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Race Day: Cup Takes First Road Trip Of Season

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 20 2010

Jeff Gordon will be chasing his sixth career victory at Infineon Raceway this afternoon. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

More and more drivers seem to be spending less and less time getting grouchy about having to compete in the two road races on the Sprint Cup schedule. Some still are not thrilled, but all have come to accept them.

The series holds its first road race of the season today – the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.

Opinions about racing the twisties were not hard to solicit this week. Here is what a couple of drivers had to say about a couple of topics:

Mark Martin, when asked how he learned to drive in road races: “It just came naturally. I grew up in the rural areas of Arkansas. I drove a lot of dirt country roads that were curvy and hilly and I drove fast. It’s the same thing. It’s no different. Remember me saying staying out of the ditch? I started road racing when I was very young on the dirt roads in Arkansas. I went as fast as I could and stayed out of the ditch and that’s all this is to me. It came very natural.”

Jimmie Johnson, when asked if road races have a big effect on the championship: “Yes, it could affect the championship and I think the effort has been made for these teams to be better at road course racing. We have a younger generation of drivers that have some type of road course racing background or interest in their minds. Maybe they didn’t grow up in the cars, but I think it is a different generation. The older generation was just get out of here and move on, didn’t care. I think this younger generation enjoys road course racing. It means more to us.”

Tony Stewart, when asked if he would like to have a road race included in the Chase: “I’m still trying to get them to add a dirt race to the Chase. That is going to be my focus before I worry about getting a road course in the Chase. I would be in favor of getting a dirt race first. I don’t care, it doesn’t matter.”

Fast facts

What: Toyota/Save Mart 350

Where: Infineon Raceway; Sonoma, Calif.

When: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET

TV: TNT, 2 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Track layout: 1.99-mile road course

Race distance: 110 laps/350 kilometers

Estimated pit window: 30-32 laps

2009 winner: Kasey Kahne

2009 polesitter: Brian Vickers

Today’s polesitter: Kasey Kahne

First race at Infineon: 1989, The Banquet Frozen Foods 300

First race polesitter: Rusty Wallace

First race winner: Ricky Rudd

Trivia time

Infineon races have been won from the pole five times. Who was the first driver to win a race from the pole at Infineon?

Lending a hand

Bill Elliott is not entered in today’s race, but he was on hand this weekend. Elliott helped practice and set up the cars of Carl Edwards and Paul Menard, who raced at Road America in Wisconsin in the Nationwide Series.

Said Elliott, “When Sammy (Johns) asked me to come out here and do this it was like, ‘I like Sonoma.’  I love this race track, for whatever reason, and I like road racing, but just to come out here and get in somebody else’s car and just do practice is tough. For me, it’s just trying to help them information-wise with things like fuel mileage and other stuff that you don’t have to run killer lap times to understand.  You just go out there and run a pace, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

“That’s what I told Slugger (Labbe).  I said, ‘I’m gonna go out there and I’ll run as hard as I can and we’ll just try to figure things out.’  I wasn’t gonna try to bonsai anything because I’m a little rusty at road racing, but I’m more than happy to do it.  These guys work hard and I’m just trying to give them a good effort.  I enjoy it and I’m just having a good time with this stuff.”

Track tidbits

Most victories – Five, by Jeff Gordon

Most poles – Five, by Jeff Gordon

Most top-five finishes – 10, by Jeff Gordon and Ricky Rudd

Most top-10 finishes – 13, by Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin

Most lead changes – 11, in 2007

Fewest lead changes – 3, in 1989

Most cautions – 9, twice

Fewest cautions – 3, three times

Most wins by a manufacture – 9, by Chevrolet

Closest margin of victory – .197 seconds, in 1999

Largest margin of victory – 9.56 seconds, in 1994

The Burton 500

Jeff Burton will start his 500th Sprint Cup race today.

His thoughts: “I didn’t even know that until at some point, somebody told me that. I love what I do and I did see, or someone told me that (Ricky) Rudd was 800 and something and I quickly did the math in my head as to how many years I would have to race to do that and I don’t think I am going to make that. Think about that, that is like seven or eight more years of racing which I might be able to do, I don’t know. I love what I do. I am proud to do it in the series I do it in and I think it is the best racing in the world as far as major series go.  Feel fortunate to be able to do it for as long as I’ve been able to do it.”

Trivia answer

Ernie Irvan was the first to win a race at Infineon from the pole. That was in 1994.

Quote of the day

Juan Pablo Montoya, when asked if he would like to include Road America, site of Saturday’s Nationwide race, on the Cup schedule:

“I would rather run in Road America than here, to be honest. That’s a real circuit.”

Up next

The Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It is schedule for a 1 p.m. start on Sunday.

It will be the 19th race on the schedule. Joey Logano is the defending champion. Pole qualifying was rained out there last season.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 20 2010
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