Thursday, June 21, 2012
Will it be Califorinia wine, or California whine? ... and picks
It's all different this week. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Sonoma, Calif., for the first of its two road races of the year. Yes, the first of two times this season where they will intentionally make right turns as well as the usual left turns on the ovals.
That means there will be some different drivers in the field this week, too, as the so-called road course ringers will be in play. And they will be a threat to win, too, because they understand just how to make the right turns work with left turns.
They also understand that driving a Sprint Cup car on the road course is a little different than the lighter and easier handling models they are accustomed too. Unlike with sports cars and open wheel cars, the Sprint Cup cars allow drivers to nudge slower cars in front of them out of the way. Some are better at that than others So, for sure, during the race on driver radios, and maybe even after the race, we're going to hear some California whining, which will be appropriate since the track sits in the middle of California wine country.
So, to be good on this track, you have to understand the car your driving, and also maybe be a little bit of a bully here. If not, then it's a lot of follow the leader with restarts being the best, and one of the few, chances to make passes.
So, here's a look the five guys this week who understand when to be a bit of bully and understand the type of cars they are in and how they will handle on the 10-turn, 1.99-mile track.
Jeff Gordon - He's got five wins here and this may be his best chance to put himself in the midst of the wild-card hunt in the race to make the Chase for the Championship as he sits 20th in points.
Tony Stewart - He's still got a bit of that bully mentality in him, which is a compliment when it comes to racing on road courses. He's also got two wins and four top-fives at Sonoma and could be the first driver to win three races this season.
Juan Pablo Montoya - He may be the most skilled Sprint Cup regular when it comes to road courses. The former Formula One and Indy Car driver understands the road courses and does have a win at Sonoma and also isn't afraid to use bumper on slower cars if necessary.
Marcos Ambrose - He doesn't have a win here, but he'll be one of the favorites with his vast road course racing experience and after winning on the other road course at Watkins Glen last August.
Boris Said - This one for the Said Heads out there. There's only two races a year where he can be a legitimate pick, so we might as well go for it.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda - Robby Gordon. While he's not yet officially considered a road course ringer, he's pretty close to it. He's also not afraid to stick his car's nose into another's bumper to make a clear path to the next car. He does have a Sprint Cup win at Sonoma. He could either win it, or be so out of control, end up placing 30 something.
Here's a look at how last week's picks fared at Michigan.
Dale Earnhardt Jr: 1st. I pretty much told you this was going to happen, like it or not.
Matt Kenseth: 3rd. He's been strong all year and a Roush-Fenway car at Michigan is never a bad choice.
Greg Biffle: 4th. See previous comment.
Tony Stewart: 2nd. Couldn't quite cover Junior, but a good day for the No. 14
Denny Hamlin: 34th. He had a wreck, then caught fire, just not his day.
Here's a look at my results after 15 races and 75 picks.
28 top fives
35 top 10s
Grade for the week: A- Back on the winning track now, so to speak. Stewart challenged Junior for a while, but clearly wasn't as good. Kenseth and Biffle, with their history at Michigan, were must picks as well. Glad Hamlin didn't get burned by the fire. Good job by some other teams' crews helping get the fire out before it was out of control.
One Last Thing: The last road course ringer to win a Sprint Cup Series road course event was Delaware County's (Pa.) own Mark Donohue at Riverside in 1973.