2004 victory was the most laps he led in the nine races where he has held the lead there. He took victories (two from the pole) for three consecutive years from 1998 to 2000 leading a combined total of 171 laps. He has finished outside the top 11 three times, including the 2005 event when he led 32 laps from the pole before suffering transmission problems. His worst finish of 37th came in 1994 (only DNF) and 2002. Gordon is the leader in wins and laps led (437) at Infineon.

2. Denny Hamlin (Points Behind: -264): Hamlin finished 12th in his first NEXTEL Cup start at Infineon Raceway in 2006. He prepared for this weekend's race with a test at Virginia International Raceway. Hamlin has one road course win in the Busch Series at Mexico City in 2006.

3. Jimmie Johnson (Points Behind: -337): Johnson captured his best finish (fifth) at Infineon Raceway in 2004 in his third of five career starts at the track. In 2005, Johnson scored his worst finish of 36th after starting a best second. Last year he led his first laps (2) at Infineon en route to a 10th-place finish. This weekend he will debut a new COT chassis (No. 442) in the Toyota/Save Mart 350.

4. Matt Kenseth (Points Behind: -348): Infineon Raceway is the only track where Kenseth has yet to score a top-10 finish. His 22.0 average finish is second only to Homestead for the worst among all tracks. Kenseth's best finish at Sonoma was an 11th in 2005.

5. Jeff Burton (Points Behind: -473): Burton has competed in 13 races at Infineon Raceway scoring four top-10 finishes. His best Infineon finish, seventh, came in 2006 in his second track start with Richard Childress Racing. In 2005, he was running 10th in the closing laps, until another competitor spun him out. Infineon is Burton's worst track on the circuit when it comes to laps led. His three total laps led came in the 1999 race.

6. Carl Edwards (Points Behind: -487): Edwards will look to use some information gathered in a test at Road Atlanta to help him score his second consecutive top 10 at Infineon Raceway. Edwards will once again travel long distance to pull double duty, as he will be driving the No. 60 Ford in the Busch race at Milwaukee. Travis Kvapil will be practicing and qualifying his Busch car.

7. Tony Stewart (Points Behind: -489): Stewart won his first NEXTEL Cup road race and the first for Joe Gibbs Racing in this event in 2001. The next season he won his only pole at Infineon Raceway and finished second. In 2005, Stewart won his second race and led 39 of his career total 60 laps at the 1.99-mile track. Stewart, who will make his 300th NEXTEL Cup start on Sunday, is third among full-time drivers with a 10.5 average finish.

8. Kevin Harvick (Points Behind: -598): In NEXTEL Cup racing, Harvick has started six times at Infineon Raceway, with a best finish of third coming in the 2003 event. He has, however, won twice at the track, in the NASCAR West Series in 1998 and the Southwest Series in 2003. In 2004, he picked up 24 spots in the final 70 laps to salvage a 12th-place finish after an early pit road miscue. Harvick's worst finishes, and only ones outside the top 15, have come in the last two events when he placed 37th and 24th, respectively. In 2004, he picked up 24 spots in the final 70 laps to salvage a 12th-place finish after an early pit road miscue.

9. Clint Bowyer (Points Behind: -618): Bowyer is one of the drivers that will not be racing a new chassis in the Toyota/Save Mart 350. The No. 07 Team has opted to bring back the same car (chassis No. 194) that finished ninth at Richmond in May. last year he posted an average finish of 15.0 in his first two NEXTEL Cup road course starts.

10. Martin Truex Jr. (Points Behind: -620): Truex Jr. will be seeking his fourth consecutive top-five finish of 2007 this weekend at Infineon Raceway. He tested this weekend's chassis (No. 057) at Virginia International Raceway. Truex, who finished 15th after the team had to change engines last year at Infineon, won the 2005 Busch Series road course event in Mexico.

11. Kyle Busch (Points Behind: -629): Last year, Busch lowered his finishing average at Infineon Raceway to 25.5 with an 11th-place finish. He spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Phoenix at Bob Bondurant's Racing School to prepare for this weekend.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Points Behind: -701): Infineon Raceway is Earnhardt Jr's worst track by finishing average at 23.3. Along with Homestead, Infineon is the only track where Junior has yet to score a top 10. He is coming off finishes of 42nd and 26th, respectively, on the California road course. The 2004 race marked the only time Junior has led a lap(s) at Infineon after holding the No. 8 Chevrolet up front for nine laps. He will race a brand new chassis (No. 052) in his eighth career start at Infineon.

13. Mark Martin (Points Behind: -730): Martin will not race this weekend.

14. Jamie McMurray (Points Behind: -763): McMurray has made four starts at Infineon Raceway and finished a career best second in 2004 with Chip Ganassi Racing. Last year in his first track start with Roush Fenway Racing he qualified second and finished 18th. He tested this weekend's chassis (RK-485) a couple of times last month at various tracks, including the road course in Kershaw, S.C.

15. Ryan Newman (Points Behind: -776): Newman has finished no worse than 14th in four starts at Infineon Raceway. In fact his 14th-place finish in 2004 is his only outside the top 10. Last year Newman scored his best Infineon finish with a second-place run. He also led laps (11) for the first time at the track in that event. Newman, who has the best average finish (17.2) among the Dodges with the COT, tested for Sunday's race at Virginia International Raceway.

16. Kurt Busch (Points Behind: -845): Last year in this event, Busch won the pole and finished fifth in his first start at Infineon Raceway with Penske Racing. In 2005, he finished a best third in his fifth and final track start with Roush Fenway Racing. Busch's only other finish inside the top 20 came in 2002 when he finished fourth.

17. Bobby Labonte (Points Behind: -885): Labonte has competed in 14 races at Infineon Raceway, posting five top 10s. His best finish is fourth, twice, most recently in 2000. Last year in this event, he finished 35th in his first track start with Petty Enterprises.

