Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sprint Cup: Race 16 -- Sears Point, on the road again!

The Sprint Cup tour makes its second and now last trip to California, this time to the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma wine country northeast of San Francisco, one of two road course races on the schedule. Road racing is perhaps the most controversial form of Sprint Cup racing generating perhaps more debate than restrictor plate racing sinc auto racing on a “road” course is a very different spectacle that oval courses. Imagine that, highly skilled race drivers have to actually negotiate turning to their right on several occasions to complete one lap. Further, at Infineon at Sears Point, there are also hills along the track.

As such, some racers who’ve been successful on road courses become known as road racing experts while some drivers on lesser teams have “road racing specialists” or ringers filling in for them. There’s even a group of fans who’ve developed the cult of Said Heads, fans who don curly wigs to honor road racing veteran and occasional oval racer, Boris Said. Highlighting the difference, during Dale Earnhardt’s reign, he considered his career would be somehow incomplete without a road course win. During that time, drivers like Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd were considered road racing experts. The past four victors are: 2010, Jimmie Johnson; 2009, Kasey Kahne; 2008, Kyle Busch; 2007, Juan Pablo Montoya. Prior to that, from 1998 to 2006, Jeff Gordon has five wins while Tony Stewart has two. Other than those two drivers, renegade driver, Robby Gordon won in 2003 and Mark Martin won in 1997.

The starting lineup has some surprises which could be a most important boost for some drivers if it translates into a successful finish, particularly for the pole sitter, Joey Logano. Here are the top starters:

1- Joey Logano, #20, Chevrolet
2- Jamie McMurray, #1, Chevrolet
3- Paul Menard, #27, Chevrolet
4- Denny Hamlin, #11, Toyota
5- Ryan Newman, #39, Chevrolet
6- Kasey Kahne, #4, Chevrolet
7- A.J. Allmendinger, #43, Ford
8- Marcos Ambrose, #9, Ford
9- Clint Bowyer, #33, Chevrolet
10- Brian Vickers, #83, Toyota
11- Kurt Busch, #22, Dodge
12- Jimmie Johnson, #48, Chevrolet
13- Jeff Gordon, #24, Chevrolet
14- Martin Truex Jr., #56, Toyota
15- Brad Keselowski, #2, Dodge

If the so called “road racing specialists” or “ringers” are so special, where are they in the starting pack? Not one appears in the top 25. The top road racer is Boris Said, #51, Chevrolet – P.J. Jones, taking a second Robby Gordon ride, starts 35th in the #77, Dodge. The remaining “ringers” are David Mayhew #66 Toyota in 38th; Terry Labonte #32 Ford in 39th; Brian Simo #81 Ford in 40th; Chris Cook #37 Ford in 42; and Andy Pilgrim #46 Chevrolet in 43rd. Tony Ave #38 riding in a fully sponsored regular ride, a Front Row Ford did not qualify for the race. Since there are “ringers” taking the place of drivers who normally start and park notably cars #66, 81, and #36, it will be interesting to see if they are in for the entire race or not. Meanwhile full-time slugs including Joe Nemechek, #87 starts 31st, and Mike Skinner, #60 starts 37th. Eyes will be on the #13 car in 27th position driven by Casey Mears parked last week. Whether any of these slugs compete for the whole race or parks, it is still a gross abuse of the system that a team attempting to run legitimately, the #38 Ford with Long John Silver sponsorship should be denied. This is a slap in the face for Long John Silver restaurants for their support of the team and makes it more difficult for the struggling Front Row team to grow and become more legitimate. We can only hope for race ending wrecks causing costly damage to afflict any of the teams who will continue the insane “start and park” charade in the future.

Weather should be satisfactory for good racing with high temperatures in the low 80’s with mostly sunny skies and a light breeze. Mark this down as one of the true tests for teams intent on participating in this year’s chase with Daytona soon following.


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