By Pete Pistone
Kurt Busch dominates in victory at Sonoma
TOYOTA/SAVEMART 350 RECAP
If you’re a fan of high-speed demo derbies and drivers paying back one another on a lap-by-lap basis, Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 was the race for you.
However if passing without retribution and side-by-side racing minus intentional wrecking is more your cup of tea then the first of the season’s two road course races wasn’t it.
Since the advent of double file restarts and the “Boys Have at It” message from NASCAR, road course racing has replaced short track competition as the rough and tumble venue for the Sprint Cup Series.
There is far and away more beating and banging going on nowadays at Infineon and Watkins Glen than the more traditional spots for that style of racing like Bristol and Martinsville.
But while the aggressive style and no holds barred approach has made the pair of Cup road races much more entertaining, it loses some of its luster when things boil over as they did in Sunday’s race.
The afternoon was punctuated with one driver war after another with the list including Joey Logano vs. Robby Gordon, Brian Vickers vs. Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya vs. both Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski.
There were others but those were the main events.
Logano started the day from the pole but was quickly swept up in his tussle with Gordon that ended with the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota punting the No. 7 Dodge into the tire barrier.
"He drives like a moron every week," Logano said. "We were a lot faster than him. I got outside of him one corner and he knocked in my fender, all that (blank) there. So I had enough of it. I'm not going to get pushed around; I don't care."
Vickers and Stewart got into it early with a battle that featured each trying to block the other for position. It finally ended when Vickers sent Stewart’s car spinning into and onto the last corner’s tire barrier.
"I probably had it coming because I dumped him earlier but I dumped him because he was blocking,” Stewart said. “If anybody wants to block all year that's what I'm going to keep doing so they can handle it however they want. It was payback, but I dumped him first and I dumped him because he was blocking. I've been complaining about the way guys have been racing all year.”
Then there was Montoya, who tangled with both Keselowski and Kahne on separate occasions and caught the wrath of each driver after the checkered flag flew.
“Montoya just drove through me at the top of the hill, that’s just obvious,” Kahne said. “Last year when (the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing) cars were really, really good and Jamie McMurray was the man, Juan still couldn’t win a race. That shows about what he can do here in NASCAR anyways.”
The bottom line is this appears to be what NASCAR fans want. Drivers mad at each other, emotions flaring and mangled racecars in the garage area when the race is finished.
Round two is set for August 14th in Watkins Glen.
The Infineon king with five career victories came up one position short of collecting a half dozen Sonoma trophies. Gordon’s day wasn’t easy by any means but his road racing skills were on display with a hard drive down the stretch that resulted in the well-earned runner-up finish.
Wasn’t able to erase last year’s bitter taste of giving up the lead and potential win with a late race mental mistake but came away with a solid fifth place finish for his efforts on Sunday. Ambrose insisted all week that he had forgotten about last year’s Sonoma disappointment but he did appear to be on a mission Sunday.
His name was in the news all week as rumors of Carl Edwards coming to Joe Gibbs Racing to take his seat next season swirled. Logano responded with a pole-winning run on Friday and backed it up with a Top 10 finish that included a dust-up with Robby Gordon. For his sake it was the start of a similar string of runs that ended last season for Logano.
One of the victim’s of Sunday’s payback mentality when he got turned around by Brian Vickers in retaliation for an earlier incident and wound up sliding up and into the tire barrier heading into the final turn. Stewart was understanding of the situation and made no bones about “deserving” the outcome but at the end of the day he comes out of Sonoma with a 39th place finish.
What a difference a week makes. After going to victory lane last Sunday in Michigan, Hamlin had a frustrating afternoon in Northern California. Although he had a fast car and was upfront early, mechanical problems plagued the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and after spending a great deal of time in the garage area Hamlin finished the day 37th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Road course racing has not been one of Earnhardt’s favorite things to do but he didn’t get much of a chance on Sunday. Early issues knocked the No. 88 car from contention and the recent surge of consistent Top 5 and Top 10 finishes came to a grinding halt with a thud as Earnhardt was credited with 41st in the final rundown.
(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs)
"He was pissed at himself. He's mad because he can't win in NASCAR." – Kasey Kahne on Juan Pablo Montoya
``I probably had it coming, because I dumped him earlier, but I dumped him because he was blocking." – Tony Stewart on Brian Vickers
"If we were racing for points we would have pitted a while ago, but we are gambling!" – Crew chief Gil Martin to Kevin Harvick
"Tell Joey’s Dad to come down here and watch him get a spanking." – Robby Gordon referring to an incident with Joey Logano
"Car's a piece of *$!*! It's just terrible! Got to get the wedge out." – Marcos Ambrose
On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I’ll give Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 a three. I will completely agree with how much more interesting road course racing has become since the introduction of double file restarts. The aggressive driving and high emotions have turned what I felt were pretty sedate affairs before into some pretty entertaining afternoons. But I’m not a fan of drivers simply spinning each other out on purpose and crashing one another in a constant succession of payback. There was too much of that for my taste Sunday and in the end I wonder how many fans felt the same way.
DOWN THE ROAD
The annual Fourth of July weekend at Daytona International Speedway is next up and Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400. It’s restrictor plate race number three of the season and a return to where the tandem draft-racing craze began back in February during Speedweeks. Will we see another surprise winner like Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 upset or will one of the veterans who have mastered this new phenomenon rise up and go to victory lane? Either way under the lights on a mid-summer night at “The World Center of Racing” is usually pretty special.
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