18. J.J. Yeley (Points Behind: -888): Yeley was the worst finishing rookie at Infineon Raceway in 2006 after he was involved in an accident with the No. 41, 43 and 88 cars in the closing laps. He finished 33rd after starting 38th. Yeley did have a shot of scoring a top 10 at Watkins Glen last August, but was forced to pit because of a tire going down while running in the top five. He prepared for this weekend's event by testing the COT at Virginia International Raceway.

19. Casey Mears (Points Behind: -918): This weekend Mears will be making his first start with Hendrick Motorsports at Infineon Raceway. In his four previous starts at the 1.99-mile track with Chip Ganassi racing, Mears posted an average finish of 18.2 with one top 10 in 2004.

20. Greg Biffle (Points Behind: -931): Biffle captured his first top five at Infineon Raceway last year in this event after finishing fourth. Like his teammates, Biffle will be racing a new COT that has been developed by the Research and Development team over the past couple months. He tested the car for a few laps at Road Atlanta before rain moved in.

Road Course Ringers

Boris Said: Last year at Infineon Raceway, Said finished ninth and led one lap driving the No. 60 Ford. The finish was his third top 10 in the last four races at Infineon. In 2003 he won the pole driving the No. 01 U.S. Army for MB2 Motorsports. At Watkins Glen he scored his best finish in 2005 when he finished third after starting 41st in the No. 36 MB2 Chevrolet.

Ron Fellows: Fellows will make his sixth start at Infineon Raceway driving the No. 96 Hall of Fame Racing Chevrolet. This team, which finished third with Terry Labonte in 2006, will mark the fourth different team he has driven for at Infineon. He captured his only top 10s at the 2.52-mile road course in 2003 and 2005 finishing seventh and eighth, respectively, with DEI and PPI Motorsports. Fellows has also enjoyed success at Watkins Glen International in the NASCAR Busch and Truck Series where he has visited victory lane a combined five times. The Glen is also the site of Fellows' career best NEXTEL Cup finishes - two second-place runs in 1999 and 2004.

Brian Simo: This weekend Simo will attempt to qualify for his fourth race at Infineon Raceway driving the No. 37 Dodge. In his last track start in 2005, Simo finished 10th driving the No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Others entered include: P.J. Jones (No. 00 Toyota), Klaus Graf (No. 49 Dodge) and Marc Goossens (No. 91 Toyota).

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

NASCAR Notebook: Infineon
Barry F. Hess

Cruising in Wine Country

After two weeks in the old car the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series returns to the Car of Tomorrow as the circuit travels to Sonoma, California and the first of two road course tracks on the schedule, Infineon Raceway.

With a difficult combination of flat track racing, banked turns and oh yea, don’t forget those pesky, right hands turns, drivers are in for one of the most demanding courses out there as they navigate the 11-turn maze that is Infineon.

There isn’t a style of racing that Robby Gordon hasn’t at least tried once or twice in his life but to say he feels right at home on a road course would be a bigger understatement than saying race fans in Talladega don’t particularly care for Jeff Gordon.

Gordon, who earned one of his three career wins at Infineon in 2003, is currently 29th in points and would love nothing more than a chance to gain valuable positions with a solid finish Sunday.

Look for Gordon to make a run at the pole before running solid all afternoon.

After suffering from a less than sufficient engine package last year at Infineon, at least in his eyes, Gordon made the switch to Ford during the off-season in the hopes it would help him get back to Victory Lane at races like this.

It has been an up and down season for Jamie McMurray and the rest of the No. 26 Crown Royal Ford team through 15 races.

McMurray appears to have a strong handle on the COT and has run some of his better races of the year in it.

Look for last year’s outside pole sitter in this race to put together another solid run after finishing eighth last weekend in Michigan.

With just 62 points separating him from the last position inside the Chase McMurray has to be on his game should he want to continue considering he and his team a legitimate contender for this year’s championship.

The weather is hot, the days are long and the racing has never been more intense, this is usually the time of year when two-time Nextel Cup Champion Tony Stewart begins to make a run towards the title.

Stewart, who has two career wins and a second place finish at Infineon, is currently seventh in the point standings and while he has yet to fall from the top 10 since entering it back in March he hasn’t come closer than sixth all year.

Look for Stewart, who didn’t earn his first win of the season until June in his first championship season and July in his second to begin his march to the top with a strong outing Sunday afternoon.

Don’t be surprised if he challenges for the pole as well as the most laps led award, as one of the better road course racers on the circuit, Stewart could officially throw his name in the small hat of challengers to beat out Jeff Gordon for the Championship.

Since the announcement that Juan Pablo Montoya was making the switch to NASCAR most around the sport circled this Sunday’s date as the best chance Montoya had to earn his first career Nextel Cup win.

Already with a win in the Busch Series, the road course in Mexico, Montoya will have all eyes on him as he navigates the No. 42 Havoline Dodge around the difficult 11-turn course.

Though Montoya may make a serious run at the pole don’t expect him to dominate the way he did in the Busch Series.

With a stronger field and a seriously more difficult course look for Montoya to earn a respectable finish, maybe even lead a lap or two.

Having already shown he is an aggressive driver Montoya will have to pick and choose his spots wisely else he’ll finish the day watching the end of the race from the garage area.

Prediction: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is no reason to believe the 43-car field will show up to race this weekend and Jeff Gordon will beat them all to the start/finish line.

Gordon is in the midst of arguably the greatest season of his illustrious career and fresh off the birth of his newborn daughter, his first child, expect Gordon and the No. 24 DuPont Chevy to get to the front early and stay there.

As one of the greatest road course drivers in the history of the sport look for Gordon to navigate the course with ease, or at least making it look easy before sailing to his fifth win of the season and quite possibly his fifth championship.

Busch-Whacked By a Junebug

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat in his comfortable JR MotorSports garage to announce his recent signing with Hendrick MotorSports for the 2008 season you could almost see the 10,000 pound gorilla finally get off his shoulders.

