By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore 48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in first place for the 10th straight week after Michigan. He leads second-ranked Carl Edwards by 31 points (20 points less than last week) and third-ranked Clint Bowyer by 69 points (also 20 points less than last week). SONOMA RECORD: 11 career starts, 1 wins, 4 top-5s, 6 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2010. Finished fifth in last year's race. LOOKING AHEAD: Even though his lead over other drivers in the top 10 took a big hit after his poor finish at Michigan, Johnson is keyed up for Sunday's race at Sonoma. Here's his thoughts on the race: "I'm excited to get out there. It's a beautiful time of year to be there. I've understood the track and have had some good runs there over the past few years and I look forward to going back out and hopefully getting another road course win." LOOKING BACK: Johnson blew a tire with three laps left that took what appeared would be a top-five finish and turned into a disappointing 28th-place showing. He remains winless at Michigan, one of five tracks he has not won a Sprint Cup race at. ETC.: Johnson has completed 99.4 percent (1,210) of the 1,217 total laps contested in 11 career starts at Sonoma. His average start is an outstanding 16.0, but his average finish is 13.8. He has one DNF there. 99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained in second place for the seventh consecutive week after Michigan. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 31 points (20 points less than last week) and is 18 points ahead of third-ranked Clint Bowyer (same as last week). SONOMA RECORD: 8 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in 2011. Finished 21st in last year's race. LOOKING AHEAD: It should be interesting to see if Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle are able to work through the mini-spat they had at Michigan, where Edwards accused Biffle of "he ain't my teammate." The pair spoke briefly Monday and are slated to talk more at length prior to this weekend. On Tuesday's NASCAR teleconference, Biffle downplayed the appearance of a feud between the two teammates, saying that he could not help Edwards in Sunday' race at Michigan, lest he risk giving up the lead to Jimmie Johnson, who was closing in fast on Biffle and the lead. LOOKING BACK: Edwards won the pole at Michigan but due to debris that caused his radiator to start overheating, he dropped back and eventually finished eighth. ETC.: Edwards has completed 99.7 percent (884) of the 887 total laps contested in eight career starts at Sonoma. His average start is 19.6, and average finish is 17.1. He has zero DNFs there. 15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer remained in third place for the third consecutive week after Michigan. Bowyer is 49 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson (20 points less than last week), trails second-ranked Carl Edwards by 18 points and leads fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick by 13 points. SONOMA RECORD: 7 career starts, 1 wins, 4 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2012. Finished first in last year's race. LOOKING AHEAD: For a guy whose career was steeped in short track racing before he came to NASCAR, Bowyer has become an outstanding road course driver in a very short time. How else would you explain a win in last year's race and four top-fives in seven starts at Sonoma? Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "It was a great win for me -- a special win for a lot of reasons, but probably the biggest reason was this was my first win with MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing), my new home. (It) really kind of set the standard for capping off a great year. We finished second in points, won three races our first year together and it all started right here in Sonoma." LOOKING BACK: Bowyer had a good car, but not quite good enough. Still a seventh-place finish wasn't all that bad. ETC.: Bowyer has completed 100 percent (777) of the 777 total laps contested in seven career starts at Sonoma. His average start is 17.1 and average finish is an outstanding 9.7. He has zero DNFs there. 29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick moved back into fourth place, climbing one spot in the standings after Michigan. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 62 points (25 points less than last week), is 13 points behind third-ranked Clint Bowyer and leads fifth-ranked Matt Kenseth by 20 points. SONOMA RECORD: 12 career starts, 0 wins, 3 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2007. Finished 16th in last year's race. LOOKING AHEAD: Even though he's never won a race there, Harvick is always a formidable competitor at Sonoma and has become quite the road course racer. Here's his thoughts about racing at Sonoma: "Road course racing is fun. We haven't done much to prepare for the race, this year at least, other than taking the time to make sure the car is right. I feel like Sonoma Raceway is a race track that we've been to enough times that hopefully we can take some of the notes from others and be alright. I enjoy that race and really look forward to heading out there." LOOKING BACK: Harvick had an outstanding race at Michigan, finishing second, continuing a streak that has seen him win at Charlotte, ran eighth at Dover and ninth at Pocono. ETC.: Harvick has completed 99.9 percent (1,328) of the 1,329 total laps contested in 12 career starts at Sonoma. His average start is 16.7 and average finish is 16.1. He has zero DNFs there. 20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: After dropping three spots in the standings in the previous two races, Kenseth earned back one position after Michigan, climbing from sixth to fifth. