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Bucolic Often Turns To Barbaric At Sonoma

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 24 2012

Jeff Gordon grabs some air after hitting the rumble strips at Pomona during practice on Saturday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Peace and beauty come to mind when people think of the rolling hills of the Northern California wine country. Unless those people are sitting in the driver’s seat of a Sprint Cup car. Then, anger and violence crowd the thoughts and the track.

The annual race at the Sonoma road course, site of today’s Toyota/Save Mart 350, has become one of the rowdiest on the schedule.

Several drivers were asked about rough driving at the Sonoma road course and here is what they had to say:

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “Yeah, it’s been building. We’ve been on race tracks that are way too fast to really express yourself. So, with the lower speeds here and how close we run and how easy it is to aggravate each other, I would anticipate a very wild and crazy Sunday afternoon out here. So, that’s why coming in here I knew track position was going to be everything in making sure we had a strong qualifying effort. It’s really important. You can play the give and take game in top three, top-5; but when you get to tenth on back, and it’s a cutthroat world. I’m glad we’re at least not starting there. We’re up front.”

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet: “I think it’s because just so many

A fire broke out in the pit stall of Paul Menard last year. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

cars especially on restarts by the time the leaders get to the top of the hill and they slow down everybody that is mid-pack can’t charge off in the corner. So guys that are trying to be patient and do the right thing there are other guys that try to take advantage of it and put the rest of the guys in bad spots when they get there. I think that is what causes a lot of it just the competition is so close. With double file restarts we are not stringing out like we used to here. I think the frustration comes more on starts and restarts than it does anything.”

Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: “There are a lot of opportunities here to not just pay somebody back but to make mistakes and bump into people and be overly aggressive. I have run into other people and run into the walls and tire barriers and axle hopped here, pretty much everything. Most of the time it is the best strategy, for me it has been best to race as hard as I can and give everyone as much respect as I can and try to get a good solid finish. Last year I think we saw one of the most aggressive races I have seen here. That could definitely be what happens again on Sunday. My plan is to be as aggressive as I can without ruining somebody’s day. That is the plan.

Trivia time

Sonoma has been won from the pole five times. Who is the last driver to have won the Sprint Cup race at Sonoma from the pole?

Fast facts

The race: The Toyota/Save Mart 350

The place: Sonoma Raceway

Configuration: 1.99-mile, 12-turn road circuit

Cars piled up near the start/finish line during a wreck two years ago at Sonoma. (File photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Today’s pole-sitter: Marcos Ambrose

Last year’s winner: Kurt Busch

Last year’s pole-sitter: Joey Logano

Most victories: 5, by Jeff Gordon

Most poles: 5, by Jeff Gordon

Most top-fives: 12, by Jeff Gordon

Most lead-lap finishes: 19, by Mark Martin

Narrowest margin of victory: .197 seconds

First race: 1989

First race pole-sitter: Rusty Wallace

First race winner: Ricky Rudd

Last five

The last five winners of the Sonoma race were: Kurt Busch (2011), Jimmie Johnson (2010), Kasey Kahne (2009), Kyle Busch (2008) and Juan Pablo Montoya (2007).

Bad memories

Marcos Ambrose, who will start today’s race from the pole, was not a happy guy when the 2010 race ended at Sonoma. Apparently headed toward victory, he shut his car down to save gas during a late caution.

The car balked when it came time to refire the engine, a couple of cars passed him as he slowed, and Ambrose became a bit of a tragic figure.

The Australian native was asked this weekend if he thinks Sonoma owes him anything.

“No, no it doesn’t,” he said. “I beat myself up here in 2010. It was nothing to do with the car or the track, it was me. I have got to make amends for that if I can and with experience comes knowledge and I know what not to do on the last restart and we will go from there. I am excited to be given the opportunity to drive for RPM and be the Stanley driver this weekend. We have as good a chance as anyone to win the race and that is all you can ask.”

Trivia answer

Jeff Gordon was the last to win Sonoma from the pole. He did it in 2004.

Wrung out

Fewer and few road-racing ringers are put into Cup cars these days. Kasey Kahne was asked why that is.

“I think the Cup guys just got to where they are just really good on road courses for one,” Kahne, a former winner at Sonoma, said. “Also, really understand the cars. To me once the car turned to the car basically that we are running now that we have had for, I don’t know, five years now or four years, whatever it has been.

“I just feel like there is a feeling in that car that you can get on an oval and carry some of that stuff to these types of tracks. So our Tony Stewart’s and Jeff Gordon’s and there is plenty more, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch those guys have really stepped up on this type of a track. They just make it hard for any road course guy or anybody who wants to come in just to straight up beat them those guys are good.”

Boris and Biffle Show re-run?

The last time the Cup cars took to a road course, Greg Biffle ended up taking a post-race swing at ringer Boris Said. And Said ended up calling Biffle some nasty names and issuing some explicit threats.

Biffle blamed Said for a late-race wreck. After the post-race swinging and pushing and yelling subsided, Said told reporters that Biffle needed “a whooping” and that Said was the man for the job.

Biffle was asked about the incident at Sonoma. He was asked if the two drivers had straightened things out.

“No. We talked on the phone and it is what it is,” Biffle said. “It is different when you come out and run one or two races a season then when you are running for the points. It is different. You have different goals in mind. If I was in his shoes a 15th place finish doesn’t matter. It is not even on the radar. They are just different goals.”

Up next

The Cup series heads to Kentucky Speedway for the Quaker State 400. The winner of last year’s race was Kyle Busch. The loser was the track’s reputation as huge traffic problems sparked major anger. Changes have been made that, track promoters say, will eliminate a replay.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 24 2012
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