Those who may have been sitting around Kyle Busch around the same time may have seen that very same gorilla throw itself on the young 21-year old driver’s back with the intentions of staying for quite a while…like the last 21 races of 2007.

07’ was turning out to be the coming of age party for the younger of the two Busch brothers before his racing world fell out from underneath him, or more accurately was pulled out from beneath him.

Having already won a race, the very first COT race earlier in Bristol, Busch has yet to fall from the top 10 in the point standings and is considered a legitimate contender for the championship.

Having forged a solid relationship with crew chief Allen Gustafson and the rest of his pit crew Busch even managed to tone down the immature actions on the track and remarks off them.

All seemed well in the No. 5 camp.

But Junior changed all that.

Suddenly we hear Rick Hendrick telling us he and Busch have struggled to renegotiate a new deal and that the two sides simply couldn’t come to an agreement on almost anything.

Then we learn from Busch himself that isn’t entirely true.

So lets call a spade a spade, Hendrick saw the opportunity to grab Junior and make his already powerhouse stable even more dominant that ever before, somebody had to go and in this case it was Busch.

So now the question becomes what happens to this 21-year old, extremely talented driver with no ride lined up for 08’?

“I'm interested in talking to anybody who wants to talk,” Busch said. “Whether it's DEI, whether it's Gibbs, RCR, Evernham, Yates, whoever's got an open seat. Whatever, lets go, let's sit down. Let's have dinner.”

And while Hendrick and Busch have squabbled occasionally over maturity issues Busch’s aggressive attitude is hardly scaring potential employers away.

“If you make a simple comparison, it's not like the kid's Mike Tyson,” said team owner Ray Evernham. “He's not out grabbing women and doing drugs. He has a temper, and he says things once in a while. To me, that's not really a bad thing.”

Richard Childress concurs.

“You have to remember his age -- I can name you eight or 10 guys in here at his age that were a handful,'' Childress said. “He's learning. Every new experience, you get educated a little more and I'd say this has educated him a little more.”

So where does the young driver end up?

Rumors of a Ginn ride, possibly to replace Sterling Marlin have risen as have talks with Joe Gibbs Racing as a possible replacement of JJ Yeley in the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevy.

While his future is still undecided one thing is for sure, don’t be surprised to see Busch and the No. 5 continue to drop down the point standings as he’s done each of the last two weeks now that he will be driving for another team in 08’

Random Thoughts

+ Kudos to Michael Waltrip for breaking into the top 10 for the first time this year last week in Michigan. With Terry Labonte driving the car this week in Infineon it may be the start of a long over due success for Waltrip and his race team.

+ Now that Kyle Busch is looking for anew home I would love to see him driving the No. 16 Roush Racing Ford next year. With talks of Greg Biffle’s departure at year’s end Busch’s young talent would revitalize an already young and talented stable.

+ With all the various “Ringer” drivers headed west to try and crash the Nextel Cup party this weekend in Sonoma. I can’t help but think all of them are over rated…I mean, there’s a reason why none of them have won a race, they aren’t good enough.

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

Drivers to put COT through first road test at Infineon

Nextel Cup Series drivers will be put to the test again this week as the Car of Tomorrow goes road-course racing for the first time.

Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3:30 p.m. ET, TNT) at Infineon Raceway will mark the COTs seventh race of the season, but first away from an oval.

"The original design of the Car of Tomorrow has many characteristics of the current road-course car," said Brett Bodine, NASCAR director of cost research. "Particularly in the fact that both are more symmetric than the oval track current cars."

Having raced in the COT six times previously, drivers are beginning to become accustomed to its characteristics and expect more of the same this week.

"I think they are going to be a challenge to drive," Harvick said. "The forward bite is not as good as the other cars. The cars are also a little slower and hard to handle."

Tony Stewart felt very much the same way after testing the COT on the road course at Virginia International Raceway.

"Well, it crashes the same. I went off track twice and tore up a lot of stuff," Stewart said. "It's just slower. It doesn't drive as well, obviously. It's been top-heavy everywhere we've been, so we're kind of used to it. It'll be the same on a road course."

Much talk has been made of the front-end splitter, one of the defining characteristics of the COT.

"I think the splitter is not as big of an issue as we believed it would be. The splitter has proven to be an extremely durable piece of material," Jeff Burton said. "I could be proven wrong but when we tested at VIR last month, the curves were pretty aggressive, and I don't think it's going to be that big of an issue. Certainly it's potentially an issue but I don't think the splitter is going to be that big of an issue in and of itself."

With that said, Burton warned:

"It's a lower grip car and it doesn't make as much grip as the cars we are running today and on a road course, it will make a big difference. They're heavier and the CG [center of gravity] is higher. There are a lot of things that work against the car driving well and that will show up on a road course."

Jimmie Johnson isn't as concerned with the COT as much as the tires they'll be racing on.

"The things that are going on with this car I think will lead to more tire give-up and more tire fall-off, which will make Infineon more challenging than it has been in the past," Johnson said.

NASCAR was hoping to level the playing field, so to speak, with the COT. With road-course testing limited to VIR, Infineon could do just that.

"It's going to be a guessing game for a lot of people," Bobby Labonte said. "I don't know if anyone has a huge head start with the new car on a road course. There are teams out there that have tested on the ovals a lot, but we haven't heard much about the road courses.

"We have seen some teams really get a handle on the new car on the ovals. We aren't that far behind. We have had good runs with the car and feel good about it. There just isn't that much information about road courses."

Early results of the COT have proven that the drivers who have ran well in the current car also have been successful in the new one. Johnson and Jeff Gordon each have four wins this season, and they have been split evenly between the COT and the current car.

Because of that, Harvick thinks the drivers who generally race well at Infineon might have the advantage.

I think you will really see the good road-course drivers shine this year at Sonoma," he said.

