Let's get ready to R-U-M-B-L-E!
That's right, NASCAR Nation, it's time for the first road course race of the 2009 season; time to find out who turns left and right best.
Our Creatures were pretty evenly spread on their picks this week, with point leader Tony Stewart garnering the most at three.
Road course aces Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Gordon, and Juan Pablo Montoya each collected two votes of confidence, while Ron Fellows, Mark Martin, and Brian Vickers each received one.
The green flag on the 219-mile event is scheduled to wave at 5:16 p.m.
Here is a complete look at each writer's picks for the first road course of 2009:
Ben Bomberger—Juan Pablo Montoya
Montoya is on the brink of breaking back into the top 12 in the championship standings and earning a Chase spot.
Sitting just 43 points behind 12th-place Jeff Burton, Montoya returns to the track where he collected his first (and only) NASCAR Sprint Cup win.
Montoya is known for his success in road course races, and will most likely be near the front when the white flag falls Sunday afternoon.
At Infineon: While he has only visited the twisted track twice in his short Sprint Cup career, Montoya has managed one win, one top five, two top 10s, and an average finish of 3.5.
According to NASCAR's Loop Data, Montoya has an Average Running Position of 9.6 (second best), a Driver Rating of 113.2 (series-best), and an Average Green Flag Speed of 90.020 MPH (third fastest).
Montoya's only downfall is that he tends to be aggressive, which could cost him a solid finish.
With Montoya battling to get back into Chase contention, he should be smart and race for points—not just the win—and I'm hoping he'll be a smart pick this weekend.
Dark Horse: Ron Fellows
James Broomhead—Marcos Ambrose
Kangaroo Meat has been the revelation of the season for me. Expected to struggle on anything that wasn't a road course, Ambrose is already mixing it with established drivers who have been in roundy-roundy racing for decades.
And if he can score top 10s on ovals, what can he do where his real experience lies?
He was running well last year before a few bumps broke his car. Now he has an extra year of experience in the cars and equipment that appears to be far higher than the Wood Brothers car he drove last year.
M.J. Buchanan—Jeff Gordon
My pick for Infineon is my driver, Jeff Gordon. I think he is definitely moving in the right direction (a shameless plug for my most recent article on him!) and he has been good on that road course before.
Although he has struggled most recently, he has recommitted himself to improving his road course program.
It's Father's Day (always special when you have Ella Sofia in your world), Ella's birthday is coming up, and Jeff is seeing both his step and real fathers for the weekend.
So, my prediction is that it will be Jeff Gordon, sipping his own California wine, in Victory Lane.
Kelly Crandall—Tony Stewart
Up until Thursdaym I was all but certain that I was going to take Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya has been running so well this year and has made such huge gains, and I really was convinced that I should take him since we are heading to a road course.
But, I just don't feel like Montoya is a "safe" pick for some reason. He's either really good in a race or really bad, and since I'm not picking him, that most likely means he'll do well.
I'm gonna pick Stewart because of how strong that No. 14 car is running in 2009. He's got the All-Star win, won at Pocono, and has the point lead.
Not only that, but every weekend he is a force to reckon with and is a contender.
Stewart at Sonoma is no slouch. He's fifth on the stat list when it comes to active drivers at the road course.
In 10 races, he has six top 10s, three top fives, two wins, and one pole. He's also led 66 laps there, with his most recent road course victory coming at Watkins Glen in 2007 and a win at Sonoma in 2005.
Stewart's average start and finish at this track is a 10.0. Hopefully he can continue his amazing 2009 run and return back to Victory Lane on the California road course.
Mason Dunn—Mark Martin
Martin hasn't run in a road course race since 2006, but then again, he hasn't had a season like this since the mid to late '90s when he was winning road course races like it was his job.
He only has one win at Sonoma on his record, but he also has numerous top fives and I look for him and crew chief Alan Gustafson to team up and produce a solid top five to help solidify their spot in the Chase.
Adam Heasley—Juan Pablo Montoya
This week im going with Juan Pablo Montoya. I mean come on, they guy grew up driving on tracks like this.
He has one win at Sonoma, which happens top be his only win of his short NASCAR career. Montoya will be fighting for the lead if he stays out of of trouble and if trouble doesn't find him.
