Toyota/Save Mart 350: Surprising, Not Surprising

Ben BombergerSenior Writer IJune 22, 2009

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 21: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Dodge, performs a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the Infineon Raceway on June 21, 2009 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

The first road course race of 2009 is officially behind us, and NASCAR didn’t disappoint with its new double-file restarts.

Sunday’s racing was exciting from the drop of the green flag, until the caution flag fell in the closing laps, and in the end a Surprising driver was parked in Victory Lane.

As we look back at Sunday’s action, here are a few things Surprising, and Not Surprising .

Surprising: Kasey Kahne Wins | Moves Into Chase Contention

Entering Sunday’s race, Kahne had never finished a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series road course race in the top-10. By Sunday afternoon, Kahne broke a 37-race winless streak and called himself a road course winner.

Kahne managed to hold off a charging Tony Stewart and road course ace Marcos Ambrose through several double-file restarts in the waning laps.

More important than winning his first road course race, the solid finish moved Kahne to 13th in the championship standings, only three points behind 12th-place Juan Pablo Montoya.

Kahne’s win also gave the newly formed Richard Petty Motorsports its first win, and the King himself was in Victory Lane to celebrate with the No. 9 Budweiser team.

“I feel just as good as he [Kahne] does,” Richard Petty said after the race. “It’s great man.”

Kahne—who learned to drive on the dirt—said it was amazing to be in Victory Lane.

“It feels great,” he said after the race. “I can’t believe it to tell you the truth.”

Kahne gave Stewart credit for racing him clean and wished his dad a Happy Father’s Day. “Happy Father’s Day dad…have yourself a beer!”

Not Surprising: Tony Stewart Finishes Second

Smoke is on a roll—and always runs well at the road courses.

The current points leader has two wins at the 1.99-mile track in Sonoma, Calif., as well as seven top-10 finishes in 11 starts.

Stewart congratulated Kahne after the race noting that his No. 14 Chevy was, “a little too loose in the right handers,” while Kahne, “never made a mistake.”

The runner-up finish padded Stewarts’ points lead—extending it to 84 over second-place Jeff Gordon.

Surprising: Juan Pablo Montoya Points Races | Enters Top-12

Prior to the race, Montoya’s Crew Chief Brian Pattie said the team would be points racing on Sunday—and not get overly aggressive going for a win.

In the closing laps, it appeared Montoya was going to mount a charge to the front, but when Stewart managed to get back around him, Montoya seemed content bringing home a top-10 finish.

Montoya’s sixth-place finish vaulted him two spots in the championship standings to 12th—a minuscule three points ahead of 13th-place Kahne.

With nine races to go until the Chase cut-off, Montoya appears to be a challenger for a playoff spot.

Not Surprising: Jeff Burton Falls Out of Top-12

Richard Childress Racing is not the team it was one year ago, as is evident by its poor finishes in 2009.

With Burton’s 34th-place finish on Sunday (his average finish entering Sunday was 18.9), RCR officially has zero teams in the top-12 in points.

While his finishes the last few weeks haven’t been horrible (an average finish of 21.4 since the All-Star Race), those knocking on the door of the top-12 have been that much better.

Montoya, for example, has an average finish of 11.6 over that same time period, including two sixth-place finishes (Infineon and last week at Michigan), and two eighth-place finishes (Pocono and Charlotte).

The good news for Burton—and RCR as a whole—is that the No. 31 Chevy is only 46 points out of 12th-place.

The bad news for Burton—and RCR as a whole—is that those in front aren’t going to go down without a fight.

Surprising: Scott Speed Remains A Bust

After having what appeared to be a top-five run going in his No. 82 Red Bull Toyota during qualifying, Speed veered off the track and failed to qualify—again.

Once again, Joe Nemechek stepped aside to let the former Formula One driver get behind the wheel of the No. 87 Toyota.

Speed, however, as once again a non-factor throughout the entire race.

After finishing a disappointing 37th-place, you have to wonder when Red Bull’s patience with the rookie will wear out.

When the topic is brought up, many say Speed has a ton of talent and potential—yet it isn’t translating on the track.

Sure, the kid has yet to complete a full season in the Sprint Cup Series, but a road course race should have been a level field for Speed to run with the big boys.

Either way, Speed continues to fall further behind 35th-place in the owner point standings, and appears he will finish on the outside come Homestead.

Not Surprising: Double-File Restarts Provide Excitement

Infineon Raceway was the date many NASCAR fans (and drivers) circled when NASCAR announced the new double-file “shootout-style” restarts throughout the race.

Previously, with single-file restarts, drivers would get spaced out within a lap or two and it would take several laps for them to bunch back up.

On Sunday, each and every caution flag brought excitement as Stewart got to line up beside Kahne.

The double-file restarts also kept the fastest cars at the front, and kept lapped cars from interfering with the racing—something that has bitten teams in the past.

Overall, NASCAR has proven the double-file restarts are the way things should have been done all along, so kudos to the “suits” for listening to the fans and making racing more exciting.

Up Next: Loudon, New Hampshire

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