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

Right and Left

The NASCAR Nextel Cup Series heads to the road courses only two times per year. In June, they gear up for Infineon Raceway and in August, they turn right and left at Watkins Glen International. While the tracks are both road course, there are many drivers who do much better at one than the other. However, fantasy owners will want to compare the tracks' numbers to get a true picture of who the favorites are this week.

One nice thing about road racing is that it opens up the fantasy racing options. It is true that there have only been three different winners on those tracks in the last three years, but owners will find that there are several drivers who are viable options at a track like Sonoma.

Almost every fantasy owner will want one of two drivers this week: Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart. Between the two, they have won eight of the last 11 races on the road courses and five of the previous six. While they have earned their reputations as the best road racers in NASCAR, fantasy owners will have other options as well among those likely to finish in the top five.

When it comes to road racing, owners cannot go wrong with Gordon or Stewart, but the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet has the edge at Infineon. Gordon's five wins there lead all drivers at the track. Along with his wins he has added three more top-fives and four top-10s since 1996. The two times that he has not been in the top 10 in those 11 years can be chalked up to equipment problems, not driver errors.

Juan Montoya will be in his natural element this week on the road course. The former open-wheel champion has mostly raced on road courses in his career. Although he has never been to Sonoma before, his pedigree speaks for itself; he won seven Formula One races—including the prestigious Monte Carlo Grand Prix—and was a championship contender in the road-course-only circuit. He won his first stockcar event ever entered in the Busch Series in March on the road course of Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. This is Montoya's week to shine.

Dark Horses
The road racing specialists will be aplenty this week. Making appearances this week will be Ron Fellows, P.J. Jones, Brian Simo, Klaus Graf and Marc Goossens. However, except for Fellows, these drivers will race for teams that are outside the top 35 in owners' points, and might be a little risky.

Boris Said is a staple of NASCAR when it comes to the winding tracks in Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Said consistently runs at the head of the field on the road courses. For his Infineon career, he has two sixth-place finishes and a ninth, which he earned last year, as well as five top-20s in seven attempts. Since last year, he has been driving the No. 60 Ford, which he co-owns with Brian's brother Mark Simo and the partners use Roush-Fenway Racing equipment. What gives him the advantage over his road racing specialist competition is that he knows his team better than they know theirs.

Fantasy owners will not want to get too caught up in the "road ringers" to forget about Carl Edwards. Last year, he had his best road course finishes, picking up a sixth at Infineon and a fifth at Watkins Glen. He is coming off his first win of the season, and that will have his confidence high on a track where he has proven he can run with the leaders. Jack Roush has a history of success on the road courses with Mark Martin—who will turn the wheel of his No. 01 Chevy over to rookie Regan Smith—and Edwards will be the frontrunner for the team this week.

Avoidance Principal
Matt Kenseth has the talent to win races on any track. The problem is that he has not shown that aptitude on a road course. In his 14 career starts at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, he has just two top-10 results. Unfortunately, the last time he did that was in 2004 and neither top-10 was earned at Sonoma. He has consistently finished in the top 20 in the last three starts at Infineon, but there is too much doubt to pick him over any other driver this week.

Things are going to go from bad to worse for Kasey Kahne this week. Even in his better seasons, he has never been a road course driver. For his career, his best finish was a 14th at Watkins Glen in his first start there in 2004. As for Infineon, he has never been higher than 31st, giving him an average result of 34th. His results in New York suggest that he has the potential to run in the top 20 on the road courses, but he is well behind the curve when he is in Sonoma.

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

Gordon, Johnson parked for failing inspection  yikes

Going through inspection this morning, the No. 24 and the No. 48 cars failed the inspection where NASCAR lays the grid of templates on the Car of Tomorrow.

NASCAR has parked these two cars for the day. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson will not be able to practice and qualify. NASCAR will meet with the teams in the morning to let them know their status and whether they can participate in Saturday's practices.

They will start this race at the rear of the field, in 41st and 42nd, with the 43rd position reserved for the past champion's provisional.

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

McMurray in a hurry at Infineon
June 22nd, 2007

Sonoma, CA (Sports Network) - Jamie McMurray captured the pole for Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 from the Infineon Raceway road course. But the big story is that neither Jeff Gordon nor Jimmie Johnson were allowed to qualify. Both cars failed pre-race inspection and the cars were not allowed on the track for practice or qualifying.

Without Gordon, a five-time winner in Sonoma and the holder of the qualifying record, the No.26 Roush Fenway Racing Ford won the pole with a lap of one minute, 17.521 seconds (77.521 m.p.h.).

The pole victory was McMurray's first of the season and third of his Nextel Cup career. His last pole was in 2005 at Pocono.

"We unloaded and our engineering team gave us a really good car," said McMurray.

Starting on the front row with McMurray will be Robby Gordon who posted a time of 77.533 seconds.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (77.546) and road course specialist Boris Said (77.606) will make up row two.

Other drivers of note and their starting positions: Tony Stewart (fifth), Jeff Burton (sixth), Kasey Kahne (eighth), Ryan Newman (ninth), Carl Edwards (15th), Martin Truex Jr. (18th) and Juan Montoya (32nd).

Gordon and Johnson will be allowed to repair their cars and practice on Saturday - if they pass inspection. They will start 41st and 42nd in the race.

"The body was out of the range with what we thought was acceptable in the template inspection," said NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston.

"It's important to know this is a Car of Tomorrow penalty," Poston added. "The inspection process and NASCAR's response to Car of Tomorrow violations are going to be more severe.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was penalized 100 points and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. fined $100,000 and suspended for six races for an illegal rear wing bracket on a COT in May.

The No.5 and No.25 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets both passed their inspections without incident.

More penalties or suspensions will be determined next week, if necessary.

The race is scheduled to drop the green flag on Sunday at 5 p.m. (et).

