NASCAR: Infineon Preview With a Twist(ing Road Course)

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NASCAR: Infineon Preview With a Twist(ing Road Course)

 

If only stock were available in Kasey Kahne, and I’d have bought about a month ago. 

Mind you, after seeing what he did during All-Star Weekend-first in being voted into the show-which in an of itself was no surprise, considering he has more female voters than Hillary Clinton-then driving from the back to win the thing when it seemed the whine dujour was “We can’t pass in the new car!” I think most of us were baffled. 

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to bet on the 9 car to win the Coca-Cola 600, but since I am a rocket scientist, I made the call for Kasey. And I felt pretty good about it, except for the fact the 18 was on the pole, and Kyle Busch has been a fair driver this year. 

Not only did the 9 go on to win, Kahne decided he would take the pole and another win at Pocono two weeks later. I didn’t notice the blond from the Budweiser commercial getting doused with beer, but gotta think the Sprint Girl has a good dry-cleaning service. 

Then he finishes second to Dale, Jr. last week in the great gas gasp of 2008 at Michigan.

(Attention Danica haters, Junior won a fuel mileage race too… Are you going to put an asterisk (*) by his name?) 

So now Kasey goes out early and sets a speed good enough for the pole at Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 (Pronounced “Three-fitty” to keep up with NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity and Pop Culture Initiative Program, not that more exposure is needed there). 

But I digress… What was I talking about? 

Oh, yes, Kasey Kahne-the man known for his dance moves, inability to shake the Allstate chicks, and road-course prowess. Okay, perhaps two out of three ain’t bad. 

How did Kasey Kahne get the pole for this race? Was it extra incentive from Budweiser to put a stick in the eye of Coors Light, now that they sponsor the pole award (a long-time Bud sponsorship)? Did he eat some of Kyle Busch’s magic M&Ms? Or are we seeing the resurgence of the Kahne of old-The one that had six poles and wins just two years ago? 

I might buy that for a dollar, but this is a road course. 

So let’s take a look at the reality of what things look like, based on Friday’s qualifying. 

First off-there are some "Expecteds" up front: Jimmie Johnson out-ran the road course master-teammate Jeff Gordon (Happy Birthday, Ella!) by just over a tenth of a second. Jimmie went out about the same time as Kasey, and turned in a good lap. Kurt Busch starting third is no surprise. Kurt has shown the ability to time in well when on the track by himself, sweeping poles at both road courses in 2006, but he doesn’t have the finishes to show for it. 

Bobby Labonte laid down a lap to start fourth in the #43… Could Petty Enterprises have…? 

Breathe…  

Brother Terry rolls out 11th in Kyle Petty’s #45. Hmmm. I’ll wait and see on those two. 

Row four is where the action will be. Marcos Ambrose was fastest in first practice driving the Wood Brothers #21 car, and qualified an impressive seventh. I would think he feels rather comfortable in this car, being it should be more like the Aussie V8 Supercars he was so good in. But then there’s Robby “Crash” Gordon (sorry, Hurricane, but I call ‘em like I see ‘em) starting astride Ambrose.

Anyone remember the Nationwide (Busch) race at Montreal last year? I’m rooting for the Tasmanian Devil. I look for Robbie to further reinforce my not-so-flattering nickname for him in finding a way to crinkle a couple of fenders, if not send some people off into the dirt as he tried to claim a rare win (I think the Chick Fil-A Cows will jump over the moon first, but stranger things have happened-like NASA finding ice on Mars). 

So where is Tony Stewart? He’s historically good on road courses, but starts in the rear with the gear Sunday. I may be off base here, but I think Tony’s looking for an out from JGR, is not happy with NASCAR, and will drop from the Chase. Mind you Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson both started in the back last year and finished in the top-10. 

Jamie McMurrary better find a way to pull his head out and run well at Sonoma. With word that Greg Biffle is nearing a new 3-year deal with Roush, McMurrary needs to start auditioning for a new job for 2009, if not sooner. He’s been impressive on the course in the past, starting on pole last year, but finished 37th. His lackluster performance in a Roush machine (save Daytona last summer) would make any fan consume Crown-in excess. 

As for the “Road Course Ringers”, they’re… They’re… Uh… Where the heck are… Oh, here they are! 

Color me unimpressed. 

Boris Said starts 14th and that’s a lousy qualifying effort for him, considering he usually is in the top-10. I’d keep an eye on my mirrors if I were ahead of him. Boris is racing for the win. He doesn’t give a ratt’s butt about the points, and is at a point where he isn’t worried about making friends. 

Ron Fellows is still getting over jetlag after flying home from finishing second in LMGT1 at the 24 Hours of LeMans last weekend. He’s in the 01 DEI car for Regan Smith. I don’t really know what to make of this ride. I fully expect he can get into the top-10, but that’s historically when he’s in an RCR car. 

Then there’s Ganassi hired-gun Scott Pruett, who’s really not a “Hired Gun” since he drives full-time for Chip in Grand Am, and will be pulling double-duty between Mid Ohio, where he will race the 01 Telmex Daytona Prototype with Memo Rojas, and Sonoma. Can you say, “Road trip!” 

That pairing has dominated the Rolex Series this season, and Pruett has been oh-so-close to getting that first NASCAR win (I think he’s still cussing Juan Pablo Montoya under his breath and when not saying “Hi” to his family in interviews on Speed). He’s starting a little deep in the field to consider him a real threat, but effective strategy and a timely full-course caution could get him up front, and then he can shine. 

“Mad” Max Papis is also returning from France and a third-place finish in LMGT1 at LeMans in the sister Corvette to Fellows. He’s in the 66 car for Scott Riggs, who failed to qualify the 70 car for Haas/CNC. Papis hasn’t shown the ability that Pruett, Said, and Fellows have in NASCAR, but it will be interesting to see if he can keep the car in one piece. 

I’ll waste a sentence on ringer Brian Simo, who starts last. 

Okay, there it was. 

I look for two things in this race; One: the “mercenaries” moving forward, and with a purpose (read: Hell bent for leather). 

Two: a major points shake-up in the top-12. Kahne, Johnson, Gordon, and Biffle start in the top-10, and are in position to gain ground on Kyle Busch. Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, and Dale, Jr. are starting in the next-five, right around Boris (see above, on what could happen with the hair.) With Jeff Burton 20th, just maintaining the gap over Kyle, who rolls 30th, he should be able to take over the points lead. 

The big question will be with Stewart, who coming from 39th, will have to close up on Matt Kenseth (33rd) and keep David Ragan (38th) at bay to hold on to a spot in the top-12. 

Who in the top-12 haven’t I mentioned… Oh, Clint Bowyer starts 19th, and RCR teammate Kevin Harvick is 32nd. Don’t look now, but Bowyer’s hold on the cellar-dweller spot in the Chase is tenuous at best. It’s possible, though a stretch, that both Bowyer and Stewart could be on the outside looking in after Sunday. 

So now that I’ve broken out the Crayons and drawn you a picture, it’s time to color in a winner for the Toyota/Save Mart 350. 

Big Daddy. The Man. Jeff Gordon.

He’s due, it’s time, and he’s feeling pretty good being on the road course, having just gone through his first Father’s Day and the birthday of his daughter. Sonoma is Gordon’s track. Then again so is Watkins Glen… And Darlington… And pretty much any other circuit on the Cup tour save Texas and Homestead. 

Then again there’s that guy named Kahne. And he’s running like the Allstate girls are after more than a picture…

Hmmm.

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