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 82 points (21 points less than last week), is 20 points behind fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick and leads sixth-ranked Kyle Busch by four points. SONOMA RECORD: 13 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 1 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Eighth in 2008. Finished 13th in last year's race. LOOKING AHEAD: With just one top-10 in 13 career starts at Sonoma, it's pretty clear that Kenseth is not a road course driver. Still, you have to give him credit for trying: he's managed his only top-10 and three other top-20 finishes in his last five starts at Sonoma. When asked if road racing has become more of a full-contact race, Kenseth replied, "If you think about your most aggressive races five years ago you would think of Bristol then Martinsville and some of those tracks. Now Sonoma is the first one that comes to your mind, especially if you get a late restart then there is just no more road course etiquette -- it kind of got thrown out the window. It's just really, really aggressive. If you're in the middle of the pack and you get a restart, then you can probably expect to get spun out. It's like driving through a mine field." LOOKING BACK: Kenseth had a strong car at Michigan and finished sixth, part of four Toyota's that finished in the top seven. ETC.: Kenseth has completed 98.4 percent (1,418) of the 1,441 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Sonoma. His average start is 19.4 and average finish is 20.8. Surprisingly, even with his poor career record, he has never had a DNF there. 18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch continued his move upward in the standings. Including the one spot he gained after Michigan, he has now jumped up five spots in the last three races. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 86 points (23 less than last week), is four points behind fifth-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads seventh-ranked Dale Earnhardt by five points. SONOMA RECORD: 8 career starts, 1 wins, 1 top-fives, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2008. Finished 17th in last year's race. LOOKING AHEAD: There isn't a racetrack that Kyle Busch hasn't been able to tame at one point or other, including road courses like Sonoma. Here's his thoughts on why he enjoys racing on a non-traditional track like Sonoma: "The road courses are fun. For me, I enjoy it. It's pretty cool to go out there and race the road courses. You get to turn right, turn left and everything, so it's fun. Sonoma is more technical just because there are more turns and it's a little bit slower. You have to concentrate on getting off the corner a little bit and have good forward bite. Sonoma, in our M&M's Toyota, is going to be fun, going out there and seeing what these cars have this year. It will be a fun race, though. I always look forward to going up there and challenging the road course." LOOKING BACK: Busch continues to run strong. He's now had finishes of fourth (Dover), sixth (Pocono) and fourth this past Sunday at Michigan. ETC.: Busch has completed 94.7 percent (840) of the 887 total laps contested in eight career starts at Sonoma. His average start is 17.6, while his average finish is 18.6. He has zero DNFs there. 88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. took a huge dive in the standings, dropping from fourth place to seventh place after Michigan. He trails points leader and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson by 91 points (nine more than last week), is five points behind sixth-place Kyle Busch and leads eighth-ranked Greg Biffle by four points. SONOMA RECORD: 13 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 0 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: 11th in 2003, 2004 and 2010. Finished 23rd in last year's race. LOOKING AHEAD: Much like buddy Matt Kenseth, Earnhardt is a terrible road course performer - well, at least at Sonoma. He rarely has challenged for the lead in any race there, seemingly content to just get through the 110 laps and call it a day. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "You have to go to Sonoma with a positive attitude and take whatever comes your way. Take the good with the bad the same. We have had a good season, and we want to continue that. We know the reality of the situation is I don't have a top-10 finish here. We just have to see what we can do. We just have to try our best." LOOKING BACK: After leading 34 laps, it looked like it would be a great day for Earnhardt. Wrong. He lost his engine about two-thirds of the way through the race and that was it for his day, finishing a disappointing 37th. ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 93.9 percent (1,353) of the 1,441 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Sonoma. His average start is 20.9 and average finish is 22.2. Even with his poor overall performance, he has just one DNF there. 16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle continued his climb back up the standings. After gaining three points, from 13th to 10th, after Pocono, he moved up two more spots to eighth place after winning this past Sunday at Michigan. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 95 points (31 points less than last week), is four points behind seventh-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. and leads ninth-ranked Brad Keselowski by 13 points. SONOMA RECORD: 10 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth in 2006. Finished seventh in last year's race. LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle has momentum after Sunday's win at Michigan, and typically has done well at Sonoma, with two top-five and three other top-11 finishes in his last seven starts there. