Previewing the Toyota/Save Mart 350
by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush
Location: Sonoma, Calif.
Specs: 12-turn, 1.99-mile road course
Coverage: Sunday, June 26; TNT (3:00 p.m. EST)
2010 Winner: Jimmie Johnson
2011 Race Length: 218.9 miles/110 laps
Track Qualifying Record: 99.309 mph (Rusty Wallace, 2000)
Race Record: 81.413 mph (Ernie Irvan, 1992)
From the Spotter's Stand
California kid Jimmie Johnson was finally king of the road at Infineon Raceway after winning his first race at the 12-turn, 1.99-mile Sonoma track last June.
Although Johnson’s 48 car did not cross the finish line in reverse, the five-time Cup champ did back his way into the victory thanks to Marcos Ambrose, who fell from first to seventh under caution after he shut his engine off while cruising uphill while attempting to conserve fuel.
As a result of the mistake made with five laps to go, Ambrose’s lead over Johnson faded away, becoming an easy 3.105-second victory for JJ — ahead of runner-up Robby Gordon, Kevin Harvick and pole-sitting 2009 Infineon winner Kasey Kahne.
Crew Chief’s Take
“Road races, particularly at Infineon, are strategy-fests. The trick is to count the laps backward, so a crew chief can calculate when to stop if the race comes down to a fuel-mileage battle.
“Infineon is not as fast as Watkins Glen, so a driver must have a car that gets a lot of mechanical grip — and he must feel comfortable with that grip — to negotiate all 12 turns. If you want to get right down to it, the biggest key to winning in Sonoma is keeping all four wheels on the ground all the time, and the cream usually rises to the top.”
Looking at Checkers: Don’t overthink this. Go with Juan Pablo Montoya.
Pretty Solid Pick: Of course, Tony Stewart isn’t a bad way to go, either.
Good Sleeper Pick: Betcha didn’t realize Greg Biffle is a pretty good little road racer.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a beer drinker, not a connoisseur of wine country.
Insider Tip: At some point, a road-race ringer may break through for a win, but the series regulars have gotten so good at turning left and right that it’s not advised you stray from them.
Classic Moments at Infineon
Jeff Gordon fights Bobby Hamilton tooth and nail in the 1998 Save Mart/Kragen 350 to earn his first win at what is then known as Sears Point Raceway.
Gordon and Jerry Nadeau, in the No. 13 FirstPlus Financial Ford, start on the front row. Nadeau, though, overshoots Turn 2 on lap 13 and suffers a violent crash that sends him to the hospital.
In a physical duel with Hamilton as the race nears its conclusion, Gordon gets by on lap 102 of 112 and holds the spot despite a dogged attempt to reclaim the point by Hamilton in his No. 4 Kodak Chevy.
Gordon’s win is his first at Sonoma, and second of a six-race winning streak on NASCAR’s two road courses.