Sonoma: Series round 16 preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Sonoma Will Sonoma's Twists and Turns Snap 'The Spoiler's' Streak? Martinsville ... Darlington ... Texas ... Pocono ... Michigan. With a jump to third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, Denny...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Sonoma

Will Sonoma's Twists and Turns Snap 'The Spoiler's' Streak?

Martinsville ... Darlington ... Texas ... Pocono ... Michigan.

With a jump to third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota) is only 25 points behind second-place Kyle Busch (No. 18 Pedigree Toyota) and 47 behind points leader Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/ Penzoil Chevrolet).

"The Spoiler" -- doubling as Jimmie Johnson's (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) newest nemesis for race wins this season and as a driver whose cars are reaping the benefit of NASCAR's return to spoilers on the rear decks -- officially is on a streak

"It's a great accomplishment to win on so many different race tracks for us," Hamlin said. "To be able to unload and know you're going to be competitive for a race win week in and week out gives you a lot of confidence. For the first time really in my career, I feel like we're at this place."

After his current success on ovals, the Virginia native is heading to 12 turns of road-course writhing. In four races at Infineon Raceway, Hamlin's only earned one top-five position and has an average finish of 13.5.

"People don't necessarily look at us as a road course team," Hamlin admitted. But he's still optimistic.

"It's like the more success we get, the hungrier it makes me try to win again."

Kahne Keeps Momentum Heading Back To Infineon As A Winner

Could Kasey Kahne's (No. 9 Budweiser Ford) luck be turning around?

The defending champion at Infineon Raceway who has struggled the first half of the season, appears to be rumbling for a rebound with a runner-up finish at Michigan and a trip to a track that took him six tries to conquer.

"That was definitely a surprise last year," Kahne said. "(It'll) be a little different with the Ford engine, how it runs, things like that. But I look forward to it."

He'll have quite the battle though -- as he sits in 21st place in points, 205 shy of the 12th spot he needs to secure with only 11 races remaining before the start of the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Kahne's not one to back away from challenges -- he brought team owner Richard Petty back to Victory Lane in 2009 at Infineon Raceway. Before that, Kahne's best finish in five previous Infineon races was 23rd.

"There is a lot that goes on there at that race track," Kahne said. "For an oval guy like myself. I think the whole course is where I need to really keep my eyes open. One little mistake there and you will lose a lot."

Road Course Weekend: A Look At Potential Favorites

With a record-setting five wins, it's safe to say Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) has no problem finding his way to the checkered flag at Infineon Raceway.

"The track is one where you have to be aggressive, yet be smooth," said Gordon, who is the all-time series leader in road-course wins (nine).

His Sonoma resume also includes these impressive stats:

* He's the only driver to get consecutive wins (three), two of those from the pole.

* Has the most laps led at 437, twice as many as the next closest driver, Rusty Wallace, with 171 laps.

But there's a few other road-course savvy drivers who'd love to swipe this crown:

* Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet): Went to Victory Lane twice at Infineon, just missed it in 2009 with a second-place finish. "I've always liked Sonoma. It's really a driver's track."

* AJ Allmendinger (No. 43 Insignia/Best Buy Ford): Road course background, finished 7th last year. "I do look forward to it for a lot of reasons. It is a road course and that is where I came from, so naturally I get excited about that."

* Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Target Chevrolet): Got his first, and thus far only, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory here in 2007.

* Robby Gordon (No. 7 Monster Energy Toyota): Six top 10s and finished second in 2007. Still looking for first Sonoma win.

* Marcos Ambrose (No. 47 Clorox/Kleenex Toyota): Finished third last year, two titles in Australian road racing series (2003-2004).

Jimmie Johnson's Not The Only One Seeking A Road Course Win

He may have four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships and 50 checkered flags, but Jimmie Johnson keeps coming up empty at the two road courses on the schedule.

At least he's in good company.

Other drivers who haven't won a road course race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series include two champions -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford) and Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet), Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet), Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford) and five-time winner so far this season, Denny Hamlin.

Johnson is confident that after last year's fourth-place finish, the tide could be turning.

"Every year since the start of the 48 team, we've tested more for road courses than any other specific race track. (I) continue to run road courses in the Grand-Am Series when I can to help," Johnson said. "I'm ready mentally, physically."

Jeff Burton said his Richard Childress Racing team's been working on its road course program with a focus on getting the good finishes.