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "We are coming off a big win for us in Michigan and I'm looking forward to Sonoma. I love road racing. As long as I can keep it on the track, keep the transmission in it and the brakes on it, I think we'll have a top-five finish or even a chance at the win. I'm looking forward to getting to Sonoma and having some fun." LOOKING BACK: Biffle has been the hottest driver the last two weeks. He parlayed a runner-up finish with a win this past Sunday at Michigan. ETC.: Biffle has completed 99.6 percent (1,103) of the 1,107 total laps contested in 10 career starts at Sonoma. His average start is 16.4 and average finish is 14.9. He has one DNF there. 2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford Team: Penske Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Defending Sprint Cup series champion Brad Keselowski remained in ninth place for the second consecutive week after Michigan. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 108 points (15 less than last week), is 13 points behind eighth-ranked Greg Biffle and leads 10th-ranked Tony Stewart by 13 points. SONOMA RECORD: 3 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 1 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: Tenth in 2011. Finished 12th in last year's race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski created quite a stir last week, accusing Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing of stealing valuable employees - plus their knowledge and technology - from Penske Racing. If he was looking to light a fire under his team, he didn't accomplish much. Still, Keselowski has steadily improved on road courses in his brief Cup career and could be ready for a bust-out and career-high finish Sunday at Sonoma. Here's his thoughts on the race: "The two road course races are among the most exciting of the year. I think we have the perfect blend right now of guys that are getting really good on the road courses, coupled with the fact that we only race on them twice a year. So even though we are becoming very proficient at this style of racing, there is still going to be driver error because we don't do it consistently. On top of that we are able to lean on each other more in stock cars, as compared to open-wheel or sports cars. When you have all that you can't help but have great racing." LOOKING BACK: Keselowski struggled at times with the handling of his Ford Fusion, so it's not overly surprising that he finished 12th at Michigan. He had hoped to finally get his first Cup win at his "home" track, but that dream will now have to wait until at least the next race there in August. ETC.: Keselowski has completed 97.6 percent (324) of the 332 total laps contested in three career starts at Sonoma. His average start is 21.3 and average finish is 19.0. He has one DNF there. 14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet Team: Stewart-Haas Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Tony Stewart is on fire. The three-time Sprint Cup champ has climbed 10 spots in the standings in the last three weeks, including three places from 13th to 10th after Michigan. And to think five races ago (after Talladega), he was muddling along in 22nd place. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 121 points, is 13 points behind ninth-ranked Brad Keselowski and leads 11th-ranked Paul Menard by a mere two points. SONOMA RECORD: 14 career starts, 2 wins, 5 top-five, 9 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in 2001 and 2005. Finished runner-up in last year's race. LOOKING AHEAD: The Stewart Express is rolling right along. He could be very dangerous this Sunday at Sonoma, not just because of the momentum he's gained in the last four weeks, but also because he's one of the best road course drivers among the Sprint Cup regulars. When asked what he attributes his success to at Sonoma, Stewart said, "I just like the road courses. I've always liked Sonoma. It's really a driver's track. It's tough to make your car drive perfect all day. You can have a really good car, but it's going to slide around and you're going to struggle for grip, and that's what makes it so fun. You have to do the work behind the steering wheel." LOOKING BACK: Stewart had a strong run at Michigan, finishing fifth. He now has finished seventh (Charlotte), first (Dover), fourth (Pocono) and fifth (Michigan) in his last four starts. If anyone doubted Stewart's worst career start wouldn't turn around, just look at the standings today. ETC.: Stewart has completed 98.6 percent (1,531) of the 1,553 total laps contested in 14 career starts at Sonoma. His average start is 11.1, and his average finish is an impressive 10.9. He has one DNF there. 27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only two points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week. SONOMA RECORD: Still looking for his first top-10 finish. Best finish in five starts is 17th. LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said, "I enjoy road-course racing at Sonoma. We've always had a fast car there, but just haven't had the stats to show for it. We are taking the same car back this year that we've raced the past two years, so I'm confident we'll have another fast Moen/Menards Chevrolet this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Menard rallied in the final 27 laps to finish 14th at Michigan. "We got caught when the caution came out after we had just pitted under green-flag conditions and had to restart at the tail end of the lead pack," said Menard. "But we never gave up and we were able to fight back and come home with a top-15 finish." ETC.: Menard wouldn't "mind if we had a couple more road-course races on the schedule to break up the oval (track) racing a bit. Racing in Sonoma and Watkins Glen is a lot different from what we do week-to-week. There is a lot of shifting involved and we make both right and left turns. Even though we only go to two road-course events a year, it doesn't take long to get back into that type of race mode again." 