SONOMA – Thoughts, observations and questions following the Dodge/Save Mart 350, won by Tony Stewart at Infineon Raceway.
It was an unfamiliar and troubled look on Jeff Gordon crew chief Robbie Loomis' face after Gordon's seventh finish of 30th or worse this season – and his fifth in the last six races. Gordon dropped from 12th to 14th in the standings Sunday. That's not good for the four-time champion's Chase prospects.
The gearshift linkage that failed on the Hendrick Motorsports cars of Gordon and Jimmie Johnson was the same one that quit on Robby Gordon's car. I can just imagine that the guy who sold it to Gordon's team using the line, "Hey, it's the same stuff the guys at Hendrick are using" in his sales pitch.
I would be willing to bet that if you put Ron Fellows in one of the Roush cars (which wouldn't happen, as Fellows is a GM guy), he would be able to win this race. He's that good, having run a ton of laps at Sonoma and having won plenty of races here. I expect that Cal Wells' squad will give Fellows all the car he'll need for Watkins Glen in August.
Robby Gordon's language over his radio to his team during his transmission woes was pretty strong stuff. It takes a lot to offend us, but if there were some young ones out there listening, their parents might have been a bit taken aback.
On the other hand, we enjoyed listening to the almost casual conversation between Greg Biffle and crew chief Doug Reichert during an early-race caution. It sounded like two friends shooting the breeze and almost felt like we were eavesdropping on a private conversation.
During a later caution, their conversations centered on Johnson's problems. Biffle didn't have a stellar day, either – he finished 14th. But he now has the points lead for the first time this season.
It was shocking to see NASCAR pit road officials stand by and watch Johnson's pit crew crawl under his car while they diagnosed his transmission problems. His car was being held up only by a jack – the same jack used during tire changes – which could have failed. During a similar situation with Carl Edwards' car on pit road, crew chief Bob Osborne instructed his crew to use jack stands while crawling underneath the car.
Another race, another disaster for Dale Earnhardt Jr. And another criticism of team decisions – this time, the decision to change transmissions for this year's race.
"The transmission was a new, trick transmission and it didn't work. So last year's transmission was pretty good," Earnhardt Jr. said.
Ford's director of Racing Dan Davis attended the race, and when asked by Yahoo! Sports about NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow, he had more questions than answers. "Why do we need it?" "Have we exhausted everything we can develop in our current car?" "Why should we obsolete everything that we have?"
He was a bit more optimistic about the Engine of Tomorrow.
It was great watching Ricky Rudd score his third top-10 finish in 2005. Let's not put the over-30 drivers out to pasture so quickly. For every older driver that leaves, it raises the arrogance quotient of the field by a few points.
Speaking of the over-30 (or over-40) guys, Rusty Wallace scored his eighth top-10 finish this season.
Ford will unveil its new Cup car in Charlotte on the Thursday before the first New Hampshire race. Chevrolet will do the same with its new Monte Carlo right before the Allstate 400 (formerly the Brickyard 400) in Indy.
Word is Toyota will announce this week its planned withdrawal from the Indy Racing League. Don't expect the manufacturer to expedite its entry into Cup, though. Toyota is still waiting on a more definitive decision from NASCAR on both the future design of the series' cars and engines before moving into Busch and Cup.
Isn't it remarkable how bulletproof the Roush cars have been?
We were there to witness a postrace "discussion" between P.J. Jones and Kyle Petty outside of the Petty hauler. The two had gotten together early in the race and Jones was attempting to offer an apology to Petty, but Petty would have none of it, instead throwing a towel at Jones and grabbing him by the collar.
A heated exchange followed and an extremely angry Petty had to be restrained. Father Richard stepped in and calmed everyone down. Quite frankly, we've not seen that kind of emotion from Kyle Petty before and we're not sure how to react.
Infineon Raceway is one of those tracks that every Nextel Cup fan should visit at least once. Besides being very close to one of the hippest cities in the world, it's nestled inside California wine country. And the facility is another SMI/Bruton Smith showcase.
We predict (we love doing that) that this year, there will be at least 12 drivers in the Chase. Maybe even 14.
Three Dodges, three Chevrolets and four Fords made up the top 10 finishers. OK, NASCAR, with parity like this, why do we need a Car of the Future? If it isn't broke, why are you fixing it?