NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Infineon Montoya Aims To Repeat First Series Win Earnhardt Jr. Feeling The Momentum After Michigan In The Loop: Montoya, Gordon, And Stewart Kenseth Hits His Stride Just Outside Of Top 12 Montoya Returns...
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Infineon
Montoya Aims To Repeat First Series Win
Earnhardt Jr. Feeling The Momentum After Michigan
In The Loop: Montoya, Gordon, And Stewart
Kenseth Hits His Stride Just Outside Of Top 12
Montoya Returns To Defend First NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Win
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to wine country this weekend -- Sonoma, California for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.
While all the drivers are preparing for the first of two road-course races on the schedule, Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) and new crew chief Brian Pattie will be intently focused on defending Montoya's only series win.
Montoya ended his rookie season with one win, at Infineon, three top-five and six top-10 finishes putting him 20th in the final series driver standings in 2007.
This season hasn't gone quite as he had planned only with one top-five finish (Talladega). He currently is 22nd in the standings and has had to deal with two crew chief changes thus far. The team started the season with Donnie Wingo, then Jimmy Elledge, before settling with Pattie.
This weekend though, look for Montoya to be up front. NASCAR Pre-Race Loop Data Statistics for Infineon Raceway has Montoya near the top of several key categories: Driver Rating (115.3) is ranked first in the series, Average Running Position (10.588). "Last year I felt a ton of pressure heading into Infineon because everyone expected to me to run well and win because of my background," Montoya said. "This year I don't feel any pressure. Our goal is to run well, and if we have a shot at the win obviously we are going to take it."
Long Time Coming: Earnhardt Jr. Revels In Victory
Victory at last!
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/AMP Chevrolet) had made 76 starts and waited two years, one month and nine days before he was able to pull into Victory Lane again for his 18th career win, last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.
This season Earnhardt has been building momentum all the way up to his win at Michigan. He has posted seven top-five finishes, and is tied with Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) for the most top-10 finishes with 11.
He currently is third in the series standings, 84 points behind leader Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&Ms Toyota), and 52 points behind Jeff Burton (No. 31 AT&T Mobility Chevrolet) in second. This win is even more significant if Earnhardt makes the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup because of the 'seeding' process and the 10 bonus points for wins. To date, it would put him fifth in the Chase standings rather than 12th.
"I missed winning," said Earnhardt. "We got ten bonus points going into the Chase, we never had that, even when we made the Chase."
Earnhardt hopes to take this momentum to Infineon where he has struggled. His best finish there is 11th (twice) in 2003, '04. He finished 13th last season after posting his career-best starting spot (third) at the track.
This also will be Earnhardt's first road-course start with his new team, Hendrick Motorsports.
In The Loop: Road Course Repeat May Prove Difficult For Montoya
Lots of expectations were heaped onto Juan Pablo Montoya prior to last season's race at Infineon Raceway.
He had a reputation as a strong road course driver, and already had won a NASCAR road course race -- the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Mexico City. The pressure was on to win at Infineon Raceway.
Montoya didn't disappoint. In his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory, Montoya posted a race-best Driver Rating of 115.3, an Average Running Position of 11.4 (seventh-best), four Fastest Laps Run (tied for seventh-best) and spent 70% of the Laps in the Top 15.
If Montoya wants to repeat, he'll have to contend with the series' two best road-course drivers -- Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
Gordon, who has five wins at Infineon Raceway, may have had one of his more impressive Infineon Raceway performances last season -- in a loss. He started 41st and finished seventh, an improbable result, especially at a road course.
Over the last three races at the Sonoma track, Gordon has a Driver Rating of 102.1 (sixth-best), an Average Running Position of 13.7 (eighth), 35 Fastest Laps Run (third) and has 78 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), which is tied for third-most.
But it's Stewart who holds some of the top statistics at Infineon Raceway over the last three years. He won there in 2005, and since then has a Driver Rating of 113.9 (second), an Average Running Position of 8.7 (second), a series-high 55 Fastest Laps Run and a series-high 112 Quality Passes.
One dark horse this weekend might be Kurt Busch, over the past three races at the road course, Busch has a Driver Rating of 109.3. (second).
Outside Looking In 13th - 20th: Kenseth Making Moves In The Standings
Roush Fenway Racing's Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) has been climbing the standings the past five weeks, posting five consecutive top 10s. That's moved him from 34th to 14th, making up 190 points, just 14 points behind 12th-place Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet).
This is the second time Kenseth has mounted a mid-season comeback to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. In 2005, Kenseth was 24th in the standings after Pocono (the 14th race on the schedule) before posting seven top 10s to reach the top 10 in points, the cutoff for the Chase in '05, by the 25th race of the season. Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) are the only two drivers to make all four previous Chases.
Kenseth isn't alone. Both Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) and Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) gained a spot in the standings after last Sunday's event at Michigan, now 15th and 16th, respectively. Truex is 94 points behind Bowyer and Vickers is 97 points back.
