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Race Day: The Road Could Be Rough One Today

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 26 2011

Jeff Gordon has always been one of the best on the road course at Infineon. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The busiest guys in racing this coming week? From the sound of it, could be the fab shop guys. They’ll be the ones undoing the damage done at today’s Sprint Cup race at the road course at Infineon Raceway.

Driver after driver in the garages at Infineon talked about the increasing amount of rough driving on the road circuits.

Some said racing on the twisties has become as aggressive as it is at the Bristol and Martinsville short tracks.

Here is what a select group of drivers had to say about the potential for road rage today:

Tony Stewart, No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet: “I can promise you there will be a lot of guys that will just crash each other just because they think they can. I’ll bet anything I’ve got in my pocket that in the last two or three laps, somebody dumps somebody just doing something stupid. So there’s no doubt in my mind that’ll happen.

“It’s getting worse every year. Every time we come here, guys are getting worse about it. They put themselves in holes that puts everybody else in bad positions and just wreck each other for no reason.”

Carl Edwards, No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: “I think the aggression has ratcheted up across the board. I think in these road courses it has gone through the roof.

This has become a fairly common sight at Infineon Raceway. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

If you leave anything open, guys dive in and door slam you and they are really going for it. If we don’t get that long green flag run at the end. If we get caution after caution with like two laps to go on the race, it is going to be insane. We could wear out the green-white-checker here for sure.”

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “It’s just different kind of aggressiveness.  You’re talking about aggressive braking and driving into the corner hard and really getting the car slowed down and out-braking other cars with the down shifts.  In that sense, you have to be aggressive when you’re passing somebody or trying to prevent somebody from being passed.  The rest of this track is about not being aggressive.

“This is a very finesse race track.  There is just a couple areas that you can drive deep in the corner.  The rest of them it’s about not making mistakes.  I think coming into turn 11, yeah, you can be aggressive there, but other than that you have to be careful being aggressive here.”

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. 90

Track layout: 1.99-mile road course

Race distance: 110 laps/218.9 miles

2010 winner: Jimmie Johnson

2010 polesitter: Kasey Kahne

Today’s polesitter: Joey Logano

Technically speaking

Road racing is not just different for the drivers. It’s different for the cars and, hence, for the engineers.

Howard Comstock, Dodge Racing engineer had this to say about racing at Infineon:

“As we travel to the first road course race of the year, teams have to instantly change gears to, well, thinking about changing gears for one thing. A road course means lots of slow parts of the track as well as lots of fast parts. More than a dozen transmission gear changes every lap is the norm. That will put a tremendous amount of strain on all the driveline parts, not just the transmission. Teams have to be ever mindful of the durability of these key components.  The right driveline parts will help provide speed, but the failure of any one of them will bring a quick end to your day.”

Trivia time

Only one active driver got his first victory of his career at Infineon. Who is it?

Track tidbits

Number of races: 22

Oldest race winner: Ricky Rudd (45 years, 9 months, 20 days)

Oldest pole winner: Rusty Wallace (43 years, 10 months, 11 days)

Races won from the pole: 5

Last to win race from pole: Jeff Gordon in 2004

Most lead changes in race: 12

Fewest lead changes: 3

Narrowest margin of victory? .197 seconds

Most victories: 5, by Jeff Gordon

Most top-fives: 11, by Jeff Gordon

Best average finish (five or more starts): 8.6, by Dale Earnhardt

Last five winners (starting with most recent): Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Gordon.

Turning points

Infineon has 14 turns. With turns offering the best opportunity to pass, that should be good.

Driver Ryan Newman of Stewart-Haas Racing was asked about the most challenging turn in terms of passing. He said:

“The two toughest corners I think from our standpoint with our cars are 7 and 11. I think 7 is a little tougher than 11 but you can make a little more happen in turn 11 as far as passing. So 7 I think is the most challenging corner for us here with our cars. The hard right, switching back to the left and getting the power down. That’s where you can really make or break a lot of time mostly because of the lack of speed there.”

Trivia answer

Juan Pablo Montoya is the only active driver to get his first career victory at Infineon. That was in 2007.

Win it to be in it

Juan Pablo Montoya could be the best road racer in the field today. A former Formula 1 winner, he should be.

Not eligible for the Chase at this point, he was asked about the importance of a good showing today.

He said, “This is a place I think we are in a really good position to either get a win or run up front at least and get a lot of points. I think we can still make the Chase by being in the top 10. We have a car that is capable of doing that. I think if we make good calls in the next few weeks we should be pretty good. If we get a win here, yeah I think it would be great. But two really clear chances of victory here or Watkins, it’s exciting.”

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 26 2011
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