5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 10 points out of the top 10. Lost four spots last week to fall out of the top 10. Stands first in the wild card standings with one win. SONOMA RECORD: One win and two top-five finishes in nine starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne feels he is a "little bit better at Sonoma. For whatever reason, I've taken to that track a little better than Watkins Glen (the other road course on the schedule). I like going left and right and shifting and all that. It's tough racing and I've had to learn it all because I've had zero experience in that type of racing (before joining the Cup Series) but I enjoy it. I'm glad that we go to two road courses each year." LOOKING BACK: Kahne took the lead on lap 90 and led the next 14 laps before a blown right-front tire shot him hard into the turn two wall. The car momentarily caught on fire as it came to a stop with Kahne quickly climbing out of the car before reaching back in to turn on the fire extinguisher. "I was just going into the corner and then it went 'boom' and turned me right straight into the wall," said Kahne. "It was a hard hit. We had a great Farmers Insurance Chevy. I thought it was going to be between myself and Jimmie (Johnson for the win). We both had really fast cars." ETC.: Kahne was a close friend of Jason Leffler with Leffler riding back from Pocono with Kahne after that race. Leffler spent the first part of last week with Kahne before heading to a sprint car race where Leffler lost his life. "It's been a tough week for a lot of people," said Kahne. "He was a good buddy of mine and it's neat to see how the racing world and the fans and his friends and everybody has supported him for the last four or five days. That showed the person and the racer that he was. I'm just glad I could say he was one of my good friends." 56 MARTIN TRUEX, JR., Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 12 points out of the top 10. Gained four spots last week. SONOMA RECORD: One top-10 finish in seven starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Truex said, "Our team has had some really fast NAPA Toyotas the last three years (at Sonoma). I just have to figure out how to keep people from spinning me out. I am pretty sure that the last four years I have led the race at one point and eventually got spun out. The post-race apologies to me are getting old. I want to finish where I am running." LOOKING BACK: Truex was all smiles after finishing third at Michigan. "Last night I went to bed and I was like 'I don't know how tomorrow is going to go'," said Truex. "I was a little nervous this morning, but me and Chad (Johnston, crew chief) worked together really well and we made some changes (before the race). Just can't thank him enough for what he did. We were a top-five all day long. It was a great day - after the last two weeks we've had we really needed this." ETC.: After experiencing major engine problems during a month-long period, Toyota decided to cut back on the power for the Pocono race a week ago. But the company quickly realized it played it too conservative and pumped up the engines "a little" for the Michigan race. "It was definitely better than last week," said Truex. "It wasn't quite back to what we had a few weeks ago at Dover, but again, they're working on that. We were very competitive horsepower-wise today." 22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford Team: Penske Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 12 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week. SONOMA RECORD: Will be seeking his third straight top-10 finish. Won the pole for the 2011 event. LOOKING AHEAD: Logano recalls the days when it was the rage to bring in "road course ringers" at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. "But they never seemed to have the success you would have thought," adds Logano. "I think that's because the regular (Cup) guys are some of the best race car drivers in the world, and we've all been able to adapt to racing on road courses better and better. Now, I feel like we can all compete with each other and we are as good as any of the ringers." LOOKING BACK: Logano led three times for 21 laps and was back out front with 32 laps to go when the yellow flag was waved when Jamie McMurray blew a tire and slammed into the wall. Crew chief Todd Gordon elected to change all four tires to make sure the team had enough time to get all the fuel in the car in order to complete the race. But with most of the lead lap cars changing only two tires Logano came out of the pits in tenth place. He struggled in traffic and finished ninth. "I think it was the right call," said Logano. "Had we taken two tires, we might not have had enough gas to make it to the end like what happened to Brad (Keselowski, his teammate who ran out of fuel on the last lap)." ETC.: Logano has four straight top-10 finishes in his bid to make the Chase. "We are bringing some really fast race cars to the track each week," said Logano. "And it is finally beginning to pay off. We had a lot of bad luck early in the season and that put us in a hole. But now we are heading in the right direction. We aren't that far out of the top 10 (only 12 points). We just need to keep doing what we've been doing." 