Friday Notebook From Sonoma
CLINT CLEANS UP - Clint Bowyer, the defending winner of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, set the pace during Friday’s final Happy Hour practice session for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Bowyer lapped the 12-turn, 1.99-mile Sonoma road course at 94.556 miles per hour. Jamie McMurray was second at 94.422 mph in the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet. Kyle Busch was third, with Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya completing the top five.
AMBROSE AMPED UP - Marcos Ambrose will be the first to tell you that he's had a pretty disappointing season so far, ranked 23rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points after the first 15 races. But the expatriate Aussie and two-time V-8 Supercar champion got off to a good start Friday at Sonoma Raceway, setting the pace in the first of two rounds of practice for Sundayâs Toyota/Save Mart 350. Ambrose lapped the 12-turn, 1.99-mile road course at 94.049 miles per hour in his No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. That was tops in the field.
"I'm very mindful that we've had a terrible year and this is a really good opportunity to get your year back on track, so certainly there is added pressure there," Ambrose said Friday morning at Sonoma. "I would love to be top 10 in points coming into this weekend and just rolling through like a normal one, but it's not for us. We need to turn our year around and this is a good opportunity for us, so we're looking to break out and have a good weekend if we can. That does add pressure, but that's just part of the job."
Second-fast in the opening stanza was 2007 Sonoma winner Juan Pablo Montoya, who ran 93.890 mph in the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet. Completing the top five were Casey Mears, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 27th, four spots ahead of Danica Patrick.
CARDINALE HONORED - The infield media center at Sonoma Raceway has been officially renamed the John Cardinale Media Center, in honor of the former track public relations director, who passed away earlier this year after a valiant battle with cancer. Cardinale was respected and liked by competitors, teams, NASCAR officials and media members alike. He was the consummate professional, and the media relations department he built at Sonoma is among the best in the industry.
"Everyone here is here because they knew John and they loved him," said Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway's president and general manager, in dedicating the media center in Cardinale's name Friday morning. "He was a colleague, he was a friend. We had a wonderful service a couple of months ago and we had a chance to have a certain amount of catharsis and talk about the experience and the love that we had for this very special person. ... It didn't really strike me again until I showed up this morning and didn't see John handling the choreography here."
SPECIAL K - Two-time Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth hasn't enjoyed a lot of success at Sonoma Raceway, where his only top-10 finish in 13 career starts was an eighth-place run in 2008. Kenseth, who was 17th in the opening round of practice for Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350, is hoping to see improvement this weekend.
Kenseth said Friday that he enjoyed Watkins Glen International, the other road course on the circuit, but Sonoma not so much.
"This track has been a little bit more of a struggle," said Kenseth. "They're really, really different. Everybody groups road courses together - it's kind of like grouping ovals together. These two tracks, in my opinion, couldn't be any different. This one's always been very challenging for me. It's really narrow. It's really slick. It's just been a bad challenge. ... hopefully I'll be better at it this week."
FIVE-TIME RAISES $600K - The Seventh Annual Jimmie Johnson Foundation Golf Tournament and Dinner Auction presented by Loweâs raised more than $600,000. The proceeds will be distributed to schools in need through the Jimmie Johnson Foundation/Lowe's Toolbox for Education Champions Grants program.
"I'm always blown away by the support for the golf tournament from our partners, friends and fans," said Johnson, who grew up in El Cajon, Calif., near San Diego. "I love coming back to my hometown and am just happy we can help make a difference where I grew up."
Johnson and his wife Chandra hosted more than 100 golfers at The Grand Del Mar in San Diego, with a dinner and live auction Wednesday evening. NASCAR driver Casey Mears, seven-time SuperCross champion Jeremy McGrath and former NFL star Jason Sehorn were among those in attendance.