Toyota/SaveMart 350: Winners and Losers
So, for all you who don’t like fuel strategy, the last couple weeks haven’t been fun, and this week was no different.
With only 110 laps to race for the checkers and many teams banking on only stopping twice, strategy and conserve were the words of the day.
But, I am going to guess you watched anyway because of these three words:
Check out which driver was king of the road course on Sunday.
Well, I think the majority of people’s fantasy picks were a little bit thrown off with this victory. Kasey Kahne survived multiple late race cautions and held off one of the best road course racers in the series in Tony Stewart.
Kahne and crew stayed on their own strategy and methodically worked their way around the 1.99 mile track all day long. Kahne didn’t make a mistake late in the race that we have seen even the best do at this track late in the race.
This victory was Richard Petty’s first win in 11 years. After watching others celebrate in victory lane all this time, finally “The King” got to drink some of those sweet Sonoma grapes.
Kahne hopes this win will propel this team into the chase.
At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised to see where he finished. Clearly, Tony Stewart had one of the best cars out there all day long.
They ran their own race and worked traffic perfectly.Stewart might have been in victory lane, had he not struggled on the late restarts.
Stewart is proving that his hot start this season was no fluke and, as the summer heats up, so will he.That’s bad news for the field.
Stewart needs wins if he wants to separate himself from the rest of the top five in the standings.
Marcos Ambrose had an eventful weekend.
After nearly winning the pole, he loses an engine in the first practice. Then, in a scramble to get at least one lap in before the end of final practice, he runs into the back of Jimmie Johnson, causing damage to the nose of his car.
Starting at the rear of the field, this team went off sequence in pitting and used everyone else's strategy to work their way to the front.
With less than 20 to go, he found himself in the top five and battling for the win.
Ambrose was unable to ever reach the front, but the team that saw an eventful Saturday turn into a productive Sunday.
Ambrose doesn’t mind the road courses; he just might be the first to ask NASCAR to add a few more.
Half of Hendrick Motorsports
Infineon is Jeff Gordon’s home game.He leads the series with nine road course wins.
On Sunday, Gordon never made it to the front. The strategy they attempted didn’t work. A rare pit road speeding penalty cost them and forced them back in traffic.
They finished ninth on Sunday.Gordon timed the restarts perfectly and even got a bit aggressive late in the race.He might not have won the race, but his top 10 finish today was key in keeping pace with Stewart.
This wasn’t Gordon’s best Infineon run, but, in 2009, it’s another top 10 that might be key when it comes down to the chase.
Like his teammate Gordon, Jimmie Johnson was forced to battle back from a pit road speeding penalty.
Unlike Gordon, he worked his way to the top five and was a contender for the win. Johnson, though, was the center of some controversy.
Johnson was battling Kurt Busch for position, when Johnson tagged Busch and spun him out, costing Busch a chance for a top 10 finish.Johnson went on to finish fourth.
Johnson (who is one of the cleanest racers on the circuit) did apologize for the move and showed remorse for it.
Johnson is showing something he hasn’t in the past, early season consistency that may be bad for the rest of the field.
Juan Pablo Montoya
If Juan Pablo Montoya wants to make the chase, today was his best chance to show why he deserved to be in it. Montoya worked his way up from his 17th starting spot, and in less than 15 laps he was in the top 10.
He quickly moved forward and ran with the leaders for the rest of the day. They worked strategy perfectly and had a great point’s day.
Montoya didn’t win the race, but he was the biggest winner in terms of points.
Montoya needs more runs like this to secure his spot in the chase. He can’t afford to have anything less than top 15 finishes for the next 10 races.
Montoya's crew chief said they were not racing for a win, but you have to wonder what that radio was like when Montoya was sitting fourth with 11 to go.
You know David Ragan had a good run going, to be honest. He was well within the top 10 and had a solid finish going until lap 101. When battling Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his teammate Carl Edwards, Ragan spun and all but ended his day.
It’s hard to believe that this team is flirting with having to qualify on time if they continue to have finishes like this. Road courses were never his best tracks, but they needed a good points day to stay afloat.
Ragan has to be wondering what happened that they are barely hanging on.
Half of Richard Childress Racing
Were just over halfway through the season with 10 races to the chase.For RCR, it doesn’t look good.Sunday didn’t help this struggling organization in any way.
Jeff Burton wasn’t very good today. Burton spun out early and struggled to keep up. He has never won at this track and wasn’t a favorite this weekend, but he has been RCR best driver all year.
On Sunday, he looked mediocre at best. For Burton, that can’t be good enough.
He needs to have strong runs the next 10 races, and, for him to make the chase, he has got to hope that the guys in front of him falter during that same stretch.
Kevin Harvick had a good qualifying lap, something he hasn’t had very often this season. He was well within the top 10 all day long, but, just like the first half of the season, Harvick can’t seem to buy any luck this season.
Late in the race, he watched what would have been a top 10 finish get ruined by a cut tire.He finished 29th.
They couldn’t afford anymore bad finishes, and now his chase chances are all but over. To me, they have been one of the biggest disappointments in 2009.
It’s time to look to the future. Could that still be with RCR?
2009 has not been easy for Kyle Busch.
Unlike last year, in which he seemed unbeatable, Busch has been inconsistent and we are seeing it with his finishes. Kyle won the outside pole, led some laps, but at road course nothing is a given.
Busch got into Sam Hornish Jr. and then tagged by Hornish on the spin, effectively ending his day. He was a clear favorite coming into this race, and unfortunately finished 22nd.
Another poor finish with 10 to go until the chase, he is points racing—something he didn’t have to do last year at this time.
It wasn’t flashy and it wasn’t expected to be.He qualified very well and ran his own race.
On lap 87, Logano, who was running seventh, made contact with Scott Speed and from there on battled the rest of the day.He finished 19th.
Jamie McMurray had another strong run today. He ran a smart race and did not get himself into trouble.He finished a strong 14th.
With so much speculation about his future, solid runs like this might make Jack Roush rethink about who he ends up cutting RFR fold at the end of 2009.
Carl Edwards is coming off a few good weeks with strong top 10 finishes; he was coming to a track where he struggled in the past. They worked strategy and found themselves within the top 10.
They fell back late in the race, but a solid 13th place finish at a track he has struggled at in the past keeps momentum on his side.
I like road courses.I think if you are driving in this series, road courses are a test of not only skill but patience. I don’t think that two road courses are enough in the series.
I have said (for a long time) a road course should be in the chase. If you’re going to put Talladega in the chase and say the driver at Homestead, who is leading the points at the checkers, is considered this sport's best in the playoffs, then a road course should be in the chase.
It was great to see the Richard Petty back in victory lane. It’s been a while.Let’s hope this is not the last time we see the King and his company in victory lane in 2009.
Double file restarts didn’t cause the havoc that many predicted. There were some uh-oh moments, but the havoc that many predicted didn’t happen.
For the drivers that finished the race without incident, they were the ones breathing a sigh of relief.
See you in New Hampshire—talk about a cross country road trip.
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