RCR in Wine Country ... Richard Childress is fourth on the Infineon Raceway all-time car owner win list. Dale Earnhardt won the 1995 Save Mart Supermarkets 300 and Robby Gordon won the Save Mart 350 in 2003. Additionally, in 47 starts at the 12-turn stadium course, RCR owns one pole, 12 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes. Meanwhile, the Welcome, N.C.,-based team has led 131 laps at Infineon, completed 4,798 of the 4,844 laps contested (99.1 percent) and recorded just one DNF (Did Not Finish) over that stretch. Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer finished second, third and fourth, respectively, in the 2007 Save Mart 350.
The Collective RCR ... Over the season's first 15 races, RCR's four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entries have notched three wins, 11 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes. The No. 31 team kicked off the 2011 season with a non-points win in the second Duel 150 qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway. The No. 29 team visited Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway in March and backed that up with a win the following weekend at Martinsville Speedway. In May, Harvick and the No. 29 team visited Winner's Circle at Charlotte Motor Speedway, claiming the checkers in one of NASCAR's marquee events - the Coca-Cola 600. RCR-prepared Chevrolets have also completed 18,245 out of 18,992 total laps (96.1 percent) with drivers Bowyer, Burton, Harvick and Paul Menard, who have led a combined 446 laps. At least one RCR driver has led laps in each of the season's first 14 events with the lone exceptions being Kansas and Pocono.
Get to the Points ... Following the Cup Series race at Michigan, Harvick advanced two spots, to second, where he sits 20 markers in arrears to current point leader Carl Edwards. Bowyer slid to 10th but remains 48 points outside the top five. Menard gained three positions, to 16th, in the standings, and is 53 points behind Bowyer's total while Burton remains 25th, sitting 31 markers in arrears to the top 20.
This Week's Duracell/Menards Chevrolet at Infineon Raceway ... Paul Menard will pilot Chassis No. 358 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This No. 27 Chevrolet Impala is a brand new addition to the RCR fleet for the 2011 season and will be put through its first paces at the Sonoma, Calif.-based facility.
PAUL MENARD: How would you gauge yourself as a road racer? Do you feel like you have an advantage going to road courses having had experience with them? "I feel pretty comfortable on a road course, but these guys (motioning up and down the garage) are so damn good that they're all good on the road courses. It's just another race weekend for us. We show up and unload Friday morning and see how practice goes. That kind of sets the tone for the rest of the weekend and you see how much work you have to do. It's really no different than an oval (track) race weekend. You just have to put your best foot forward and, if things go well on Friday, it makes things a lot easier for Saturday and Sunday."
Why do you think there has been a lot more contact in the recent years? "It's competition. Everyone runs the same speed; you have to get what you can get when you can, so there is very little give and a lot of take."
What do you think about racing up that hill and not being able to see what is on the other side of it? Describe what that feeling is like going into a blind corner. "You can't see, but you're going really slow, at least in the driver seat, it actually feels slow. It's not a really high speed corner. You're drive uphill and it is a blind corner, but you know where all your marks are, too, where you turn in, where you brake at. It's really not that scary."
Kevin Harvick No. 29 Rheem Tankless Water Heaters Chevrolet Race Notes and
This Week's Rheem Tankless Water Heaters Chevrolet at Infineon Raceway ... Kevin Harvick will race chassis No. 357 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This is a brand new race car that will see its first on-track action this weekend at Infineon Raceway.
In the past three years at Infineon, there have been three veteran drivers who won their first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series road race. Are more drivers preparing harder now than in the past to compete on road courses? "Everybody has prepared for it as long as I've been around. I know if you don't prepare for it right you're not going to be competitive and I think everybody knows that. I think the guys that weren't as good at it in the first few years have gotten better at it because they've spent more time preparing for it. We've pretty much had the same preparation every year that we've ever road raced and road course races have been good for us."
With so many turns and so few easy places to pass at Infineon, the race typically has lots of bumping and contact, similar to a short-track race only with twists. Do you just prepare yourself for that kind of race, along with the probability of some angry drivers? "There's really nowhere good to pass. That's the problem. That's why it becomes so rough. The track is so narrow and the small amount of areas where there are decent passing zones lead into really, really slow corners and that's why you see as much contact as you do. It is way more like a short-track race than anywhere else and probably as rough a race as you'll see anywhere on the circuit."
What do you like most about road-course racing in general and specifically at Infineon? It appears to demand a lot from drivers, physically and mentally. "The Infineon course is tough because it's narrow and very technical. Track position is probably the biggest key. You have to be technically and mentally sound and do everything right in order to stay on the race track and try to put yourself in position at the end of the race. It's a challenging course, but very narrow."
What are the keys to winning at Infineon? "The whole key is just getting the right track position at the end of the race. You have to fight all day to put yourself in position to be in those top couple of spots as the race comes down to the end. Sometimes, it comes down to fuel mileage and sometimes it comes down to having the best-handling car. In the end, track position will be key."
This Week's Caterpillar Chevrolet at Infineon Raceway ... Jeff Burton will race chassis No. 245 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable.Built new in 2009 as a No. 07 racer, this machine was put through two short track tests and then shelved before being converted to a road course No. 31 racer. It was put through its first competition at Infineon Raceway last June where the South Boston, Va., native finished 27th before rebounding nicely at Watkins Glen International a couple of months later when he piloted the RCR entry to a ninth-place result.
