NASCAR Sprint Cup: 7 Lessons We Learned at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma
Once upon a time, road course races (Infineon and Watkins Glen) were normally two of the most boring races on the circuit. Beating and banging was kept to a minimum, and very few cars returned to the garage with damage.
As the great Bob Dylan once sang, "The times, they are a-changin'."
Kurt Busch dominated Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma, leading 76 of 110 laps in a winning performance.
His car was spic-and-span clean when it reached Victory Lane; as for almost everyone else, their cars appeared to have survived a demolition derby.
So, what did we learn at Sonoma this weekend? Here are seven lessons that we should have learned.
Penske Racing Is on a Roll at the Right Time
The month of June has been very, very kind to Penske Racing.
The good luck began when Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Dodge team played the fuel mileage game to perfection and won at Kansas, while Kurt Busch led 152 of 267 laps en route to a ninth-place finish.
One week later, Busch led 39 laps and finished second to Jeff Gordon at Pocono Raceway, followed up by an 11th-place finish for the No. 22 Dodge at Michigan last weekend.
Sunday, Busch and Keselowski ran one-two for most of the early stages of the race. Obviously, Busch got his first win of 2011, while "Special K" racked up a very solid 10th-place result.
The 2004 Sprint Cup champion is now fourth in points, 34 markers behind leader Carl Edwards. Meanwhile, Keselowski is in 22nd, just 12 points behind David Ragan for 20th and a tentative wild-card spot into the Chase.
The lone major Dodge team in the Sprint Cup Series could charge its way into title contention come September.
Turn 11 at Infineon May Be the Craziest Curve in NASCAR*
*Technically, it's a chicane, but "Craziest Chicane in NASCAR" sounds a bit too easy.
If there's one lesson you must take away from this race, it's that Infineon Raceway's Turn 11 may be the trickiest in NASCAR—and it's not just because of the hard braking going into it.
Numerous drivers either spun out or crashed—intentionally or unintentionally—throughout the race, the most memorable of which will be a lesson into itself.
For Some Reason, Michael McDowell Decided to Wreck Bobby Labonte
There were minimal replays of this incident during the race, but McDowell—somehow running the full race in the normally start-and-park No. 66 Toyota for HP Racing—punted Bobby Labonte at Turn 11 on lap 61, causing the third caution of the race.
The incident flew completely under the radar, so much so that Toyota's post-race press release includes a quote by Labonte with the prompt, "What happened that forced you to the garage during the race?"
"I’m not sure what all happened, but next thing I know, I’m in the fence," Labonte said.
Sounds about right.
Kasey Kahne Thinks Juan Pablo Montoya Is Upset Because He Can't Win Races
In the second of three bizarre rivalries that may have developed Sunday, Kasey Kahne didn't take kindly to Juan Pablo Montoya racing him a bit too hard and spinning him out in the late stages of the race. Kahne was working on a top-10 finish at the time.
What did Kahne say about Montoya after the race? Well, you'll just have to click on the video to find out.
"The Sheriff vs. Smoke" Would Make a Great Western
If you watched Sunday's race, this one needs no explanation.
On lap 39, Tony Stewart appeared to deliberately take out Brian Vickers in a chain reaction incident that eventually involved seven drivers. While Stewart continued with what appeared to be a top-10 run, Vickers spent some time in the pits with repairs but stayed on the lead lap.
Vickers charged through the field once again, leading to an eventual battle with "Smoke" for fifth place. On lap 88, Vickers pulled a D-Day from Animal House, going to Stewart with "ramming speed" into Turn 11. Both cars suffered plenty of damage, with Vickers finishing 36th and Stewart 39th.
Tony Stewart Is Still Quotable
In a late-race interview, Stewart basically threw the gauntlet down and claimed that Vickers blocked him, allowing "Smoke" to wreck him in response.
Stewart also said he'd wreck anyone who decides to block him in the future.
This one's going to be in a future YouTube compilation of "Tony Stewart's Greatest Hits."
Carl Edwards Doesn't Need to Run the Nationwide Series
After running well in practice Friday afternoon, Carl Edwards decided not to make the trip to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc. for this weekend's Nationwide Series race, giving up the seat to road racer Billy Johnson instead.
The decision paid plenty of dividends, as Edwards quietly moved up from his 25th-place starting position to finish third.
Not only that, he now owns a 25-point lead over Kevin Harvick in the Sprint Cup standings. I think someone's making a championship run.
Thoughts? Comment below.