On The Bubble: Owners' Points Continue To Shuffle
As the halfway point on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule approaches, the teams on the bubble of the owners' point standings are doing all they can to stay in the top 35.
After Michigan, Michael Waltrip Racing has two cars right on the top-35 bubble. The No. 55 driven by Michael Waltrip (34th) dropped two spots after a 23rd-place finish at Michigan, and the No. 00 driven by Michael McDowell is 35th, just seven points ahead of the No. 66 owned by Joe Custer and driven by Scott Riggs (36th).
The No. 77 owned by Roger Penske and driven by Sam Hornish Jr. posted a 22nd at Michigan to move to 33rd in owner points.
Another owner moving up this week in the owners' standings is Diestrich Mateschitz, owner of the No. 84 car, which jumped three spots to 37th - 110 points behind 35th after AJ Allmendinger finished 19th at Michigan.
Road Course Specialists: Not All Roads Lead To Victory Lane
A "road course ringer" hasn't won a road course race in over 30 years. The last was Mark Donohue at Riverside International Raceway in 1973. But that isn't stopping six drivers this weekend in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
There isn't another "road-course specialist" whose likeness is more famous than Boris Said's (No. 60 Slurpee/No Fear Energy Ford). His six-foot, four-inch frame and unique hairstyle can be seen from across the garage. And he has been able to contend with NASCAR's best at Infineon Raceway.
Said has made eight starts at Infineon and has posted four top 10s and one pole (2003).
Said has had the most success of the 'Road Course Specialists', but he is not the only added competition this weekend: Max Papis (No. 70 Haas Automation Chevrolet), Terry Labonte (No. 45 Wells Fargo Dodge), Brian Simo (No. 34 TBA Chevrolet), Ron Fellows (No. 01 Principal Financial Group/DEI Chevrolet) and Brandon Ash (No. 02 Sprinter Trucking Dodge) are entered in the race.
Vickers has posted three top-five and four top-10 finishes this season compared to failing to qualify for 13 races and posting one top-five and five top-10 finishes last season.
Allmendinger is looking forward to showcase the road-racing skills he picked up in CART where he posted four road course wins in 2006.
Both drivers fielded media questions on Tuesday's Teleconference:
Vickers on California and the different tracks on the schedule:
"I enjoy Sonoma. I enjoy road course racing. As far as the race track itself is concerned, it's fine, you know the one thing about our sport is we have a lot of diversity as far as the tracks are concerned. And everybody always asks the same question, "What's your favorite track?" Well I would probably have to lean toward Darlington on that, but what I like most is going to a different track, a different configuration, and different style every week, and having two road courses on the circuit add a lot to that."
AJ Allmendinger on this weekend:
"I am a lot more confident going into this weekend. But you know for me it's always one of those things that it is cool because it is a whole race, but at the same time it is probably one of the toughest weeks just trying to divide up time with your family, friends, and just being focused on the race track. So by the end of the weekend we are definitely spent."
Road Course All-Time Wins & Poles Leader: Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) heads to Infineon Raceway ready to add to his already impressive resume this weekend. Gordon is the most proficient NASCAR driver (active or inactive) on road courses. He has a total of nine road-course wins (five at Infineon and four at Watkins Glen International).
Series Debut: Marcos Ambrose
The Australian born driver Marcos Ambrose (No. 21 Little Debbie Ford) will make his series debut this weekend driving for Wood Brothers Racing.
Ambrose has competed in the NASCAR Nationwide and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Ambrose has posted two top-five and nine top-10 finishes and one pole in 51 starts. He also started 22 NASCAR Craftsman Truck races with two top-five and four top-10 finishes and one pole.
Before making his way to Ambrose competed in and won the 1999 British Formula Ford championship, and in 2001, earned rookie of the year honors in the V8 Supercar Series. He backed up the Rookie of the Year Award with two consecutive titles (2003-04) in V8 Supercar winning 27 races.
Up Next: LENOX Industrial Tools 301 At New Hampshire Motor Speedway
The 17th race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule will be Sunday, June 29th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Last year at New Hampshire Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota) won the race by beating Jeff Gordon to the finish line by .068 seconds.
Dave Blaney (No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota) sat on the Coors Light Pole for the LENOX Industrial Tools 300, his only pole of the year in 2007. Blaney went on to finish 29th after leading the first 30 laps of the race.
The Race: Toyota/Save Mart 350
The Place: Infineon Raceway
The Date: Sunday, June 22
The Time: 5:00 p.m. (ET)
TV: TNT, 3:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: PRN, SIRIUS Satellite Radio
The Track: 1.99-mile road course
The Distance: 350.24 km/110 laps
2007 Winner: Juan Pablo Montoya
2007 Polesitter: Jamie McMurray
Pre-Race Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 12:30-2 p.m.; Qualifying, 4:05 p.m. Saturday -- Practice, 9:30 -10:15 a.m.; Final Practice, 10:50 --11:50 a.m.