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NASCAR drivers have road-course racing in hand
As we head to the Infineon Raceway road course, we know that Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya are two of the top favorites to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup race this weekend.
If one of them does win, he might be a surprise player in the makeup of the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Now what cannot be forgotten is you have to be 20th or better in the points and not already in the Chase when the final determining race, at Richmond International Raceway, is over to be considered for one of those two wild-card slots. So a win this weekend in Sonoma, Calif. would really improve their odds, assuming they can stay in the top 20 in points.
There is also the second road-course race on our schedule, at Watkins Glen International. Those two will be favorites again there, too. If either could pull off a second win of the season, he would be almost guaranteed to get a wild-card spot.
After this weekend, there are nine more races until the Chase field is set and you simply can’t underestimate the importance of each track.
Back in the day when we used to race at Riverside, Sonoma and Watkins Glen, you could pretty much count on one hand the teams with a legitimate shot of winning and still have some fingers left over. Depending on what era we were in, you knew the favorites were Darrell Waltrip, Tim Richmond, Geoff Bodine, Ricky Rudd or Rusty Wallace.
That’s not the case in today’s NASCAR. For example, in the last nine races at Sonoma, we have had eight different winners. The only two-time winner there since 2001 has been Jeff Gordon, in 2004 and 2006. Teams and drivers are putting a lot more energy, focus and effort into road-course racing.
Look at last year when Jimmie Johnson won there. Was he even on anyone’s radar as a favorite? Nope, he sure wasn’t because up until that point, Jimmie Johnson had never won a road-course race. Two years ago, Kasey Kahne won there. Kasey? Really? No one ever thought Kasey was a road racer.
These days on a road course, it could be wide open. We know it is easy to get in trouble, especially when you are shifting about a dozen times a lap.
There is all the braking, plus 10 or 11 corners. Also remember how the double-file restarts at Sonoma last year defined the destiny of a lot of drivers in that race.
Sonoma is a very treacherous road course. It is slick and hard to get hold of. Remember last year when Jeff Gordon hit pretty much everything but the pace car and had so many people mad at him? That course is narrow and hard to pass on.
You can almost plan on Sunday being like the other races at Sonoma. It will be a relatively quiet race until the crew chief or spotter comes on the radio and tells the driver there are 10 laps to go in the race. I swear that’s when the drivers lose their minds.
They start hitting anything in their way to try to gain one or two finishing positions. A road-course race is like a restrictor-plate race. You can’t get up from the couch until every single car takes the checkered flag.
If you leave early, I guarantee you will miss some action.
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