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Sonoma: Driver Updates
June 23, 2007
By Micah Roberts

Top 5 Cars after all Sonoma Practice and Qualifying sessions:
1) Tony Stewart
2) Kevin Harvick
3) Ron Fellows
4) Jeff Gordon
5) Juan Pablo Montoya

Best longshot candidates to win:
1) Jamie McMurray 20 to 1 or higher
2) Denny Hamlin 25 to 1 or higher

Drivers to avoid betting against just because of how far they start:
1) Jimmie Johnson
2) Jeff Gordon
3) Juan Pablo Montoya

Masquerade Ball; those who fooled us with time:
1) Elliott Sadler
2) Dale Earnhardt Jr
3) Kasey Kahne
4) Robby Gordon

Drivers to take at plus money
1) Ron Fellows
2) Butch Leitzinger
3) PJ Jones
4) Carl Edwards
5) Terry Labonte

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

Green Flag: Toyota/SaveMart 350k
June 23, 2007

The two road races each year are typically easy to handicap as the field can be split into three categories: 1) NASCAR regulars who enjoy road racing and have put the effort into learning how to go fast on these tracks, 2) NASCAR regulars who simply want to survive the weekend with as many points as possible, and 3) road racing specialists that are brought in to run these two events each year.

While it may be a relatively simple task to determine who is going to be strong, most of these drivers are clumped in Tier one, which leaves some hard decisions to be made further down the gird.

Drivers to avoid are simple as well. Stay away from the "Survivors".

Tier One

Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have dominated the road courses in the past three years and between them have earned five of the last six trophies on the twisty tracks. Stewart holds the edge with three wins, but Gordon has the advantage at Infineon after winning in 2004 and again last year. One of these two drivers should be on your roster and if both of them have the same number of allocations remaining, the easiest way to pick which one will be to flip a coin. While both have been incredibly strong, neither has been perfect and mechanical failures caused Stewart to finish 28th last year and Gordon to finish 33rd in 2005.

Even though Gordon will have to roll off the grid at the back of the pack—after getting slapped with a penalty from NASCAR for altering his fenders—he still has the ability to drive to the front. He should still be considered a favorite for a top-five, but a victory might be a tougher battle.

While Gordon and Stewart are your favorites this week, you may want to choose a dark horse for your second selection to differentiate your roster from the other players. Before those drivers went on their current rampage, Robby Gordon swept the road course victory lanes in 2003. He's lost races just about every way possible since then, but every bad finish on a road course can be explained by misfortune and he hasn't lost any of his strength. If he stays out of trouble, a top 10 is guaranteed.

In an interview with the Associated Press this week, Juan Montoya said he considers himself to be a favorite this weekend at Infineon Raceway. That's a bold comment for a driver with an average finish of 29th in the last eight events, but road courses are run by their own rules. Montoya won the first stock car road race he ever entered at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City in the Busch series and before taking the trophy, he first spun out his teammate Scott Pruett. That showed desire on one hand, but a certain lack of patience on the other, and he needs to remember that the NASCAR Nextel Cup drivers have much more experience using their fenders as weapons than his former F1 buddies.

If you want to expand your horizons by taking a road ringer, Boris Said is your man in Tier One. Typically, these sports car specialists struggle because they are campaigning lightly-funded entries that are outside the top 35 in owner points. Said is outside the top 35 as well, but he is in his own car and the chemistry is going to be great. Last year he finished ninth in this race and with a third at the Glen in 2005, he has a history of success. While he has not yet won in the NASCAR Nextel Cup series, he does have a Craftsman Truck Series and an Elite Southwest trophy to his credit at Infineon, so he knows where victory lane is located.

There really aren't any bad choices in Tier One, but with several drivers head and shoulders above the rest, there isn't any reason to look any further, so the remainder can be avoided.

Tier Two

Tier Two is where it starts to get a little more interesting, because there are no clear cut favorites. Kevin Harvick has the best Fantasy Power Ranking average during the past three years on road courses, and he proved to be capable of winning last August at Watkins Glen International, but he was merely 24th at Infineon in last year's running of this race. Still, that is one of only two finishes outside the top 15 in his career on the twisty tracks, and he swept the top five in 2003, so he is the best alternative you have at this level.

By the numbers, Carl Edwards is the next driver in line. He was a slow starter on the road courses with a 38th- and 19th-place finish during his rookie season. Last year, however, he got the hang of turning in both directions and finished sixth at Infineon and fifth at the Glen. Coming off a morale-boosting victory at Michigan International Speedway last week, he is prepared to keep his momentum going.

Mark Martin is an easy pick to avoid this week. You can't win if you don't start the race, and he is taking the weekend off to turn his Chevy over to Regan Smith. He was on standby to run the No. 24 if Gordon had to scurry back to Charlotte for the birth of his first daughter, but since Ella Sofia Gordon came to earth on Wednesday morning, Martin's services are not needed.

Tier Three

Experience counts on the road courses, and in Tier Three there is not a driver with more laps on the twisty tracks than Ricky Rudd. He has six road course victories spread evenly across Infineon, Watkins Glen and Riverside International Raceway. Notably, his wins have been earned for five different car owners, which suggest that it has been his innate talent that has provided the extra something needed to win. He might be a little rusty, but you don't want to assume that. His last trip to Infineon in 2005 resulted in a second-place finish.

This could be the week that Elliott Sadler gives Ray Evernham something to smile about. Skill trumps power on the road courses, and while it certainly appears that Ray's engines are seriously lacking in horsepower, Sadler enters the weekend with a seven-race top-15 streak on this type of track. Last year, he swept the top 10 with an eighth at Infineon and a seventh at the Glen. In his 16-race road course career he's never cracked the top five, and it is unlikely he will do so this week either, but a solid top-15 is about as good as you'll get from Tier Three this week.

