Nascar Sprint Cup: Sonoma Raceway

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Toyota_SaveMart 350As a resident of Northern California from the mid 60’s until the mid 80’s, I recall that there were only a couple of reasons to go up to Sonoma County. There was wine tasting, golf at the old Silverado golf course and Sears Point Drag racing at Sears Point. After all, that part of the world is usually foggy, cold and with it’s close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, windy.

Most people thought the Racetrack was named after the Sears and Roebuck Corporation, but actually it was named after a rancher named Franklin Sears  in the 1850’s, and his ranch called The Sears Point Ranch. In the past few years, it was called Infineon Raceway, but the naming rights expired back in May, and now it’s just called Sonoma Raceway.

Ground was broke on the Sonoma Raceway in 1967, and the track opened for business in 1968. In addition to the drag strip, the road course has three dimensions for three unique types of races held there each year. Because the track is located in California, it, and the lengths of the races are measured in Kilometers instead of miles.

The full racetrack is actually 2.52 miles(4.05 kilometers) and is paved with asphalt. It has 12 turns, and unlike most Nascar tracks, it has an elevations change as well as a number of left hand turns. Pit road is oriented for maintenance from the right side of the car, so all of the gas tanks are also oriented on that side of the vehicle.

The Nascar portion of the track is a 1.99 mile course(3.2 kilometers) featuring only 10 turns. The Nascar Winston Cup Series debuted there in 1989 after the old road course at Riverside Raceway closed at the conclusion of the 1988 season. The Craftsman Truck series start competition there in 1995 , and  Bruton Smith from Speedway Motorsports Inc. purchased the track in 1996. It then became a regular stop on the Winston Cup(now Sprint Cup) calendar.

Jeff Gordon holds the record for most wins on this track, with five victories, and he holds the top qualifying lap time of 1:15:950, set in

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)

2005. Gordon has not won since the inception of the COT car, citing the COT had taken away his advantages. The new car has evened the playing field and brought more contenders into the mix. No longer do many teams bring older, short track cars to the road courses. And, Gordon added, double-file restarts have made the road races more like Martinsville’s slamming and shoving than traditional, follow the leaders and hit your marks affairs.

The last seven races have produced seven different winners to prove the claim. The last four winners were Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch.

Many of the Nascar teams hire what’s called ringers for this, and the two other road courses on the Sprint Cup schedule. This of course doesn’t work for drivers having to perform each and every week to maintain points. The teams who are only running for owner and manufacturing points are happy to bring in these road course specialists.

[ Ref:  Be sure to check out  No Longer Just Road Course “Ringers” by Adam Huth on Stock Car Spin]

A lot of the guys I hang with at the Watering Hole do not view this race as a real stock car race. I think most of them have this attitude because Dale Earnhardt Sr. didn’t like the race, and was always ready to tell us that, when someone asked him about the track. I personally like the Watkins Glen race better than Sonoma, but it is an interesting layout, and brings it’s own set of challenges to drivers and crew chiefs alike. Look for a repeat winner this year.

 

The Toyota Save Mart 350 will be broadcast on TNT at 3PM EDT Sunday. Qualifying will be a One Lap affair on Friday evening at 3:40PM EDT.

Images Courtesy Getty Images For Nascar

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Tags: Jeff Gordon Jimmie Johnson Kasey Kahne Kurt Busch NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

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