This week, the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series return to wine country in Sonoma CA, at the winding road course known as Infineon Raceway.
Here's what to watch for:
Scott Speed and A.J. Allmendinger Return to Their Home State
For Red Bull Racing's No. 82 team, a trip to California marks a return to their home state for both driver and crew chief, with Speed hailing from Mantea and Jimmy Elledge being from Redding.
The No. 82 Toyota should be a factor this weekend as Speed (the former Formula 1 stand-out) will make his first road course start in the Sprint Cup Series. Although the Sprint Cup cars are much heavier than Formula 1, Speed could get some much needed points this weekend, as he attempts to get back into the top 35 in owner points.
Allen James Allmendinger (A.J. for short), of Los Gatos, also returns to his home track. The Dinger has one Cup Series start at Infineon in 2008, under the Red Bull Racing Banner. He started 36th and finished 37th, three laps down.
This year, Dinger is driving the Richard PettyMotorsports' No. 44 Dodge. In 2009, he has one top-five and two top-10s, but hasn't finished better than 17th since Martinsville.
Juan Pablo Montoya Returns to Site of First Win—Battle for Chase Heats Up
Montoya won his first and only Sprint Cup Series raceat Infineon Raceway the first time he hit the track. He has two starts in Sonoma and has never finished worse than sixth (last season).
Montoya currently sits 14th in the point championship, only 43 points out of 12th. A win or a top-10 would definitely help him get into the all exclusive top 12 Chase for the Championship.
Montoya is one of four drivers less than 100 points out of Chase contention, with the others being David Reutimann, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer.
Brian Vickers, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray, and Marcos Ambrose are all under 274 points behind 12th-place Jeff Burton.
Different Names Invade Road Race
Boris Said (No. 08 John Carter), Ron Fellows (No. 9 James Finch), Brian Simo (No. 36 Tommy Baldwin), Chris Cook (No. 37 Brad Jenkins), Brandon Ash (No. 2 Kenneth Wood), Tom Hubert (No. 27 Kirk Shelmerdine), Max Papis (No. 13 Bob Germain), and Patrick Carpentier (No. 55 Michael Waltrip), P.J. Jones (No. 4 Robby Gordon) will all attempt to crash Victory Lane in this weekend's Toyota/Save Mart 350.
None of the above are Sprint Cup Series regulars, and enter the race with the title of road course ringer. Ringers have fared well in the past, but you have to go all the way back to 1979 to find a road racer who won in the Sprint Cup Series.
Mark Donohue won at the new defunct Riverside International Raceway back in '79, but last year, Fellows did win the Nationwide Series race at the road course in Montreal driving for JR Motorsports.
Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards Continue To Rack Up Frequent Flier Miles
It all started three weeks ago when the Cup Series was in Pocono and the Nationwide Serieswas in Nashville. Last week, the Cup Series was in Michigan and the Nationwide Series was in Kentucky. This week, the No. 1 Series is on the West Coast in Sonoma, while the No. 2 Series head to Milwaukee.
Busch and Edwards are the only two drivers to attempt all six of these races, though Joey Logano did attempt (and win) the Kentucky race last weekend.
Busch upped it up a notch last week, pulling triple duty when he ran the Camping World Truck Series race as well.
You have to wonder how the road course and one-mile short-track will affect these two's mind sets this weekend.
Dubbed “Shootout-Style Restarts,” this should be one of the most interesting tracks to see how this new plan works out—especially if we have a late race caution or a green-white-checkered finish.
We know guys like Montoya, Robby Gordon, and others are looking for a win, and will not be scared to dump a guy in the closing laps to win the race—we've seen it happen before.
The only bad thing is, it's hard to get a full-course caution at this track, and we usually see turn-by-turn cautions.
Driver Ratings at Infineon Raceway
Juan Pablo Montoya 113.2
Tony Stewart 109.5
Kyle Busch 104.8
Kurt Busch 102.6
Ryan Newman 101.9
Jeff Gordon 100.1
Jeff Burton 96.5
Jamie McMurray 92.7
Robby Gordon 91.9
Mark Martin 90.2
Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005-2008 races (4 total) at Infineon Raceway
Infineon opened in 1968
First Cup race was in 1989
Track size is 1.99 miles 110 laps or 350 kilometers
There are 12 turns to this course
2008 pole winner: Kasey Kahne (92.153 MPH)
2008 race winner: Kyle Busch ( 76.445 MPH)
Track record qualifying: Jeff Gordon (94.325 MPH)
Track race record: Ricky Rudd (81.007 MPH)
Manufacture Wins at Infineon
Buick: 1—1989 with Ricky Rudd (first race at the track)
Toyota: 1—2008 with Kyle Busch
Dodge: 1—2007 with J.P Montoya
Pontiac: 2—Rusty Wallace and Tony Steward
Ford: 6—Davey Allison, Geoff Bodine, Ernie Irvan, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and Ricky Rudd
Chevrolet: 9—Irvan, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Jeff Gordon (5 times), Robby Gordon, and Tony Stewart.
Rudd, Stewart, Irvan, and Wallace have won with different Manufactures at the track. Gordon is the only driver to win more than once in the same brand car.
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