COMMENTARY | There are only two road course events on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule each season, with the first one happening this Sunday, June 23, at Sonoma Raceway in California. The Toyota/SaveMart 350 is in its 25th season, and the cast of characters includes NASCAR's two winningest drivers on road courses, as well as a couple of "ringers" visiting from north of the border.
Jeff Gordon - Gordon leads all drivers in road course wins with nine (five at Sonoma and four at Watkins Glen International). In addition to those five wins at Sonoma, Gordon also has five poles and 16 top 10 finishes in 20 starts on the 2.52-mile track. After a dismal 39th-place finish at Michigan, Gordon finds himself on the outside of the Chase standings looking in: he's 19 points back of 10th place in the standings in 16th, heading in the opposite direction of the next driver, who could very easily be called "Mr. Summer."
Tony Stewart - Stewart is second in all-time road course wins with seven (five at The Glen and two at Sonoma). At Sonoma, Stewart has nine top 10s and a pole in 14 races, and in the standings, he's heading in the opposite direction as Gordon in points: following Talladega six races ago, "Smoke" was in 22nd in points; he now sits 10th after four finishes of seventh or better, including a win.
Ron Fellows - Fellows, driving the No. 33 Canadian Tire Chevrolet for Joe Falk, has a total of six NASCAR road course wins in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series (four in Nationwide, two in Trucks), but hasn't had the luck in the Cup Series - in 22 road course events, he has just five top 10 finishes, including two second-place finishes at The Glen.
Jacques Villeneuve - The former Formula One champ (1997) has yet to break into the win column in NASCAR. Surprisingly, Villeneuve has made more than half of his NASCAR starts - 10 of 19 over the three top series - on oval tracks; all of his Nationwide Series starts (nine) have been on road courses, however, where he has six top 10 finishes and a pole on three tracks (The Glen, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal and Road America in Wisconsin).
Other drivers to watch - Last year's winner was Clint Bowyer, who currently sits third in points. Marcos Ambrose is almost a lock on a top 10 finish: in 10 road course races in the Cup Series, he has nine top 10 finishes. Danica Patrick becomes the first woman to compete at Sonoma in Cup Series competition, but is no stranger to the course: she made seven IZOD IndyCar Series starts at Sonoma, with three top 10 finishes to her credit.
Sources: "NASCAR National Series News and Notes: Sonoma and Road America," NASCAR Media, June 18, 2013
"Statistical Advance: Analyzing the Toyota/SaveMart 350," NASCAR Media, June 17, 2013
Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers NASCAR at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.
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