Wine Country Details ... In 17 starts at Infineon Raceway, Burton has posted one top-five and five top-10 finishes. His best finish of third came in June 2007. Six of his 16 starts are under the RCR banner where, during that time, he has accumulated a 20.4 starting average coupled with a 20.3average finish and has completed all laps contested.
Happy Birthday, Jeff ... Following this weekend's event at Infineon Raceway, driver Jeff Burton will celebrate his 44th birthday on Wednesday, June 29.
There is a perception that there has been a lot of more contact added in the last three or four years. Do you agree and, if so, is there any reason why? "I agree, wholeheartedly. I think some of these wrecks have been just unbelievably ridiculous. It's so competitive today. So many cars run the same speed and you're forced, in order to pass someone, to get really aggressive and there are only two places to pass. In those two places, you have to be aggressive and, of course, there is always more than one person involved. When you get close to the end of the race, you start trying to protect your position and they guy behind you is trying to take the position. It just gets ugly and there has been a lot of contact the past few years."
Have you ever gotten comfortable with the idea of running up a hill and then turning, not really being able to see where you are turning in to? It's kind of a feeling you don't get at too many places. "Racing at Infineon is fun. Once you have been out there a couple of times, you really know the race track well. You can see a little better than you would think you could see. These cars aren't exactly fast there because they weigh so much and it's not like they are an IRL car going around. That gives you a little more time to see. It's a track that wasn't designed for these cars, I can tell you that. It's very narrow and technical with a lot of corners. You have to be really aggressive but you have to be very technical all at the same time. It's fun and a big challenge."
Are there certain places at Infineon where you can pass other cars? "The thing you have to remember is that while you're trying to pass the guy in front of you, the guy behind you is trying to pass you. And, every place that you're trying to make a pass on someone, it's the same place that someone is trying to make a pass on you. That's why there are a lot of wrecks there. There are specific points on the track that work the best so everyone is aggressive during those points."
Do you enjoy road course racing? "I love road course racing. I think it's a blast. It breaks up the year and gives us something different than what we normally do. I'm confident in how we ran there in the past, but we don't have a lot of finishes to show for it. A lot of that falls on my shoulders. The two road course races are going to be very important to the Chase. Those are the types of race tracks that have huge potential pitfalls. You can easily finish 43rd there by having a problem or getting off course. It's a place where you can lose a lot of ground. On the other hand, it's a place where you can make up a lot of ground. If you can run up front, you have a chance of winning and potentially could make up some ground in the points."
This Week's Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet at Infineon Raceway ... Clint Bowyer will pilot chassis No. 300 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This Chevrolet Impala, built in 2010 specifically for road course racing, has seen action twice - the first being a 31st-place finish last season at Infineon Raceway and, most recently, last August at Watkins Glen International when Bowyer brought home a 32nd-place effort.
Career Sonoma Stats ... This weekend's 350 miler marks Bowyer's 197th career NSCS start. In five NSCS starts at Infineon, Bowyer owns two top-five and three top-10 finishes, posting his best finish of fourth twice - once in the 2007 event and the other in 2008.
Points Racing ... With his top-10 result last weekend, Bowyer still managed to drop two positions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver championship point standings. He now sits 10th, just 77 markers out of first and one point out of eighth.
At this stage in your career, how would you rate yourself as a road course racer? "I'm not really a good road course racer. We ran well at Infineon, but didn't get the finish we wanted. We did get some help last year. I think it was Jeff Gordon who wiped out Elliot Sadler and he knocked into us. It broke our bar mount and we didn't end up finishing. Last year wasn't good, but we've had solid runs there - top-five runs. It's a lot of fun to race there is very challenging. It's a fun track to get around."
There seems to be a lot more contact there than years past. Is there a particular reason for that? "It's because there are so many opportunities for it. There are two corners that are certainly passing corners and two that are dive bomb corners. Those are your chances at passing on a track like that. If a guy gets off the corner before that decent, you're only chance to pass him is to dive bomb him locking up the brakes and getting into not only him, but several cars. It's especially crazy on these double-file restarts there at the end of the race. It's just like "oh my gosh." You're better off to just downshift and wait for it to happen, drive around it and get yourself a good finish."
Is it hard not to get run over or run over someone else? "It's easy for both. It's just as easy to get run over as it is to run over someone else. Like I said, it always happens because you're pushing the envelope. You have to stretch it and jump off in that corner further than he's going to and a lot of times, someone will wheel-hop and it's just sense of urgency. You have to go. If you don't, the guy behind you is already coming down and he's going to run into you and you're wrecked. It's a pretty risky gamble, but it's almost a gamble that you have to take."
How are the blind corners? It must be an interesting sensation going around a corner and not being able to see. "Oh yeah, when you come up over that corner, not only is it a blind back side of the hill, but you're out of track. You're coming up over that corner and it shoots you towards the dirt. You're trying to figure out where you're going to land. Next thing you know, you're like "wait for it, wait for it," and now you're off the track. It's a really fun race track."