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NASCAR at Sonoma: Road Racing NASCAR Style

NASCAR hits the Sonoma road course this weekend and for the drivers and teams, it will be a love/hate/tolerate relationship. Some will love it, some will hate it and others will, quite simply, tolerate it. As for the haters (and I know this may sound a bit harsh), most of them won’t even be in their cars this weekend – someone else will be driving for them – and we won’t have to endure their sob stories about why NASCAR even visits road racing courses, anyway.

It has been said NASCAR drivers are the best in the world and more than one will prove that statement to be true this weekend. Even more importantly, performance on road courses has become an integral part of the overall performance of the drivers and teams and most of them realize they no longer should look at them as “throw-away” races. Many of the better teams and drivers have worked on their road racing programs and it has become very competitive in the last few years. (I, for one, am glad of that.)

Why do I think NASCAR drivers are the best in the world? (Well, I’m sure glad you asked that question because I definitely have my own opinion and I’m not the least bit hesitant to express it.)

You see, I know there are a lot of great drivers in the world and some of them perform well on road courses. Unfortunately, they only perform well on road courses and not too many other venues.

That is not a cut, (even though it sounds like one); I believe it is simply a fact.

There is a big difference between handling the intricacies of a road course in a car that is made for such racing but it is a completely different thing to man-handle a 3400 pound Cup car around the same type tracks and perform at the same level. Sure I know the Cup cars are set up differently to run the road courses but essentially they are the same as they are every week… heavy.

The same can be said about Indy cars and Formula one. Not many have the ability to perform at a high level in Indy cars or in Formula one and also just jump right into a NASCAR Cup car and perform at that same high level. (JP Montoya, Sam Hornish and others (including Danicka) have shown that to be true over the last several years. Even the Cup drivers know they would have trouble getting into one of those type cars these days simply because of the technical sophistication of the Indy and Formula one cars. (This is just another reason I like NASCAR racing; the drivers still get to show their driving prowess and not so much their ability to push the right buttons at the right time to make the car perform.) But, I digress…

As for qualifying order, I tend to look at road courses a little differently than I do oval tracks even though I still contend one lap does not tell the whole story of race possibilities. Qualifying near the top at a road course definitely has its advantages and most of them are recognized at the beginning of the race. Although many things can happen to change the outcome of a race on a road course, (like wheel hop, missing a shift, or overdriving a corner), starting out front gets a driver out of the fray earlier and lets him (or her) establish their rhythm and gives them a better chance at staying out front (or maybe better said, up front.)

I really like the looks of the top ten starters for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 and it should make for an interesting race from beginning to end. Just looking at the top eight offers eight possible winners although not necessarily in the order they start.

Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Marcos Ambrose are all strong road racers. The three of them could quite possibly be fighting it out for the checkers at the end of the day. Still, from this fan’s view, Jimmy Johnson, Kurt Bush, Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick simply can’t be ruled out either. Now, I’m not saying no-one else has a chance, I’m just saying the top eight to ten qualifiers are quite capable of staying out front all day if need be to take home the trophy and the check.

Of course, no conversation for possible winners would be complete without mentioning a few dark horses. Some names like Juan Pablo Montoya, Boris Said, Jamie McMurray

Kyle Bush and Denny Hamlin stand out, also. Any of them could end up in Victory Lane although, in my opinion, their chances are not as high as the others I mentioned.

When it comes down to the last laps, this fan thinks it is going to be a race between four drivers and possibly five; Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Tony Stewart and Jimmy Johnson. Any one of them could win and probably will. My top three choices in no particular order are Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Marcos Ambrose. Any of the three have proven their ability by strong performances on road courses and, I have to admit, it is awfully hard to leave Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson out of the mix.

If I’ve said it is hard to pick a winner this year before this week, I believe it is even harder at Sonoma (and especially this year.) My personal choice is Jeff Gordon, but there are about eight others that are going to be right there, banging gears and trying to out-brake him (at turn eleven in particular.)

Now that I think about it, I haven’t even considered the possibility of late cautions, double-file restarts and up to three green-white-checkered finishes. Wow… figure those into the mix at the end and this could absolutely be the most exciting finish to a road race at Sonoma ever… but, then again… maybe not…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© June 19, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

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By Rusty Norman

Amateur writer, NASCAR Fan, musician and former local Stock Car racer.