J.J. Yeley really needed a good showing last week, because he is going to stink like a dead fish at Infineon. The one good thing that can be said about his road course record last year was that he was consistent. Unfortunately, he was consistently bad with finishes of 33rd on both courses. That's about what you can expect from him again this year, and with the Joe Gibbs Racing executives telling him to pick up the pace or look for another ride, the pressure is going to be immense. That can be a motivator on another course, but on the road courses, there are 11 turns to mess up, and one misplaced wheel can spell disaster.

Tier Four

Three of the drivers we would have expected to run strong on the road course failed to make the show outright. Paul Menard, A.J. Allmendinger and his teammate Brian Vickers struggled in time trials and have already started the long trip home.

That has left you with some very limited options.

Bill Elliott is determined to avoid using his past champion's provisional to get into the show, and he proved how strong he can be by qualifying in the top 10. After his lap on the track, he said that his lack of recent experience on the road courses might actually have worked in his favor because he didn't have to unlearn any habits from the old-style car. If he returns to basics, that will be good news for fantasy owners. Elliott won his first NASCAR Nextel Cup race back in 1983 at Riverside International Raceway and the last time he was here at Infineon in 2003, he finished fourth.

Jeff Green has always liked the road courses and he earned a top-five at Infineon in 2002 in his second attempt on this type of track after starting deep in the field in 33rd. He hasn't finished that well since, but he also hasn't fallen off the lead lap. He may not earn maximum points this week, but in nine previous road course races, he's finished in the top 20 five times.

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

Toyota/Save Mart 350 PostQ    
Still searching for his first win of the season Tony Stewart is the favorite to win at Infineon Speedway, especially after the troubles of Hendrick Motorsports. Stewart’s main road racing competition – Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson – have each been relegated to the back of the field for the start of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 after each was found to have infractions during the inspection process. Stewart, always a strong contender to win on the road courses, has shown that he will be the car to beat this Sunday after he qualified in the fifth position while ranking as the top driver on the Speed chart. Stewart should be able to end his victory drought this weekend.

Ryan Newman has been surging in the point standings but his road to the top hit a speed bump last weekend at Michigan. He is still within striking distance of the top 12 and the guaranteed position in the Chase for the Championship with plenty of time to get there. He could make another move up in the standings as he ranks just behind Stewart on the PostQ forecast. It shouldn’t surprise anyone either that he ranks high at Infineon as he is a solid road course driver. In five career starts he averages an 8th place average finish with four top 10s. His poorest finish has been 14th place. Not too shabby for a driver better known for his superspeedway skills. Newman placed 2nd in this race last and has a good shot for a top 5 finish again.

Those looking for the ‘road race specialists’ that are in the lineup Boris Said ranks the highest in the 12th position on the PostQ forecast. Ron Fellows ranks just inside the top 20 as well sitting in the 19th position. It would not be much of a surprise if each finished in the top 10. Said qualified in the top 5 but had some problems in the final practice sessions on Saturday slipping to 18th on the Speed charts. Still, Said has just as much experience in the Cup cars on road courses as anyone. Expect him to be competitive all day. The same can be said for Fellows – another driver that has plenty of experience in the Cup series on the road courses. Fellows has been a fixture during the road course races since 1998 posting four top 10s. He will be driving for a solid team in the Hall of Fame Racing #96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet. Grab him for the race at Infineon.

Casey Mears has been climbing up the point standings in recent weeks as well. He was ranked in the 5th position on the PreQ forecast but Mears has been less than stellar at Infineon so far this weekend. Mears drops all the way to the 25th position on the PostQ forecast due to a 38th starting position. He was just a tick better in the practice sessions than his qualifying time but could only manage to climb to the 35th position on the Speed chart. Mears has run well on road courses in his career but with the troubles Hendrick Motorsports has had this weekend it would be a prudent move to avoid the #25 National Guard Chevrolet.

Heading into the race at Infineon many are predicting that Juan Pablo Montoya will be a contender for his first career win. It could very well happen but if the PostQ forecast is correct Montoya will be in for a long day. He had a disappointing qualifying run posting the 32nd quickest time before moving up in the practice sessions to rank 14th on the Speed chart. He was the fastest car in the morning session but it was still not enough to propel him into the top 30 on the PostQ. He should be able to get into the top 20 but Montoya may not be the contender that many expected this weekend. It would be a better move to look at some of the ‘road course specialists’.

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

Montoya gets first Cup win

Sun, Jun 24, 2007
By Associated Press

SONOMA, Calif. -- Juan Pablo Montoya demonstrated his road racing prowess again Sunday, stretching his final fuel load to the limit and grabbing his first NASCAR Nextel Cup win at Infineon Raceway.

Montoya, who qualified a disappointing 32nd in the 43-car field, was the first driver to win on the Northern California road circuit starting further back than 13th.

The Colombian driver, who jumped from Formula One to the American stock car circuit late last season, got his first Cup win in his 17th start and gave team owner Chip Ganassi his first win in NASCAR's top series since Jamie McMurray won in October 2002.

Montoya, whose only other NASCAR victory came earlier this year in a Busch Series race on the road course in Mexico City, passed McMurray, who know drives for Roush Fenway Racing, eight laps from the end and stayed out front to the end of the 110-lap event on the 1.99-mile, 12-turn course.

The winner got past McMurray for a moment two laps earlier, driving his Dodge past McMurray's Ford in the slow hairpin near the end of the circuit, but Montoya got too wide and McMurray was able to squeeze back by.

The pass that counted came in turn two, with Montoya getting under McMurray's car and passing easily.

''I saw he was always hugging that corner and I thought, 'This is it.' I knew I could pass him there,'' Montoya said.

Donnie Wingo, his crew chief, said it was mostly Montoya's ability to conserve fuel that won the race.

''Today, we had to play a little bit of catchup so we had to take a gamble there at the end,'' Wingo said. ''He saved enough fuel to make it, because we had it figured to be like a lap short. He did a great job on saving fuel, everybody did a good job on the stops and the motor shop did a great job. Without the fuel mileage we'd have never made it.''

