The first road course event of 2011 is set to take place this weekend out in Sonoma, California. Road course events are unlike those run on ovals for two reasons. First and most obvious is that cars turn left and right. Second, the drivers who are successful on these tracks are different as well.
It’s one of the few weeks that driver skill outweighs the performance of the car by such a margin that it can be seen on the results page.
This week the hot names will unquestionably be Juan Pablo Montoya and Marcos Ambrose who could sneak there way into the chase with a win.
Ambrose nearly won the event in Sonoma last year but stalled his car and lost positions when he attempted to save fuel under caution. Jimmie Johnson was moved ahead of him for the final restart and ended up taking a win. At Watkins Glen he battled for the win early but eventual engine troubles took him out of competition.
Montoya won at Watkins Glen last year and his first career win came at Sonoma. In his 3 other starts he has placed inside the top-10 as well.
Of the drivers who are good on ovals the names Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are the best of the best on the road courses. Gordon leads all NASCAR drivers with 9 road course wins, at Sonoma he’s a 5 time winner with 14 top-10’s in 18 starts. Since his last Sonoma win in 2006 he’s finished 7th, 3rd, 9th and 5th.
Stewart has 7 career road course wins, with 2 at Sonoma. He’s finished inside the top-10 in his last 4 races at Sonoma.
The name Ryan Newman isn’t the first that comes to mind when it’s going fast on road courses but he’s got 5 top-10’s in 9 starts and has an average finish of 11th. Only the aforementioned are better in average finish.
Other drivers who should be counted on for good finishes include Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle. Of the three only Martin has won but all have run well of late.
Last years winner Jimmie Johnson can never be counted out. He’ll probably find a way to steal another one.
Last year Robby Gordon finished second to Johnson. Everyone expects a lot of Gordon on the road courses but it’s worth noting aside from his win in 2003 he’s only placed inside the top-10 three other times in 13 starts.
Drivers to avoid this week are key. Matt Kenseth may have saw one slip away from his last week but he won’t get a chance to win this week. In 11 starts he’s managed only 1 top-10 and has an average finish of 22nd. Like wise Dale Earnhardt Jr is 0 for the top-10 in his career.
Driver Jeff Burton continues his slide into irrelevance notching only 5 top-10 runs in 17 outings.