The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes a big turn heading west to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California on June 23, for the Toyota/SaveMart 350. The iconic motorsports sanction will depart from customary oval racing to give fans and drivers a big change on the 1.99-mile road course.
That means very fast left and right turns.
The slippery track with changes in elevation is sure to snare more than one driver, as it has often done in the past. Staying on the Sonoma track all day is a challenge.
It used to be that drivers imported for the twisting tracks at Sonoma and Watkins Glen with IndyCar and sports car road course experience had the advantage over NSCS drivers with no prowess for right turns. However, competition has tightened recently, because teams practice on road course tracks.
Drivers also study and participate in video racing simulation games that feature road racing.
The popular race in the wine country of Northern California takes place on 720 acres, where 47,000 permanent to 102,000 temporary seats await eager fans.
Fans with seats in their homes and sports bars can catch the slippery action at 3 p.m. Sunday on TNT.
When the first race at Sonoma took place on June 11, 1989, sanction officials probably wondered how NASCAR's oval drivers would react to the new left and right world of speed. Reaction from current drivers often references the word “fun,” but they are much better prepared for the fast, slippery course.
NASCAR’s top-five drivers—Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth—shared their thoughts on Sonoma.
The NASCAR point race has tightened this week, owing to Johnson’s blown tire and slam into the wall at Michigan near the end of the race.
If there is a chink in the armor of Johnson and the No. 48 team—as they dropped 20 points from their comfortable lead—Sonoma may be decisive going forward.
But Johnson again shared his persistent confidence when talking about Infineon.
“I’m excited to get out there,” Johnson said. “It’s a beautiful time of year to be there. I’ve understood the track and have had some good runs there over the past few years and I look forward to going back out and hopefully getting another road course win.”
Carl Edwards has held a surprising lock on second place, given the struggles that Ford has had adjusting to the new Gen-6 car. But Ford seems to have turned that frustrating corner and maybe Edwards can turn right for a top finish this week as well.
“I love racing in Sonoma,” Edwards said. “This track and Watkins Glen have huge mental and physical challenges for me as a driver. The track will be hot. Cars will slide all over. This race is the most fun and challenging one of the year.”
Clint Bowyer is eager to duplicate his skilled win last year at Infineon. That’s great momentum to take into the twisting changes brought on by the road course.
"I can't wait,” Bowyer said. “Fun race track. It's always nerve-wracking just getting on the race track, shifting gears and having to down shift coming onto pit road to meet pit road speed—it's exciting. The track itself is fun.”
Kevin Harvick and his RCR team are having a banner final year. This lame-duck driver could excel again this season, this time in his native state of California.
“Road course racing is fun,” Harvick said. “Sonoma Raceway is a race track that we’ve been to enough times that hopefully we can take some of the notes from others and be alright. I enjoy that race and really look forward to heading out there.”
Matt Kenseth and his new Joe Gibbs Racing team have logged three wins in 15 races in 2013. Kenseth is always a threat on any track to anyone wanting checkered flags.
“The new car has been better everywhere,” Kenseth said. “A road course is going to be no exception. Everything about Sonoma is challenging–elevation changes, a lot of different turns with different radius. It’s totally different.”
The racing fun and the slipping and sliding on one of two road courses in NASCAR will commence soon in wine country.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.