Danielle Henderson—Brian Vickers
I have a gut feeling that Brian Vickers will get his first win since 2006. It will be his second-career win. Brian has been having some great runs and I think he'll win this week at Infineon.
Kara Martin—Tony Stewart
This week I'm going with a road course favorite, Tony Stewart. In the past, Stewart has dominated Sonoma in all of the major auto manufacturers, but being back in a Chevy (a car that he admittedly loves) will give him the extra boost that he needs to take the checkered flag this weekend.
This season he has given all the tracks that he's raced on a run for their money. This road course will be just another notch in his well decorated belt.
S.M. Napier—Tony Stewart
This week I'm going with Tony Stewart. Through 10 races, he has two wins, three top fives, six top-10 finishes, one pole, led 66 laps, and has an average start/finish of 10th.
Just think, there's no stopping the "Big Red" machine piloted by Smoke, whose never run this good so early in the season, no doubt as we head into the stretch run for the chase and the final leg of the season.
It's going to be the "Big Red" machine up front either dominating for wins, or steal ones as his crew chief Darian Grubb and No. 14 Boyz kick some serious butt on pit road making it happen.
Kyle Ocker—No Pick Sent
No Pick Sent...
David Phillips—Ron Fellows
This week I've had trouble choosing who I should go with. I expect to see some Montoyas, some Johnsons, Gordons, a Busch or two, maybe even a Speed (who I've gone with three times already).
Wait, I know who I'll go with...Scott Pruett, the Grand-Am Champion who usually has a car fielded by Ganassi Racing.
But he's not on the entry list, so I'm going with that good ol' Hendrick Equipment—no, not Stewart, Newman, Earnhardt Jr., Martin or even Johnson or Gordon—my pick is the driver of the No. 09 for James Finch, Ron Fellows.
A one-of-a-kind pick, but hey, it's a road racing ace.
Fellows won in the Nationwide road race last season, has finished twice at Watkins Glen, and finished 15th two years ago at Infineon in the Hall of Fame Racing machine.
Jen Preston—Marcose Ambrose
Marcos Ambrose already has one top five and three top 10s this season, and I definitely see him adding to that this week in Sonoma.
Rob Tiongson—Jeff Gordon
For me, it's time to get a bit biased and go with my favorite: Jeff Gordon.
Sure he's got that nagging back problem and this track will be the biggest test thus far on how strong and how tolerant Gordon is of his back issues, but if there's a driver who knows his way around this 1.99-mile road course, it's the man driving that No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet.
Needing a great run and finish to trim Tony Stewart's point lead as we close down to the Chase, a win would be a huge boost to a season that's seen a lot more highs than lows for Gordon and crew.
Dark Horse: Can Tony Stewart be a dark horse? Because if he can, if Gordon can't seal the deal, the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot car will be right there to take the win.
Summary of Picks:
Tony Stewart — (3)
Marcos Ambrose — (2)
Jeff Gordon — (2)
Juan Pablo Montoya — (2)
Ron Fellows — (1)
Mark Martin — (1)
Brian Vickers — (1)
No Pick Sent — (1)
Here is a look at each writer's pick from Michigan last weekend, where they finished, and the updated point standings (wins are in parenthesis):
M.J. Buchanan, (2205) Edwards finished fourth. (0)
Kelly Crandall, (2162) Biffle finished fifth. (1)
Ben Bomberger, (2109) Brian Vickers finished ninth. (0)
Adam Heasley, (2089) Edwards finished fourth. (2)
S.M. Napier, (1940) Edwards finished fourth. (2)
David Phillips, (1763) Ryan Newman finished 23rd. (1)
Mason Dunn, (602) Edwards finished fourth. (0)
Kara Martin, (567) Kyle Busch finished 13th. (1)
Rob Tiongson, (543) Vickers finished ninth. (1)
James Broomhead, (543) Edwards finished fourth. (0)
Danielle Henderson, (495) Edwards finished fourth. (0)
Kyle Ocker, (494) Edwards finished fourth. (0)
Jen Preston, (354) Edwards finished fourth. (0)
Remember, during the regular season, our writers are trying to collect as many wins as possible.
After Richmond, points will be reset with each writer receiving 10 points for correctly picking a winner during the season.
For the final 10 races, the points will matter, and a Creature vs. Creature Champion will be crowned following the season finale in Homestead.
Check back on Monday for this weekend's results.
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