43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford Team: Richard Petty Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 13 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week. SONOMA RECORD: Has finished 28th in both starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola admits "I haven't looked forward to going to Sonoma in the past. But I'm actually really looking forward to going out there this weekend. We did a two-day test (at Sonoma) and thought that it went really well. While we were out there, I made huge improvement as a road racer. Marcos (Ambrose, his teammate) has been a huge asset for my learning curve as a road racer." LOOKING BACK: Almirola finished 17th at Michigan. "We are really disappointed," said Almirola. "We had a good shot at having a great points day. The damage from the debris (when Jamie McMurray crashed with 33 laps to go) hurt the car's handling. I think we would have gotten a top-10 finish, so that stings a bit." ETC.: Car owner Richard Petty and Almirola surprised Joel Correll, a United States Marine Corps veteran, and his 15-year-old son Jarrett, who has cystic fibrosis, with a week at Victory Junction Camp, a camp founded by Richard's son Kyle and wife Pattie that hosts children with chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses. The Father's Day gift was part of "Operation Inspiration" to help honor, thank and support the military and their families. "To be able to give back to not just our military members, but to their family members as well is an honor," said Almirola. "I know Jarrett will have blast at the camp." 24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 19 points out of the top 10. Lost five spots last week. SONOMA RECORD: Will be shooting for his eighth straight top-nine finish and tenth in the last 11 races. His five wins are the most in track history. He also has more top-five's (12) and top-10's (16) than any other driver. Has accomplished all of this in 20 starts. Also has won five poles - another first for the road course. LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon is in bad need of a win to boost his chances of making the Chase, and he couldn't be headed to a better track. Gordon will be seeking a sixth win at Sonoma this weekend. But he is concerned about the new Gen-6 car "that we've never raced at Sonoma. We ran pretty decent in the older generation car there, and we feel pretty confident we can tune in our Chevrolet SS this weekend. We need a good run." LOOKING BACK: Gordon's run of bad luck continued on lap six of the 200-lap event when Bobby Labonte spun right in front of Gordon, who had nowhere to go. The collision caused heavy damage to both cars forcing Gordon to spent considerable time in the garage area. He returned to finish 39th. "It was just such a slow spin that I didn't know which way he was going to go, so I had to guess," said Gordon. "I tried to go around him on the outside and that was not the right way. I don't know if I would have missed him even if I went to the inside." ETC.: Gordon said he finds this season "just unbelievable. We are at times struggling to get the speed then when we get the speed we struggle to finish because of stuff like this (the wreck at Michigan). I thought we were being tested last year, boy we are really being tested this year. I'm happy with the way this team is sticking together, but boy I can tell you these moments when they add up they really can be frustrating. I have a lot of fight in me and so does this team." 31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 27 points out of the top 10. Gained four spots last week. SONOMA RECORD: Five top-10 finishes in 19 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Burton said, "I really enjoy road-course racing, but lately it's gotten out of hand on these restarts with people banging into one another. Track position is huge now because when you get back in the middle of the pack on a restart, it is comparable to racing at a restrictor-plate track in that you'll just have to assume there is a high chance you will be in a wreck. I'm a fan of aggressive racing, but I'm not a fan of people running over each other." LOOKING BACK: Burton finished 10th at Michigan for only his third top-10 finish of the season. "The 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet team fought hard all day long to bring home another solid finish (his fourth straight top-15 finish)," said Burton. "It turned out that tires made a huge difference and Luke (Lambert, crew chief) made all the right calls with adjustments as the track conditions changed. We continue to make progress with our 1.5-mile and two-mile program. It was a good points day for us." ETC.: Burton is anxious to see how the new European-style qualifying format works at Sonoma on Saturday. For the first time, cars will be broken into groups based on practice speeds and everyone in the group will be on the track at the same time. "I like the new qualifying format," said Burton. "It will make qualifying go by quicker and be more enjoyable for the fans." 39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet Team: Stewart-Haas Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 28 points out of the top 10. SONOMA RECORD: Five top-10 finishes in 11 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Newman feels it is very "difficult to pass" at Sonoma. "It seems like there are only a couple of passing zones. It's a big track-position race, and fuel mileage has become a big part of the racing there. I enjoy hustling the race car around the track, and Sonoma's a good road course." LOOKING BACK: After pitting for right-side tires and coming out of the pits in seventh place, Newman was anticipating another top-five finish. But during the yellow flag, Newman felt the left-rear tire going flat. This forced an unscheduled pit stop to put an end to any thoughts of a "really good day. That was a tough break for our Quicken Loans team," added Newman, who ended the day in 18th place. "So I'm pretty disappointed right now." ETC.: "In road-course racing, the driver, in my mind, can make up more than he can at an oval just being able to hustle a car," said Newman. "You have the added mannerism; I guess you could say, of braking. When you brake at short tracks, it's not the same as when you brake and downshift (on a road course). So, you have to be a smooth downshifter, you have to be a good braker. These are the extra characteristics that you have to include at road courses that you don't have to include at an oval. That separates the men from the boys, typically." 