Fantasy NASCAR preview: Toyota/SaveMart 350

by C.J. Radune on June 17, 2009 @ 00:00:00 PDT

 


Infineon Raceway is one of two road courses on the circuit where the racing is so different that teams will regularly bring in specialist drivers to compete. These drivers are known as "road course ringers," due to their skill and experience hustling cars around hairpin, carousel and chicane turns. Another unique feature at Infineon is the track's changes in elevation. It is a natural-terrain road course that follows the steep climbs and dives of the Sonoma countryside.

Many of the corners have blind apexes where the drivers must have positioned their cars perfectly before they actually see the turn. As far as the setup, drivers want a balanced car that can turn in both directions. The course requires a lot of shifting, so the car's transmission could become a major concern. Passing is difficult, so qualifying and track position is important, but passes can be completed heading into the tight Turn 10. Pit strategy is usually planned in advance, and pit stops are not necessarily dictated by cautions.

Location: Sonoma, Calif.

Shape: Road Course
Length: 1.99 miles
Laps: 110
Turns: 0 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

Montoya scored his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at Infineon Raceway. He may still be awaiting his first win on an oval, but he is improving there, and this weekend he comes home to the racing he grew up with. The former Formula 1 ace is not a driver to be ignored in any series on a road course. He will challenge tenaciously for every position and knows where to position himself for the optimal lap time as well as to sneak by the cars in front. His average finish in his two Infineon starts is 3.5 with one win and two top-10s. Enough said.

Tony Stewart | No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

In seven career starts at Infineon Raceway Stewart's average finish stands at 10.6. He scored a win, two top-fives and four top-10s in those seven starts; Stewart even came up with the pole in the 2005 Dodge/SaveMart 350. While Joe Gibbs Racing equipment has proven its stoutness at Infineon, with both Stewart and Kyle Busch behind the wheel, Stewart-Haas Racing should have the capability to match them. Stewart knows how to run well on a road course, and this weekend's Toyota/SaveMart 350 should present no major obstacles to another strong Infineon finish for Stewart, as long as he keeps clear of trouble.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 TBA Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Newman is one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers that can hold his own among the road course ringers. Newman's average finish in seven career starts at Infineon Raceway is an impressive 9.4. He holds two top-fives and five top-10s at the track. While he has only led 11 laps in his career at the track, he does finish well. Newman, with Stewart-Haas Racing equipment, could be an even strong competitor this weekend. Stewart-Haas has a relationship with Hendrick Motorsports, and Hendrick certainly puts together strong road course equipment. Look for Newman to score another top finish for his new team this weekend.

Boris Said | No. 08 TBA Ford | E and M Motorsports

Said is one of the most often turned to road course ringers. Said has built his career on racing the tight, twisty courses and has a plethora of experience at Infineon Raceway, even in NASCAR Sprint Cup equipment. His average finish at the track in seven Cup starts is just 19.0, but if you take away two unlucky DNFs, that statistic shoots to 9.4. On top of that, Said must qualify on time since the team does not have owner's points enough to guarantee a position. Still, Said has attempted every Cup race at Infineon since 2002 and made every one. Said will be one serious challenger for the pole Friday and the win Sunday.

Clint Bowyer | No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

If there was a time Richard Childress racing needed a strong finish to boost team spirit, this weekend's Toyota/SaveMart 350 is it. The good news is that the team has a driver that could pull it off. Bowyer is strong at Infineon Raceway. He scored back to back fourth-place finishes at the track in 2007 and 2008. Positively, there doesn't seem to be any solid reason why he wouldn't be able to make it three in a row this weekend. Bowyer has had some respectable finishes leading up to this weekend's race and with a career average finish of eighth at Infineon, Bowyer could be in line for at least a top-10.

Temper your expectations

Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Dodge | Richard Petty Motorsports

Even though Kahne started from pole in last year's Toyota/SaveMart 350, his record at Infineon Raceway is atrocious. In five career starts at the track, his best finish was 23rd in the 2007 edition of the race. His average finish at the track is a dismal 31.8. Kahne may be quick while alone on the track for a single lap, but stringing together 109 more laps, 42 other cars and a solid pit strategy is where he stumbles. Kahne simply isn't a driver fantasy player should rest their road course hopes on this weekend.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 AMP/National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Earnhardt continued his streak of respectable races with his new crew chief in last weekend's LifeLock 400. Earnhardt even has some true Infineon Raceway racing experience in a Corvette with the American Le Mans Series. That experience hasn't brought him success at Infineon in the Sprint Cup Series, though. That trend holds true for when Earnhardt was in better midseason form, too. Earnhardt's best Infineon finish in the Cup Series was 11th, which he did twice, in the 2003 and 2004 Dodge/SaveMart 350. His average Infineon finish in seven career starts is 20.7. Based on those numbers, plus the fact that this is Earnhardt's first road course with his current crew chief, fantasy players should look elsewhere for the Toyota/SaveMart 350.

Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Pennzoil/Shell Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Harvick has truly been struggling in 2009 so far. His last top-10 finish was in March's Kobalt Tools 500. Harvick did score two top-five finishes in his seven career starts at Infineon Raceway, but his average finish still stands at 17.4. He only led five laps at the track as well. Based on those numbers, the forecast for Harvick's success doesn't seem to be getting any better in the Toyota/SaveMart 350. He and the team haven't been getting it done on the ovals yet this year; there is no reason to think they would pull off something they've rarely done in the past this weekend at Infineon.

Jimmie Johnson | No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Johnson dominated the LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway before running out of fuel and coasting to a 22nd-place finish. Don't expect that kind of dominance from the No. 48 car this weekend, though. Johnson's average finish in his seven career starts at Infineon Raceway is 19.3. His best finish was a fifth in the 2004 Dodge/SaveMart 350. Johnson just hasn't risen to the successes of his teammate Jeff Gordon on road courses. He certainly has the knowledge on the team to get the car into good order to have a shot at a strong road course finish, but for whatever reason Johnson just hasn't delivered. Fantasy owners could expect better results from lesser-name choices this weekend.

Carl Edwards | No. 99 Aflac Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

In the last four races at Infineon Raceway, Edwards scored two top-10 finishes. His average finish in that span is 17.8. He led 14 laps in the last two Toyota/SaveMart 350s. Edwards is currently on a run of four straight top-10 finishes and is climbing up the points. Still, Edwards isn't the best of the best when it comes to road racing. He can get the job done, but the consistency on the different tracks isn't as prominent as some of your other choices this weekend. For that reason, while Edwards isn't necessarily an automatic bench choice, he shouldn't be expected to continue his strong oval runs at Infineon.

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About C.J. Radune

Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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