Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Sonoma: Toyota/Save Mart 350

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Track history: Robert Marshall Jr. and Jim Coleman built the first Sears Point 2.52 mile road course in 1968. For the next 20 years, Sears Point hosted events for USAC, Indy cars, SCCA races, drag races, motorcycle road and motocross races and some non-Cup NASCAR races. The first Cup Series race was held there in 1989. The Craftsman Truck Series began competition at the track in 1995.

During the 1990's, several million dollars was spent on beautification and modernization of the facility, including the new medical facility, VIP suites, and a track reconfiguration to its current 1.99-mile layout. Since 2000, another $50 million went to projects such as new grandstands, pedestrian tunnels, a 44-car garage area, repaving of the road course, enlargement of the pit road to accommodate the entire 43-car starting grid, and sightline improvements so the fans can see almost the entire road course from their seats. Sears Point was renamed Infineon Raceway at the start of the 2002 season.

June 11, 1989: At the inaugural Cup Series race, the 1989 Banquet Frozen Foods 300, Rusty Wallace put the Raymond Beadle owned No. 27 Kodiak Pontiac on the pole, led 10 laps and finished 2nd. Ricky Rudd started 4th, led 61 of the 74 lap event and took the flag in Kenny Bernstein's No. 26 Quaker State Buick by a little more than a second over runner-up Wallace. Rudd earned $62,350 for the victory in front of around 60,000 fans.

June 21, 2009: With a qualifying lap of 93.678 mph, Brian Vickers started the 2009 Toyota/Save Mart 350 on the pole. He led the first 16 laps in the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota. He was running in the top 10 when he was bumped in the "esses" by Kyle Busch on lap 60 and the car wasn't the same for the rest of the race. Vickers finished 16th. Kasey Kahne, who started the No. 9 Budweiser Dodge 5th in the lineup, took the lead on lap 80 and never looked back (except to fight off Tony Stewart who finished 2nd). Kahne even survived a charge during a green-white-checker finish to score the win.

June 20, 2010: Jimmie Johnson won the Toyota/Save Mart 350 from a 2nd place start. It was the No. 48 Chevrolet driver's 4th victory in 2010 and his 1st at Sonoma. Drivers leading 5 or more laps: No. 83-Mattias Ekstrom (7 laps, finished 21st), 26-Boris Said (8, finished 8th), 47-Marcos Ambrose (35, finished 6th) and winner Johnson led the most (55 laps).

Fantasy games won't allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 15 finish as track favorites Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart. There were 44 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend's Cup race. This being a road course, we'll pick three Cup regulars and one road course 'hired gun' for Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 in Sonoma, California.

Mid-Pack picks

Alright, this is a cheesy no-brainer pick, but since he's 21st in the standings, we get a shot at him this week. Marcos Ambrose is a 'gotta-have' on your fantasy team at Sonoma. No one will forget him stalling the car during caution laps while leading last year's race at Infineon with about seven laps to go, especially Ambrose. He finished a disappointing 6th place. He placed 3rd in the 2009 running of this event. Ambrose has an added incentive of a $1 million bonus that sponsor Stanley will donate to the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals if the No. 9 should win the race on Sunday. Watch Ambrose try to pull it off for the kids and, also, get over last year's mistake.

Kasey Kahne said this week: "There is a lot that goes on there at that race track and I need to really keep my eyes open. One little mistake there and you will lose a lot." Kahne has brought his 'A' game to Infineon in the past since he owns a victory there (2009) and two poles (2008, 2010). He and favorite Johnson have scored the most championship points over the last two races at the Sonoma track. His most recent finish was a 4th in 2010. Kahne's overall average finish of 23.4 in 7 starts isn't impressive but over the last two years he has averaged a 2.5 finish. We think he's figured out how to turn right as well as left. Give the No. 4 a look as a fourth or fifth driver.

This is one of Robby Gordon's favorite tracks and his favorite style of racing. At Infineon, that style is 'either checkers or wreckers' with Gordon since he is the most fearless road course racer on the entry list. He has wins at both Infineon and Watkins Glen. In 2010, he looked to be a contender in the Nationwide Series road race in Montreal. He led 17 laps but ran out fuel with 2 to go and finished 14th. In the two Cup road races in 2010, he finished 2nd in this race and wrecked at The Glen (36th). So, if you're a gambler, Gordon is your man. Some of his aggressive moves tend to call for a flatbed ride to the garage but he definitely makes the race interesting.

Our 'hired gun' of choice is Boris Said. He was the winner of that 2010 Nationwide Series race in Montreal (where Robby Gordon ran out of fuel). He won a truck race at Infineon in 1998. He scored his first Sprint Cup career pole at Infineon in 2003. Said had top-ten finishes in three of his last five starts, including an 8th in 2010, at the 1.99 mile road course. The "Said-heads" will be at Sonoma cheering on their driver who is entered in Phoenix Racing's No. 51 this weekend.


Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at RotoWorld.com.
Email :Anthony Ballantoni



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