17 RICKY STENHOUSE, JR., Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 28 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week. SONOMA RECORD: Has never raced at the road course. LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse admits, "I don't know what to expect going to Sonoma since I've never raced there. I definitely felt more comfortable last year at the road courses on the Nationwide schedule so hopefully they will prepare me for this weekend. We've done some testing to get ready for the road races so I think if we can leave Sonoma with a top-20 finish it would be a successful weekend for us." LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse finished 16th at Michigan. "We just can't catch a break," said Stenhouse. "Our Zest Ford was running in the top 10 but we had to pit a few laps early because of some debris on the grill and unfortunately the caution came out three laps later causing us to be one lap down. We took the wave around to get back on the lead lap but just ran out of time to get back up inside the top-10." ETC.: Crew chief Scott Graves is quick to point out "in the past, the races (at Sonoma) have come down to pit strategy so hopefully we will have the right strategy and can come home with a solid top-15 finish. We need that to stay in the thick of the hunt for the Chase." 78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet Team: Furniture Row Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 33 points out of the top 10. Lost five spots last week. SONOMA RECORD: Won the 2011 event and finished third last year. LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "We tested at VIR (Virginia International Raceway) in preparation for this race (at Sonoma) and feel the road course package that Furniture Row Racing had and that I had gives us two avenues to look at when we show up for the race. Sonoma is a demanding race on a very technical road course. You have to be patient and make the moves when you have openings. Pit strategy is so important and we've seen a number of times how fuel mileage plays a vital role in determining the Sonoma winner." LOOKING BACK: Busch started second and led the first 21 laps. But on lap 30 while running fourth after the first pit stop, Busch's car "just broke loose," sending Busch spinning hard into the turn two wall. Busch finished 35th in the crippled race car. "We had a really fast car all weekend and it's a shame we didn't capitalize on what we had," said Busch. "But these things happen and all we can do is put this behind us and get ready with the same intensity for next weekend's race." ETC.: Busch knows "our Furniture Row team needs a strong performance this weekend. We threw away a bunch of points at Michigan last week after having a really fast race car. We need to rebound and get some of those points back. We've had misfortunes before and rebounded. I don't see any reason why we won't do it again." 1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 42 points out of the top 10. Nine points out of the top 20. Lost two spots last week. SONOMA RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in 10 starts, a second in 2004. LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said, "This is always a fun trip for me. I enjoy changing it up a little bit and racing on road courses. Sonoma is a challenge because there are so few opportunities to pass on this track, so track position and pit strategy will be a key to a strong finish. It will be interesting to see the group qualifying format this week for the first time. Hopefully we'll have a good run this week. We need one." LOOKING BACK: On lap 168, crew chief Kevin (Bono) Manion told McMurray to pit the next time around. But before McMurray got to the first turn, the right-front tire blew out sending McMurray hard into the wall. He was able to limp back to the pits, but instead of challenging for a top-10 finish McMurray ended the day in 33rd place. "That is such a disappointing way to end a promising day," said a dejected McMurray. "I think we were in position for a solid top-10 finish. This is just so disappointing for everyone on this team." ETC.: McMurray got as high as 11th in the Sprint Cup standings. But he has lost 10 spots in the last seven weeks to severely damage his chances of making the Chase. "It is not that we have run bad - in fact, we've had good cars almost every week," said McMurray. "But our luck has been horrible. We've had several top-10 runs wiped out like Michigan last week. We just need to finish where we are running." 