If you’re a Hendrick Motorsports fan, you couldn’t have been more excited Sunday to leave Michigan, after the track caused problems for all four drivers. At the end of the day, the blue ovals came out on top, and now the series is back out west for the first road course race of the year.
Last week, forever-boring Greg Biffle took the checkered flag for Ford’s 1,000th victory in NASCAR. An accomplishment as exciting as that couldn’t have been achieved by a less exciting person. I shouldn’t be so hard on The Biff, but seriously, the dude’s about as interesting as a brick.
As for the aforementioned Hendrick problems, Jeff Gordon was caught in a wreck on lap two when Bobby Labonte lost it off turn two and spun right in front of him, Dale Earnhardt Jr. blew an engine, Kasey Kahne blew a right front tire while leading by a large margin, and Jimmie Johnson got into the wall at the end of the race trying to chase down Biffle for the win. No Hendrick driver finished better than 28th, and all took points hits.
On Sunday, the series hits up the first of two road courses on the schedule for the Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. It’s a 12 turn, 2.52 mile circuit in the heart of wine country that will test plenty of drivers not used to turning any direction but left.
– It’s a road course. Even though drivers have gotten much better in recent years, the fact remains that this still is a series that races predominantly on ovals, so a road course is a change of pace. Some folks will be affected.
– Usually, road course races are known for plenty of cautions, but last year, that wasn’t the case. It’ll be interesting to see if things return to normal or if we get another event dominated by green flags.
Who to Watch
– Juan Pablo Montoya has won in all major racing series around the world, but his greatest successes thus far came in his open wheel days, when he raced road courses with regularity. His lone Sprint Cup win came on a road course, and he’s always a threat.
– Marcos Ambrose won in thrilling fashion last year at Watkins Glen, and just like Montoya, he’s experienced on road courses and always a threat.
– His up and down season continues, but Jeff Gordon was once the master at Sonoma, and that shouldn’t be any different this week. If he wants to save his season and make the Chase, he’ll need a good run.
Who Will Win
A few years ago, Jimmie Johnson made road courses a primary focus, and he did everything he could to get better. It worked, and he won at Sonoma. On top of that, he’s notoriously dangerous after a bad race, and the late flat tire that ruined his chance at winning at Michigan definitely constitutes a bad race. He’ll rebound this week, and land in victory lane.
Sprint Cup Standings (after 15 of 36 races)
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Carl Edwards -31
3. Clint Bowyer -49
4. Kevin Harvick -62
5. Matt Kenseth -82
6. Kyle Busch -86
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -91
8. Greg Biffle -95
9. Brad Keselowski -108
10. Tony Stewart -121