"People talk about it being technical," Burton said. "It's about being precise."

Despite earning a pole in 2006 at Infineon, former champion Kurt Busch hasn't captured the elusive checkered flag.

"You have to be on your game," Busch said. " The troublesome portion for us at Penske seems likes the fuel mileage is a big, big issue ... that's what we have to work on this time around."

Ford driver Matt Kenseth has had a change of heart about road courses.

"For a long time I really dreaded the road course races, but I've learned that the more you do it, the more comfortable you become," Kenseth said.

Road Course 'Specialists' Include Two International Drivers Making Series Debuts

Brandon Ash, No. 02 Start Natural Energy Drink Dodge. Father's Day could be extra special for him as dad Ed Ash sits atop the pit box as his crew chief. He formerly ran in NASCAR's Camping World Series West.

Jan Magnusssen will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the No. 09 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet. The Danish F1 driver will have to qualify on time for team owner James Finch.

Boris Said will attempt to make his 11th start at Infineon Raceway in the No. 26 Air Guard-GTWGPR Ford. His highest finish in Sonoma: Two sixth-place finishes: 2003 (starting from his one and only pole there) and in 2004.

P.J. Jones, in No. 07 SpeedFactory TV Toyota for fellow Californian Robby Gordon. Jones will attempt to qualify for his seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Sonoma.

Brian Simo will attempt to start in the No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Toyota. His best finish at Sonoma: 10 in 2005.

Mattias Ekstrom will take over the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota from driver Casey Mears. He'll make history as the first Swede to start a NASCAR Sprint Cup race. He's a two-time Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters champ who has never competed in any NASCAR series.

'Smoke' On Fire: Stewart Returns To Road Course, Top 12

That must have been a weird few weeks for two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart.

Coming into this season, the usually consistent Stewart had been inside the top 12 for 105 consecutive races dating back to 2007. Yet this year, he's been outside the allimportant group more than he's been in.

The struggles started at Texas, when an accident ruined Stewart's day  .
The 32nd-place finish dropped Stewart to 13th in the points standings  .

The slide continued, and Stewart would remain outside the top 12 for seven consecutive weeks.

During those seven weeks, Stewart mostly struggled. He had an average finish of 17.3, a Driver Rating of 84.0, an Average Running Position of 14.8, a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 56.5% and a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of negative-36.

Well, he's back.

A third at Pocono, and a fifth at Michigan has launched Stewart to 11th in the points going into one of his best tracks in the series.

In terms of Driver Rating, Infineon Raceway ranks as Stewart's third-best track. He holds series highs in just about every Loop Data category.

Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Stewart has a series-best Infineon Raceway Driver Rating of 113.2, a series-best Average Running Position of 8.9, a series-high 68 Fastest Laps Run and a series-high 443 Laps in the Top 15 (79.8%).

He also owns some race-best numbers at Infineon.

Community, Media Invited To Remember Les 'Coach' Richter

Friends, family and fans of Les Richter are invited to honor him with a public viewing and memorial service this week in Riverside, Calif.

The man so many af fect ionately cal led "Coach" led an extraordinary life that included being one of the most respected top executives at NASCAR and a professional football star, died Saturday morning at the age of 79 at Riverside Community Hospital.

"He was an impressive guy and had an impressive life," NASCAR President Mike Helton said. "To be as genuinely human as he was ... he had such a remarkable story all the way through his life. We were just very fortunate to have him as part of our community for a while." A native of Fresno, Calif., Richter was an

All-American as a linebacker and guard at the University of California, where he graduated as class valedictorian.

Richter was drafted by the Dallas Texans of the NFL in 1952. When contract negotiations broke down, the Los Angeles Rams traded 11 players for the rights to Richter, who went on to play nine years (1954-62), and was an All-Pro selection eight times. Richter's NFL career was delayed for two years, due to his service in the Korean War.

His second career began in 1959 at Riverside International Raceway, where he quickly rose to become president and general manager in 1961.

Richter, affectionately known as "Coach" throughout the motorsports industry, came to NASCAR in 1983 and evolved into one of the most important advisors to then-NASCAR Chairman/ CEO Bill France Jr. as NASCAR's popularity expanded.

Richter was named NASCAR's executive vice president of competition in 1986 and the senior vice president of operations in '92.

