Left and right turns are on the menu this week as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its yearly stop in California Wine Country. Sonoma is the spot for this week’s 24th Annual Toyota/Save Mart 350, a place very special to a guy who grew up on the high speed esses of Watkins Glen International. Drivers lay it all on the line on these road courses, and it’s almost certain that tempers will flare and bumpers will rub on Sunday afternoon.
Sonoma has wielded a few different names in the past 10 years, (Sears Point Raceway – 1967-2001, Infineon Raceway – 2002-2012, and Sonoma Raceway – May 2012) but the action on-track has not changed a bit. It’s the same technical, 10 turn, 1.99-mile road course it has always been and with the way this 2012 car has been running, will produce some beating and banging Sunday afternoon.
‘Not bad’ is the way I describe my Michigan picks last week as I managed to squeak out two top 10’s last week in the Irish Hills. I had Kevin Harvick picked to win last week in the shadows of the Motor City and he was one of the favorites following the tire tests, practice sessions, and qualifying for the Quicken Loans 400. Harvick started his Sunday on the outside of the front row and quickly lost positions before the first competition caution period. Harvick suffered a detrimental error under the first caution period as the crew noticed a missing dust cap on the left-front wheel. The mishap shuffled Harvick all the way back to the 39th position, and giving the No. 29 team a nearly impossible mountain to climb for the win. Harvick worked his way through the field as the laps wound down and managed to take over the 10th position before the checkered flag was displayed.
Juan Montoya was my Dark Horse last week, and anytime I can manage to sneak out a top 10 from a Dark Horse, I tend to be happy. Montoya started the race in the 21st position, and he quickly showed that I had made one of my more impressive picks of this 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. The No. 42 team was able to get themselves into the top 10 just 53 laps into the Quicken Loans 400 and Montoya was even able to work his way to the point and lead four laps just past the midway point of the race. Juan was able to avoid any of the late-race drama in Michigan and bring home his No. 42 Target Chevy home in the eighth position. It was two top 10’s for me last week, an occurrence which has been sparse this season.
I don’t think there is much question as to who I am going to pick this week as my winner in wine country. He’s captured his second-straight Coors Light Pole award with his record-breaking efforts on Friday, and is without a doubt the guy to beat this week. He has finished no worse than 6th in his four starts in which he did not experience mechanical failure at Sonoma, and he is the odds-on favorite for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350. Marcos Ambrose broke the track record in the Bay Area on Friday during his Coors Light Pole qualifying session, and has been shown in the top section of the leaderboards during all three NASCAR Sprint Cup series practice sessions this weekend. His one and only Sprint Cup win came at Watkins Glen International last season, and Ambrose is looking to add a trophy from the other road course in the Sprint Cup Series this year.
Dark Horse Pick
Because Jeff Gordon currently sits 20th in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points, I am qualifying him as my Dark Horse this week. Just 12 miles from his hometown of Vallejo, California, I’m not sure if you can see any more of a ‘Hometown Favorite’ anywhere else during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Season. Gordon has experienced a string of bad luck this season with just one top 5, four top 10’s, and an average finish of a dismal 19.7. To his misfortune, Gordon adds 5 wins in wine country to his impressive Road Course resume, and building his case to be named my Dark Horse this week. He’s been fast all weekend and will roll off on the outside of the front row on Sunday Afternoon for his quest for his first win of this 2012 season.
That’s all for this week, so until we roll into the Bluegrass State, you stay classy NASCAR NATION!!