FYI WIRZ: NASCAR Takes Right Turns to Sonoma Road Course

Dwight DrumCorrespondent IIIJune 19, 2014

Road-course expert Marcos Ambrose takes questions before the 2014 season in Charlotte.
Road-course expert Marcos Ambrose takes questions before the 2014 season in Charlotte.Credit: Dwight Drum

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crisscrosses the nation in its presentation of 36 point races in the long season, but only twice does the sanction seek a road-course venue. Only twice a year are NSCS drivers required to turn right and left.

On June 22, heavy NSCS Gen-6 race cars will attempt to conquer the Sonoma Raceway road course during the Toyota/Save Mart 350 in Sonoma, California.

Some drivers who grew up racing short, dirt-track ovals need extra seat time and training to be competitive at Sonoma and the other NSCS road course at Watkins Glen. Others seem to adapt quickly. 

Australian NSCS driver Marcos Ambrose has extensive road-course experience and is often observed keenly by other drivers in practice and on race day. Fans might learn from his comments, as he recently spoke about his ability in a stock car. 

“It's a heavy vehicle,” he said. “It's probably ‘under-tired’ and ‘over-engined.’ It suits my style. I get a lot of good feedback for the wheel. I think it's a natural skill set for me. I have the same effort every single week. My skill set is sort of matched to road racing.”

Ambrose also commented on the skills of his fellow NSCS drivers.

“The talent level in the Sprint Cup garage on a road course is no joke,” he said. “These guys know what they're doing. For me it's the toughest road racing I've ever been a part of. Cars are really gnarly, and the talent from the drivers is exceptional.

“There's 20, 25 drivers that can win the race.”

Four top NSCS drivers were born in California—Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson. Perhaps they can enjoy a hometown advantage to the wine country surrounding the challenging Sonoma track. 

Before rolling onto the twisting course this weekend, they described the area and challenge at hand.

Gordon learned much while growing up nearby.

“I grew up in Vallejoa few miles from Sonomabut I was always racing on ovals or dirt tracks as a kid,” Gordon said. “It was later before I turned my first lap at Sonoma, while in a driving school preparing for my Cup start there. It’s not an easy track to conquer.” 

Johnson had a street named after him this week in his native El Cajon.

“We have a busy week leading up to the race at Sonoma this weekend,” Johnson said. “It’s always nice to be able to head home to. This is a special week for me, and heading home with a win is even more special.”

Harvick (from Bakersfield) compared Sonoma to Watkins Glen. 

“It’s a much slower track than Watkins Glen, and the tires fall off a lot more than they do at The Glen," Harvick said. “So you’ve got to get your car to technically be very good as it turns the corner, but also keep track of the forward grip as you go through a run.”

Larson (Sacramento) is a rookie with a knack for conquering learning curves. He faces another soon.

“I like road racing a lot,” Larson said. “I got to go do Bondurant last week, and I feel like I learned a little bit that will help me a lot. I’m excited because the stuff that I learned at Bondurant I hadn’t known really until now. It’s going to be a lot of fun going home.” 

Many drivers enjoy the picturesque wine country surrounding Sonoma Raceway, but they won’t be observing horizons outside the racetrack when the green flag drops.

Fans with tickets will enjoy the rocking and rolling of NSCS cars over the hilly terrain. Fans off the track can view the Sunday action at 3 p.m. ET on TNT.

Rookie Kyle Larson takes questions before the season in Charlotte.
Rookie Kyle Larson takes questions before the season in Charlotte.Credit: Dwight Drum

FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.