Sonoma, California is wine and cheese country. And while Rusty Wallace is more of a beer and chips kind of guy, the pilot of the Miller Lite Dodge has always found a way to get to the front of the California road course circuit. In the ...
Sonoma, California is wine and cheese country. And while Rusty Wallace is more of a beer and chips kind of guy, the pilot of the Miller Lite Dodge has always found a way to get to the front of the California road course circuit.
In the inaugural NASCAR race at Infineon Raceway in 1989, Wallace finished half a second behind winner Ricky Rudd. He won the next year and again in 1996 and joins Jeff Gordon (three wins) and Ricky Rudd (two) as the only active drivers with multiple wins at the 10-turn, 1.99 mile track. He has a win and five top-5 finishes in the past 10 races at Infineon.
"I'm very confident," admitted Wallace, who is one of eight drivers who have driven in each of the 15 events at Infineon. "I've just got to not screw up. Last year I got the brakes hot and had a top-5 car and finished in eighth. Track position is everything. You've got to be able to get that thing in and get pitted and get out before everyone else and keep that track position."
Wallace was second fastest in qualifying on Friday and will join Jeff Gordon on the front row for the Dodge/Save Mart 350 on Sunday (4:00 p.m. Eastern on FOX). It's the sixth straight time that Wallace has qualified in the top-10 in Sonoma.
"I'm pretty satisfied with that lap," Wallace said on Friday. "I got to sliding too much in turn 10. I got in pretty hot and it was a long time before it hooked up. I knew it cost me too much time right there. All-in-all it was a good lap. I really wanted the pole. I don't have a real big smile because I left too much lying on the table."
The Penske Racing squad took advantage of a test at Infineon earlier this month to get a feel for the newly repaved racing surface. Wallace was able to compare the new car that the team brought this weekend with the #31 Chevy of Robby Gordon, who cruised to a dominant win in Sonoma one year ago and then swept the road course races with a win at Watkins Glen.
"The 31 car put a major spanking on all of us out there last year and that's a good team to compare yourself with," Wallace said. "I guess you could say we were impressed enough with what we had this time around that we'd dare to compare ourselves with the best this time around."
The repaved surface gives the cars more grip through the corners, leading to faster lap times. Jeff Gordon set a new track record with his qualifying effort on Friday.
"It certainly has quite a bit more grip than last year and we'll be zooming through all those turns," said Wallace, who will make his 650th career start on Sunday. "This is the first new road course car we've had in several seasons now and the guys have done a fantastic job in giving us a new weapon to work with. I'm itching to get back out and put that baby through its paces."
Wallace is 15th in the point standings and knows that a strong effort in the road course events at Infineon and at Watkins Glen in August will help get the team back into the top-10 with a chance to run for the championship in the final 10 races of the season.
"It is a crucial race to get into the top-10," Wallace admitted. "I got myself out of it because I crashed at Talladega and California back-to-back. I'm trying to claw my way back to the front right now. There are a lot of guys that are really good at other places that really struggle out here.
"We're confident that the chamber is loaded and ready to shoot us down another road course win this weekend."