By admin | June 21, 2009
By Richard Allen
Road courses can be vindictive beasts. They can make a driver feel as though he is bound for a good finish and perhaps even a win, only to jerk the rug right out from under his feet.
Differing pit strategies, drivers and crews who are not terribly experienced at this type racing and the pressure placed on some who realize this is one of their few chances to do well can create for a disastrous mix.
Thatâ€™s exactly what happened to the likes of Kyle and Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Robby Gordon, David Ragan, Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
All of the drivers mentioned above ran in the Top 10 at some point during the day. Some ran in the Top 5 at some point and some even led the race for a while. All, however, fell victim to one form of disappointment or another.
Kyle Busch won this race a year ago and appeared to have a legitimate shot to repeat. However, those differing pit strategies cause almost everyone to run at the front and the back at varying times throughout the race. Busch found himself back in the pack which led to a tangle with Sam Hornish. That spin put him further back in the pack. After receiving the â€˜Lucky Dogâ€™ free pass he moved back onto the lead lap only to spin again. He wound up 22nd.
Kyleâ€™s brother, Kurt, experienced similar difficulties. He also led briefly but looked more like a contender for a solid Top 5 than a win. While racing inside the Top 10 he was tagged by Jimmie Johnson and knocked off course. Kurt was able to recover to some degree, finishing 15th.
Roush Fenway Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and David Ragan, neither of whom is known as a great road course racer, both found themselves well within the Top 10 and putting together solid runs. Kenseth was spun while racing for 3rd place and eventually lost a lap. He got that lap back by way of the â€˜Lucky Dogâ€™ and raced his way back to 18th.
Ragan was not quite so lucky. Late in the race he ran as high as 7th place. However, he was tapped by teammate Carl Edwards which sent him sliding into Earnhardt. Both the #6 and #88 cars looped and were passed by most of the field as they sat helpless. Earnhardt finished 26th while Ragan took a disappointing 33rd.
Robby Gordon may have been the most frustrated driver of all after Sundayâ€™s race. He is one of NASCARâ€™s best road course drivers yet he seems to find nothing but bad luck in Sonoma. He led briefly during the day but fell victim to the variety of pit strategies and having to race with inexperienced drivers. After falling back in the pack after a pit stop it seemed as though every spin on the track took place right in front of the #7 Toyota. Gordon finished 36th in a race in which he desperately needed to move further ahead of the 35th place in the ownerâ€™s standings.
Harvick and Martin also found themselves in the midst of the road course bumping matches that so frequently occur on these tracks made up of both left and right hand turns. Harvick just added to a miserable season by placing 29th. Martin hurt his Chase for the Championship hopes by coming home in 35th.
Road courses offer a nice change of pace from the normal left hand turn world of NASCAR. Some drivers get an opportunity to run up front that may never otherwise get that chance. However, no one can ever count on a good finish until they have crossed the finish line for the final time, as the drivers mentioned above found out in the Toyota/Save Mart 350.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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