42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 56 points out of the top 10, 23 points out of the top 20. SONOMA RECORD: One win and four top-10 finishes in six starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Montoya has high hopes for this weekend. "We tested not too long ago at VIR (Virginia International Raceway), and it was a really good test for the Target team so we feel like we're ready for Sonoma," said Montoya. "It's a fun track but it's definitely a place you want to qualify well at. Track position is very important since passing can be difficult. I think it's going to be a really good weekend for the Target team." LOOKING BACK: An untimely caution flag dropped Montoya a lap down and ended any hopes he had of challenging for a top-10 finish. Instead, he had to settle for a 20th-place finish. "The Target Chevy SS was a handful today but the guys kept working on it and we were making progress," said Montoya. "That caution at the end really hurt us because we had just pitted and it put us a lap down. After that it was just a matter of gaining as many positions as possible at the end." ETC.: Because Montoya is regarded as one of the best road racers in NASCAR, many people believe he still has a real shot at making the Chase even though he stands 22nd in the standings. If he can win one or both of the road course races, he will be a major player in the race for the two wild card spots. 9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford Team: Richard Petty Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 75 points out of the top 10, 42 points out of the top 20. SONOMA RECORD: Will be shooting for his fifth straight top-eight finish. LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "Sonoma has been one track where I felt we had victory just slip away from us. But we've always been competitive there and fast too. We won the pole last year and just didn't have enough for the race. We just came up a bit short (finishing eighth). Our guys want to get that win this weekend, and we're all pretty hungry for it." LOOKING BACK: Ambrose battled an extremely loose race car all afternoon as he finished 23rd at Michigan. "We really had to fight hard today," said Ambrose. "The car was really loose and the guys threw a lot at it to make it better, but we just struggled with the car for most of the day. We had some contact early too and had some damage to the rear of the car and that didn't help either." ETC.: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer said the team "really looks at Sonoma as a track to not only run up front but to win. There is pressure every week, but this week, we'll just have more eyes on us (with Ambrose regarded as one of the drivers to beat). We understand that, and I think Marcos does as well. It doesn't change our plan of preparing the best car possible for Sunday." 55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 103 points out of the top 10, 70 points out of the top 20. SONOMA RECORD: Martin will skip this race with Brian Vickers taking over as the driver of the 55 car. Vickers finished fourth last year. LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers plans to run both the Cup and Nationwide races this weekend. "Unfortunately because of schedules I won't be able to practice at Sonoma," said Vickers. "But we decided it was best to just stay in Road America and focus on that. Starting shotgun and cold turkey there would be much more difficult than Sonoma, where I've been racing for 10 years and have experience at the track. And we've had good runs there. I felt a lot more comfortable starting (last) there without practice." LOOKING BACK: Martin's chances of finishing in the top 10 ended with 30 laps to go when he began losing power. Martin was able to run the final 10 laps on seven cylinders as he limped home in 26th place. "We had a good run going, just came up 10 laps short," said Martin. "My car handled good and it was faster than a lot of cars. There were only a few that were faster than us." ETC.: Vickers feels "the road courses in my opinion in NASCAR have become great races. When I first started, you could count on less than a handful of guys that could win the race. Now you don't know who's going to win. I heard on TV the other day there have been eight different winners in the last eight races. Last year was a pretty rough-and-tumble race. You've got to race hard and race for every inch." 11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 118 points out of the top 10, 85 points out of the top 20. Lost one spot last week. SONOMA RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in seven starts. LOOKING AHEAD: After his poor performance at Michigan, Hamlin knows it may be time "to gamble big time" if he is to have any shot at gaining ground on the drivers in front of him. "We need to win races, but we also need to be in the top 20 by Richmond," said Hamlin. "Pit strategy and fuel mileage are big when it comes to Sonoma. So we are looking at a lot of different things this week (in his bid to pull off a major surprise)." LOOKING BACK: Hamlin's hopes of making the Chase took a real beating at Michigan as he finished 30th. "We were just way off today," said Hamlin. "We made major changes to the car including changing shocks, but nothing really seemed to work. We'll need to get this car back to the shop to see what the problem was. I couldn't believe how far off we were." ETC.: A day before the Michigan race, Hamlin decided the 11 team needed to "pay tribute" to Jason Leffler, who died in a sprint car accident on Wednesday night. "Jason was there at the start with FedEx joining JGR in 2005 and there are still about five crew members on the team that were on the team with Jason so I know it was real special to all of them," said Hamlin of the special paint scheme. "We had become friends over the past several years and had the same circle of friends, so it meant a lot to me to honor his memory. Also want to thank NASCAR for letting us change the wrap of the car on such short notice - just wanted to help pay tribute to Jason."
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