McMurray ran out of gas at the start of lap 109 and wound up finishing 37th.

Kevin Harvick inherited second place and finished there, followed by his Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer, who all got great fuel mileage.

Harvick, who appeared to be getting the best mileage of them all, thought he might have the race won when McMurray slowed and Montoya was short shifting to save gas late in the race.

''They came on the radio and told me you've got 20 laps to make up one lap of fuel and the two cars in front of you are both three laps short,'' Harvick said. ''That's how we played it and (Montoya) didn't run out of gas.''

Harvick said he wasn't surprised that it was Montoya who he was chasing at the end.

''I've been a big fan of Montoya's since he came over,'' Harvick said. ''He's a great road racer, but he wasn't the fastest. The strategy won it for him today.''

Series points leader Jeff Gordon overcame a 41st-place start to finish just behind Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart in seventh with a strategic effort in the first road race for NASCAR's new Car of Tomorrow.

Gordon, who became a father for the first time on Wednesday when his daughter, Ella Sofia, was born, and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, the reigning Cup champion, were both banned from practice and qualifying on Friday and had to start from the rear of the field after NASCAR inspectors found their cars had illegally modified front fenders.

Both drivers and their crew chiefs face more penalties from NASCAR in the next few days, but they ran hard to overcome their handicapped start on Sunday. Johnson's fuel strategy didn't work as well as Gordon's and, after getting into the top 10 for a while, he finished 17th.

Robby Gordon, who started alongside pole-winner McMurray, also was a victim of failed strategy after leading a race-high 48 laps. He finished 16th.

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Infineon Race Recap
Matt McLaughlin

The Key Moment – Waiting to see if the No. 42 car crossed the line still under power, which was in doubt right up to the very last moment.

In a Nutshell
– Anyone know what the Spanish for “possum” is? I ask because Juan Montoya and the No. 42 team played it, making others think they were short of fuel before going on to win the race anyway.

Dramatic Moment – There was some good racing between Robby Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. early and Jamie McMurray and Montoya late. But there were hours long stretches of drudgery in between.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

Wow, the TNT folks sure seemed a lot more impressed that Juan Pablo Montoya won than the victor himself. To an extent, there’s a certain class to acting like you belong in Winner’s Circle, and Montoya has won at every level of racing he’s competed in…but my guess is the Havoline folks would have liked to have seen a bit more emotion; what we heard instead was the Hispanic equivalent of Ryan Newman. Oh, and c’mon TNT, no postrace scroll with the finishing order? Especially with a race that difficult to follow for fans at home with all the different fuel strategies and a big shakeup in the running order on the final lap?

Fuel economy races are boring and NASCAR road course races are boring. Throw them together and you have the perfect storm, a tempest of mind-numbing tedium that’s tougher to sort out than cricket rules.

You think Official NASCAR fuel supplier Sunoco was thrilled to see cars with Texaco and Shell emblems finish 1-2 in the race? NASCAR might have to file a one hundred million dollar lawsuit for them, too.

When is NASCAR going to learn how to flag a road course race? Mild single car incidents don’t warrant full course cautions, just local cautions like they have in Champ Car racing and F-1. Watching caution laps unfold at a road course has got to be the most boring part of this sport.

OK, so what are the fines and points penalties going to be for Johnson and Gordon and their teams this week after they got caught with illegal cars prior to Sonoma? Is it going to be $100,000 dollars, 100 owner and driver points, and a six week crew chief suspension again? Maybe. But NASCAR had warned that that the fines and penalties were going to keep escalating until they found a way to get the drivers’ and teams’ attention. And lately, it seems Chad Knaus is a habitual offender.

Related to the above, I suppose the only penalty that really is going to get folks’ attention is suspending a driver and team. $100,000 is chump change to most drivers, many of whom own several street cars that cost more than that. With the Chase, the loss of 100 points is almost immaterial to a driver and team running near the top of the standings. Apparently, the penalty for the No. 8 team didn’t deter the No. 24 and No. 48 bunches from trying to “mine the gray areas.” Also, apparently Kurt Busch’s latest penalty didn’t keep Ted Musgrave from slamming another driver under caution at Milwaukee on Friday. Of course, there is only one clear-headed punishment for Musgrave’s infraction: Ban all Toyota teams from all three series for the rest of the season.

Is Kyle Petty’s penalty for dropping the “f bomb” on TV going to rival Gordon’s and Johnson’s? In other news, this now officially concludes our failed test of the “In-Car Commentator” experiment. Now, can we end the bigger experiment known as TNT? They’re clearly not ready for the big leagues. They have constant audio problems (over and above Larry Mac’s failing voice) and let that delightful little tidbit air during a replay. NASCAR, fine the producer…not Kyle.

Were the Hendrick cars that won the other CoT races legal or doctored? Team officials claim each of the winning cars was taken back to NASCAR’s R and D lab and gone over under a microscope, with no faults or even concerns noted by Robin Pemberton…but this latest bit of ugliness is going to besmirch those previous winning efforts.

Some folks can come up with even wilder conspiracy theories than me. There’s some internet buzz claiming NASCAR only called the violations on the No. 24 team and No. 48 team to light and disqualified them from Friday’s activities because A) Gordon is stinking up the points battle and B) NASCAR is sending a less than subtle message they don’t like the new balance of power with Hendrick ready to add yet another marquee driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to his team.

Is it just me, or does there seem to more support annually for the notion of dropping the road courses from the Cup schedule? Some people who recently began championing the idea had gone on record not long ago as wanting a road race in the Chase. But if you want to see how fans feel, look at the ratings. Watkins Glen and Sonoma are the two least watched races just about every season. In fact, under the old NASCAR TV contracts, a network had to agree to show one of the road course races in order to gain rights to one of the more popular events.

Wow, it looks like Joe Gibbs is seriously considering a move from Chevy to Toyota. (Either that, or he’s using the rumor to get the Bow Tie Brigade to up the ante.) If he does actually switch to Camrys, would Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin be wise to start pursuing rides elsewhere? A switch to Toyota likely won’t do good things to a driver’s results, income, popularity or souvenir sales.

