I’ll admit it, though it’s definitely not every NASCAR fan’s cup of tea: I love road courses! For those that believe that variety is the spice of life, a road course like Infineon breaks up the monotony of all the intermediate tracks that dot the Sprint Cup schedule.
Let’s face it, you can’t deny the quality of racing on the road courses has come up quite a bit in recent years. I believe it may have been Kyle Petty that said Sunday that it used to be only three or four drivers were serious candidates to win, now it could be one of any number of drivers. It’s to the point now where a road course like the one at Sonoma offers much the same kind of action that short tracks delivered; and while anyone could win at a plate track, unlike Daytona or Talladega there is a real discipline and skill to mastering a road course. The difference now is, instead of hiring a slew of road course ringers a la Boris Said, Ron Fellows and Brian Simo, the Cup regulars have learned well the lessons offered to them by the road course specialists and there are few guys out there like Clint Bowyer or Kurt Busch who surprise us.
Speaking of Kurt, do you know he has the highest driver rating at Infineon in recent years? That’s right, Busch The Elder is just a shade better than Tony Stewart (see this chart at Jayski). Of course, you’d expect a former open wheel champ like Stewart to be good there. I can remember a day when Smoke and Jeff Gordon were near locks for road course races. It’s that same kind of skill that enabled Juan Pablo Montoya to win here in 2007, and Marcos Ambrose to lose a heartbreaker to Jimmie Johnson in 2010. Of course, Ambrose was a V-8 Super Car stud in his days Down Under.
Besides these drivers are the ones capable of winning anywhere: Kyle Busch (2008 winner), Jimmie Johnson (1st in 2010), and Kasey Kahne, who captured the checkered flag in 2009 for Richard Petty. Carl Edwards falls into that same category, and the same applies for Brad Keselowski and Bowyer.
Then there’s a handful of drivers that could just jump up and surprise us, but shouldn’t. David Gilliland is in home territory here, Jamie McMurray almost took the win in 2007, and then there are those road course ringers that always seem to get oh so close, but no cigar at the Cup level. Said will drive the #32, Jacques Villaneuve will pilot the #51, and Fellows will hop in the #33 for Richard Childress. Said has been a regular road course guru for many of the regulars.
The fact this track sits just six hours south of yours truly doesn’t hurt either. It seems like a real oddity to bring “stock car” racing to wine country, but it works. I think the curiosity factor is a real draw for the Lookie Lou’s.
Those big heavy “taxi cabs” look a bit out of place on these courses, but there are a number of drivers well poised to make a memorable day.
Is it Sunday yet?