NASCAR nation rolls into the wine country of the Sonoma, California, as the first of two road course events hits Infineon Raceway. The two-mile, 11 turn track is a wild-card in the race towards the chase, so expect major movement in the point standings after this week.
Fuel strategy was once again key as both Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson ran out on the last lap, handing the victory to Mark Martin. For the second straight week, Johnson ran out of gas, this time after leading 146 of 200 laps. Tony Stewart finished seventh to maintain a 47 point lead over Jeff Gordon.
Now without further ado, here's what to expect this week.
THE BIG THREE
1. Jeff Gordon's Dominance
Gordon has more wins (five) than all drivers in the top-12 combined (four).
2. 4 and 4
The last four races at Infineon have had four different pole-sitters and four different winners. On the pole were: Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray, and Kasey Kahne. The race winners were: Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Juan Montoya and Kyle Busch.
3. Look away 88 fans
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has never finished in the Top-10 in nine career starts.
1. Jeff Gordon
How can you not like NASCAR's road course king? In 16 starts, he's collected five poles, five wins, 10 top-fives, and 12 top-10s, with and average finish of 9.3. He's the all-time leader in laps led here, and is coming into this race with back to back top-five finishes.
Expect Gordon to be very strong here.
2. Tony Stewart
The only driver other than Jeff Gordon with mulitple wins at this track (two). He, however, has more success at NASCAR's other road course, Watkins Glen than Sonoma.
Stewart is certainly no slouch here, with a win at Poccono, the Sprint Cup Points leader will be strong here as well.
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
The 1999 CART Champion and F1 standout has come into his own on ovals, but this week will be his best chance to in this season so far. He won this race back in 2007, and followed it up with a 6th last year.
I expect him to win on an oval this year, but if he ends up in victory lane here, don't be surprised.
4. Marcos Ambrose
The Aussie can drive on a road course, he was the fastest car on the track here last year. Towards the end, though, electrical problems ended his day, and he finished third at Watkins Glen last year.
Add a Nationwide Series win at the Glen as well, and you have a very dangerous pick here.
5. Kyle Busch
Yes, he hasn't run well over the past few weeks, but he was nearly untouchable during the road course races last year, sweeping both events. If there is a week where they can turn it around, this is the place to do it.
The Dark Horses
1. Ryan Newman
Did you know that Newman has the second-best average finish here among active drivers at 9.4? Newman is a better road-racer than everyone gives him credit for, he even has a Nationwide win at the Glen to prove it.
Expect a Top-10 from Newman, and don't be surprise to see him challenge for the win.
2. Clint Bowyer
And another driver you don't think about when it comes to road racing, but his last two starts here at Infineon has produced two fourth-place runs.
He should hang around the Top-10 all day.
3. Robby Gordon
He's Mr. Excitement when it comes to road racing. The 2003 race winner can win this race if he can keep his head and car out of trouble this week.
4. Mark Martin
The only reason I have him as a dark horse and not a favorite is that he hasn't run here in a while. Martin has four road course wins in his career, including this race in 1997. Expect the agelss wonder to be good this week.
YOUR SUPER SLEEPER IS...Ron Fellows
The road course specialist has been close here on occasion, and will be driving the same car that Brad Keselowski drove to victory at Talladega. He won a Nationwide race at Watkins Glen and finished second here a few years back.
BUT YOUR WINNER IS
I'm picking Jeff Gordon to score his sixth win this week. He's always been a road course stud, especially at Infineon. When the smoke clears, expect Gordon in victory lane.
1. Jeff Gordon
2. Juan Pablo Montoya
3. Tony Stewart
4. Marcos Ambrose
5. Mark Martin
6. Kyle Busch
7. Robby Gordon
8. Ron Fellows
9. Ryan Newman
10. Clint Bowyer
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