"Les Richter will be missed by the entire NASCAR community and always remembered for all he did for the sport -- especially NASCAR's shorttrack racing and promoting the sport on the West Coast," said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. "Les, a tireless worker, was one of NASCAR's most respected officials and one of my father's most trusted lieutenants." According to Jim Hunter, NASCAR's vice

president of corporate communications, Richter was "the epitomy of a workaholic" who rarely worked less than a 12-hour day and often slept at his desk. "He was tough ... he was intelligent, and he was passionate about NASCAR," Hunter added. "Coach was a great guy." Richter is survived by his wife, Marilyn; son, Jon; daughter Anne Guerrucci; and three grandchildren

Off-Track At Infineon Raceway

CNN Host To Sing National Anthem

Most people are used to catching up with the latest news when watching CNN's "Morning Express with Robin Meade" each weekday morning. But this weekend, they'll see race fan and host Robin Meade in a different light -- as the singer of the national anthem for Sunday's Toyota/ Save Mart 350.

Meade, who has attended races at Atlanta Motor Speedway near CNN's Headline News' headquarters, will also participate in a "grape stomp" with driver AJ Allmendinger following Saturday's final practice.

49ers Legend Named Grand Marshal Roger Craig, who helped lead the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl wins, will give the official command at Sunday's race.

"It is an incredible honor," Craig said. This will be the first NASCAR race I've ever attended, and I am very excited."

'Hometown Hero' Honored in Pre-Race As part of National Armed Forces Day and Infineon Raceway's season-long commitment to honor military members, Sacramento's Bill Cathcart will be recognized in pre-race ceremonies Sunday, June 20. With two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and Distinguished Service Cross, he is a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Hendrick Earns Spot On Wall of Fame As the most successful team owner in NASCAR at Infineon Raceway with five NASCAR Sprint Cup wins, Rick Hendrick will be inducted into the Infineon Raceway Wall of Fame during Wine Country Winner's Circle on Friday, June 18.

Hendrick drivers have helped secure the organization's dominance at the Sonoma Valley road course with Jeff Gordon claiming five checkered flags. Other drivers in the Hendrick stable that produced impressive stats here include Ricky Rudd who posted three consecutive poles (1990-92) among the nine poles recorded.

Hendrick will join drivers Gordon, Rudd, Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin on the Wall of Fame. Race fans are invited to attend.

Stewart, Biffle Want Your Vote

This weekend, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) will feature a special TV panel on their cars encouraging fans to enter the sixth annual "Official Small Business of NASCAR, Courtesy of Office Depot" sweepstakes.

Two finalists will get $10,000 and their businesses' names on the drivers' cars for the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway in September.

If one of the drivers wins the race, the business owner on the winning car earns $1 million. Register at OfficeDepotRacing.com until July 10.

Proud New Papas, Dads-To-Be Ready

Sunday's race will be extra special to those in the garage with wives expecting babies -- some for the first time.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson's wife Chandra will welcome their first child -- a daughter -- next month, while teammate Jeff Gordon's wife Ingrid will give daughter Ella a brother in August.

Celebrating their first Father's Day at Infineon Raceway are Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford) and Elliott Sadler (No. 19 Stanley Ford).

Also, Jeff Burton, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Michael Waltrip will be awarded Fatherhood Awards during the pre-race festivities by the National Fatherhood Initiative for their dedication to their children while balancing their work and family life.

Their stories were featured in a recent USA Weekend cover story illustrating NASCAR's family- friendly culture.

Next Up: New Hampshire

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will head to Loudon, N.H., for the LENOX Industrial Tools 301 on Sunday, June 27.

Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) is the race's defending champion and became the youngest driver to win at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series level -- and his first series win -- at 19 years, 1 month and 4 days. It is also where Logano made his series debut in 2008.

TNT will broadcast the race beginning with live coverage at noon and green flag at 1 p.m.

Fast Facts

The Race: Toyota/Save Mart 35
The Date: Sunday, June 20

The Track: Infineon Raceway (1.99-mile road course)
The Time: Noon PT/3 p.m. ET

The Distance: 350K/110 laps

TV: TNT 11 a.m. PT/2 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128

2009 Polesitter: Brian Vickers
2009 Winner: Kasey Kahne

Schedule:
Friday -- Practice, Noon-1:30 p.m. Qualifying, 3:35 p.m.

Saturday -- Practice, 9:30-10:15 a.m. Final Practice, 10:45-11:50 a.m. (all times PT/local)

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Tommy Baldwin Racing