C’mon. They know drivers are rushing to make the start of the race from Sonoma, and Busch series officials have cars parked on the helipad? Sounds like they were sampling some of that stuff that made Milwaukee famous, and I ain’t talking about Harleys. Who ultimately made the call to have Hamlin replace Almirola in the car? It wasn’t popular with the fans.

I’ve heard of races being determined by fuel strategy, but I’ve never seen a driver almost miss qualifying because his pilot gambled on a short load of fuel flying him to the event. Carl Edwards had to make an extra pit stop aboard his jet to get to Milwaukee and once he finally landed, he had to sprint to make it to his car just as it was pushed to the line.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Nobody appeared to have a car that could handle Robby Gordon’s Ford (with the possible exception of the No. 20). Well, poor pit strategy in the No. 7 pits saw to it nobody had to.

Jamie McMurray wasn’t as lucky as Montoya. He ran out of gas prior to the final lap. Kyle Petty also had a strong run spoiled by running out of gas on the last lap.

How bad must it feel for Aric Almirola to get credited with his first Busch series victory after earning the pole and dominating the early stages of the race only to have to get out of the car? Denny Hamlin drove the car to victory despite losing a lap making the driver change. Something tells me we haven’t heard the end of this story; in a way, it’s a perfect microcosm of what’s wrong with the Busch series, with a Busch regular denied a win by a top tier Cup driver.

Boris Said’s chances at a win went out the window when he stalled on pit and had to be pushed by his crew to restart his car. (If having the team push the car down pit road under caution while other cars are entering and exiting the pits isn’t illegal, it ought to be. That was a near catastrophe.)

Matt Kenseth looked like he’s accidentally entered a demolition derby on Sunday.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Somehow, Montoya pitted on Lap 68 and made the final 42 laps on a tank of fuel despite the new smaller fuel tank…and a thirsty Dodge engine under the hood, no less!

After missing practice and qualifying on Friday and starting out back on Sunday, a seventh place finish was a stellar result for Jeff Gordon. Too bad he’ll lose most of those points this week. Add in the fact Gordon welcomed his first child into the world earlier this week with both baby and mom doing fine, Gordon was clearly more elated than Montoya.

Jeff Burton’s team found a broken suspension piece after final practice yesterday, which could have ended his day on Sunday. Instead, he went on to finish third.

An off track excursion on the first lap could have ended Tony Stewart’s day, but he soldiered back to a sixth place finish and didn’t even blame one of the Busch brothers for his excursion into the dirt.

It was a pretty good day for Richard Childress Racing with their drivers finishing 2-3-4 due to solid fuel mileage.

Worth Noting

* The win was the first for a Dodge this season and only the third for a non-Chevy team. It was the first CoT race not won by a Chevy, and the first victory for Chip Ganassi’s team since McMurray won at Charlotte in 2002. It was also the first win for any Dodge since Charlotte last Fall (Kasey Kahne).

* The Top 10 finishers drove a Dodge, seven Chevys, and two Fords. The top finishing Toyota pilot was P.J. Jones in twelfth.

* The top finishing road course ringer was Boris Said in ninth. The top finishing rookie was obviously Montoya.

* We’ve now seen first time winners in three of the last five Cup races and in both of the last two Busch races if you count Amirola’s win Saturday … which is debatable.

* Kevin Harvick managed his best finish since the Daytona 500 and his third Top 5 finish of the season.

* Jeff Burton managed his first Top 5 finish since he won at Texas.

* Clint Bowyer earned his best finish since Fontana last September and the second best finish of his Cup career…on a road course, no less. Hey, Alice, what was in that tea the Mad-Hatter gave me?

* Greg Biffle’s fifth place result matched his best of the season.

* Jeff Gordon scored his fourth straight Top 10 finish. He’s missed the Top 10 in just two of this season’s sixteen races.

* Denny Hamlin has Top 10 finishes in six of the last seven races.

* Ricky Rudd scored his second best finish of the season after ending up 11th. Rudd finished seventh at Charlotte in May.

* P.J. Jones drove to his best finish since Watkins Glen in 2002 (12th).

* Elliott Sadler had his best finish since Las Vegas (14th).

* Jimmie Johnson missed The top 10 for the fourth consecutive time (17th), so it might become Denny Hamlin’s job to keep Jeff Gordon honest in the title chase. If it is, Hamlin better start winning some races.

What’s the Points?

Jeff Gordon opened up his points lead over Denny Hamlin to 271. The Top 5 drivers, Gordon, Hamlin, Johnson, Kenseth, and Jeff Burton hold serve pending penalties later this week.

For the third consecutive week, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards swapped sixth and seventh place, with Stewart now having the advantage.

Further back, Kyle Busch muscled Martin Truex, Jr. out of the Top 10. Truex is now eleventh and Busch tenth.

Notable drivers moving forward include Robby Gordon (up five spots to 24th), Ricky Rudd (up four spots to 29th), Greg Biffle (up three spots to seventeenth), and Ryan Newman (up two spots to thirteenth).

On the downward side of things, Bobby Labonte fell two spots to nineteenth, while Reed Sorenson dropped three spots to 23rd.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – We’ll give this one two glasses of screw top wine with a vinegary aftertaste. It’s not real Cup racing, I don’t care who says otherwise.

Next Up – NASCAR’s summer doldrums hit low gear with a trip to New Hampshire International Speedway, a race best known as a good nap spoiled.

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Re: Toyota/Save Mart 350 News and Notes

mvbski wrote:

In a Nutshell
– Anyone know what the Spanish for “possum” is? I ask because Juan Montoya and the No. 42 team played it, making others think they were short of fuel before going on to win the race anyway.

Harvick has to be kicking himself for letting him by so easy.  :-","xx

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