Will Juan Pablo Montoya make the chase? Will Kyle Busch better his current standing of 9th before the points reset? Will Matt Kenseth fall out? Will Jeff Burton stay in?
Once you get beyond the top seven, it gets pretty interesting. Mark Martin sits in 8th, but just a week earlier he was 13th. Another weird fact is that if the chase started today, in spite of where Kyle Busch sits, he and Martin would both be the number one seeds. Points leaders Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon would find themselves behind those two and defending champion Jimmie Johnson.
Very weird. While the action on the track isn’t always interesting, how this season is playing out gets very interesting.
Another funny thing happened while I was poring over the numbers for the driver rankings this week. I began to realize this race coming up at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma may play a big part in what the points may look like down the road. Yes, it’s just one race, but look what one race did for Mark Martin.
Here are the top active drivers statistically for Sonoma in order: Juan Pablo Montoya, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Elliott Sadler and Denny Hamlin. JPM is not surprise, and well Busch is if nothing else versatile in his mastery of a variety of tracks. But Sadler? Hamlin? Newman?
You see where I’m going with this? The bottom two guys in the top 12- Matt Kenseth and Jeff Burton- are 31st and 20th on this list. Montoya is just 50 points out of 12th. This same open wheelman has his lone career win and a top 5 at Sonoma. Hmmmm.
I’m not suggesting Juan Pablo’s just going to show up and tango his way to victory lane. The aforementioned points leaders are also former aces in open wheel competition. Mark Martin has a Sonoma win (driving for Jack Roush no less). Bowyer, Newman, Biffle and Hamlin are pleasant surprises. You know a win for Bowyer could sure breathe some life into his wavering fortunes.
Of course, it works the other way too for drivers trying to advance themselves. David Reutimann has one start here and its a DNF. I was also slightly surprised to see that Kasey Kahne’s track record wasn’t better. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has as much as said this is his least favorite track.
A wild card with no real chase aspirations is Marcos Ambrose. He could be a spoiler, though it seems his penchant for contact often derails what have been promising runs. Then let’s not forget Robby Gordon, the original “I’ll race anything, anywhere, anytime” racer.
The “road course ringers” will also make things interesting- though I have to tell you, a look at the winners list for this track does not bear names like Said, Fellows or Simo. Instead- you have the familiar names of Gordon, Stewart, Wallace, Rudd, Irvan, Bodine and even Earnhardt (Senior that is) among others.
Even if road course racing isn’t your cup of sunshine, the fact it could further fortify the fortunes of Stewart, Gordon, Newman and Martin make it interesting. A good day could offer some breathing room for Busch, Hamlin and Biffle. It could bring a little Latin spice to the chase this year.
NASCAR Nation may never think of Infineon in the same vein as Daytona, Talladega, Martinsville or Darlington, but the part it could play in shaping the chase this year makes the Toyota/ Save Mart 350 a very interesting affair as the good ol’ boys descend upon wine country/