One wouldn’t think to associate NASCAR with wine, unless of course you’re thinking of reasons to not like Jeff Gordon.
However, the Sprint Cup circuit was out west this weekend near Napa Valley for the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at the Infineon Raceway.
NASCAR’s best had to tackle the first of two road course races they will face this season which gave the fans the treat of seeing the season debut of the road course “ringers.”
Drivers such as Ron Fellows, P.J. Jones, and Boris Said, who typically only race on the road courses in an attempt to steal some thunder from NASCAR’s regular drivers.
For the second straight week Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch started on the front row after Vickers picked up his fourth pole of the season on Friday afternoon.
From the drop of the green flag Vickers led the first 16 laps before he was overtaken by Busch.
Busch led until lap 28 when he needed to make his first pit stop of the afternoon. Road course ace Tony Stewart inherited the lead before he too, need to stop for tires and fuel.
As green flag pit stops continued, Kasey Kahne would grab the lead for the first time before heading to the attention of his pit crew on lap 34 of the scheduled 110.
“The guys at the race shop have had some ups and downs this year but they’re building great race cars,” Kahne later said.
After pitting the No. 9 Budweiser Dodge, Kahne was back in the top five just 21 laps later.
Then on lap 80 Kahne re-established the lead and never gave it back, leading the final 33 laps en route to his first victory on a road course, first of the 2009 season, and the 10th of his career.
It was also the first career win for the newly formed Richard Petty Motorsports, the organization of the merged Petty Enterprises and Gillett-Evernham Motorsports.
The King, Richard Petty was back in victory lane as a car owner for the first time since John Andretti had won at Martinsville on April 18, 1999.
“It’s great,” Petty said in victory lane.
Stewart, the points leader, came home in second after he had four late restarts that gave him an opportunity to get around Kahne but to no avail.
“Kasey just never made a mistake at the end, he did an awesome job those last 20 laps. Just never slipped the wheel, never missed a corner,” he told the media.
One of the Cinderella stories of the day was the V8 Supercar champion, Australia’s Marcos Ambrose who finished third after trying to run down the two in front of him as the laps clicked away.
Ambrose said after the race, “I normally can’t get close to Kasey (Kahne) because there’s too many girls around.”
Ambrose, a road course specialist in his own right, tied his best career finish in the Sprint Cup Series with his run on Sunday afternoon. “I was hot, I was mad, I was happy, I was sad.. all together.”
Last year’s winner Kyle Busch had a much different day on the 11 cornered track.
After leading early on, Busch went for a spin on lap 61 and lost all of his track position. He at one point, was running 40th and a lap down.
However, after receiving the lucky dog award he was beginning to work his way to the front went a tab from Jeff Burton sent him spinning again just laps from the finish.
Busch did manage to salvage a 22nd place finish as he looks to rebound next weekend to stay in the top ten in points.
And finally, there was the road course king and heavy favorite heading into the day, Jeff Gordon.
Gordon was another driver that didn’t have such a pretty day, was running 29th at one point, but he too managed to fight back for a top-10finish. Gordon will remain second in points, 84 markers behind Tony Stewart.
After turning left and right, many drivers will be looking forward to getting back to an oval as the Sprint Cup Series heads to the Magic Mile, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway next weekend.
This article also appears on SoCal Sports Hub.