Fantasy NASCAR track analysis: Road courses

by Brian Polking on January 31, 2012 @ 11:41:00 PDT

 


Infineon Raceway

Location: Sonoma, Calif.
Length: 1.99 miles
Shape: Road course
Turns: 10

Ask any experienced road racer, and they will tell you that Infineon is the more technically demanding of the two road courses. The track's 1.99-mile layout includes 10 turns, multiple elevations changes and several rapid left-right combinations. Each lap is capped with one of the slowest and sharpest turns in NASCAR. Infineon is tough on transmissions, tough on breaks and tough on crew chiefs as they try to determine the fuel mileage strategy needed to win.

Juan Pablo Montoya
Montoya shines at Infineon

Crew chiefs are forced to walk a thin line in determining when to bring their driver to pit road for the final time. If a driver pits too soon, they either run out of fuel or are forced to make an extra stop. If a driver pits too late, a caution could fly before a driver hits pit road, costing that driver track position when they pit under caution. In both instances, the lengthy lap times at the track cause problems. Drivers can complete green flag stops without losing a lap, which means plenty of cars will be on the lead lap. Having a lot of cars on the lead lap means there are a lot of spots to lose if something goes wrong.

Last season, Kurt Busch and his team had the right strategy and executed it to perfection. He led 76 of the 110 laps and was unchallenged for a majority of the event. From the drop of the green until the checkered flag flew, Busch was the car to beat, and he delivered his first career road course win in dominating fashion.

In his brief Cup career, Juan Pablo Montoya has been nearly perfect at Infineon. He has a victory at the track and has finished in the top 10 in all but one of his five starts. His 9.0 average finish is second best in the series. Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon both have a pair of wins at the track since the start of the 2002 season. Stewart has scored six top-10s and Gordon eight in the 10 races during the stretch. Marcos Ambrose is the rising star at the track, having ripped off three straight finishes of sixth or better.

Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were rookies together in 2000, and they have shared similar struggles at Infineon throughout their careers. In 22 combined starts, the two have managed just on top-10 finish. No big name should scare fantasy owners more than David Reutimann. He has a dismal 28.8 average finish at Infineon in four career starts.

Watkins Glen International

Location: Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Length: 2.454 miles
Shape: Road course
Turns: 11

Although the track has taken steps to reduce the number of gravel traps, staying on the pavement is still the primary concern of drivers at this 11-turn road course. A long, sweeping right-hand turn prior the finish line, a sharp right-hand turn just after it, and a narrow chicane famous for causing bottlenecks are just a few of the obstacles at The Glen. If a driver can manage to stay on the course, the next step is to not miss a shift and hit their braking points.

With everything a driver has to focus on behind the wheel, it is no surprise that passing is difficult. There are only a few sections on the track where drivers can time a pass, and although passing is easier in heavy packs, it may take several laps to complete a pass once the field gets strung out. Many races are won and lost on pit road because the driver leading the race can run their preferred line. Everyone else has to adjust their line to try to get by the leader.

Last season, Marcos Ambrose was an exception to the rule, and he made his own track position. Kyle Busch led a race-high 49 laps, but Ambrose muscled his way by both Busch and Brad Keselowski in the closing laps to pick up his the first Cup Series win of his career. Busch and Keselowski had some heated words for Ambrose after the race, but it was the "Tasmanian Devil" that was celebrating in Victory Lane.

Although he didn't have a win at the track until last season, Ambrose has been an elite fantasy option at Watkins Glen since entering the Cup Series. He has a series-leading 2.3 average finish in four starts, finishing third or better in each start. Tony Stewart has been dominant, as well, compiling a 7.1 average finish and a series-leading five wins in his last 10 starts at the track. Kyle Busch and Montoya have both been solid. Busch has six top-10s in seven starts, including a win. Montoya has four top-10s in five starts, including his victory in 2010.

Despite being one of the most decorated road racers in NASCAR history, Jeff Gordon has struggled in his last 10 starts. He has no top-five finishes and an 20.1 average finish during the stretch. Jeff Burton has been even worse, recording a 21.7 average finish. Greg Biffle has had his fare share of struggles, too, compiling a 25.8 average finish in nine starts. David Reutimann has been even worse, compiling a 27.5 average finish.

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About Brian Polking

Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.

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