Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Sonoma

Thursday, June 21, 2012


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.

Beginning in 2012, the track was again renamed after Infineon chose not to renew its naming rights. For now, it is being referred to as Sonoma. 

Active drivers who made their Cup series debut at Sonoma:
P.J. Jones on May 16, 1993, David Gilliland on June 25, 2006 and Marcos Ambrose on June 22, 2008.

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 ten laps and finished second.  Ricky Rudd started fourth, led 61 of the 74 lap event and took the checkered 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 20, 2010: Jimmie Johnson won the Toyota/Save Mart 350(k) from a second place start. It was the No. 48 Chevrolet driver’s fourth victory in 2010 and his first at Sonoma. Drivers leading five or more laps: No. 83 Mattias Ekstrom (seven laps, finished 21st), No. 26 Boris Said (eight laps, finished eighth), No. 47 Marcos Ambrose (35 laps, finished sixth) and race-winner Johnson led the most (55 laps). No. 9 Kasey Kahne was the pole-sitter. He was passed on the first lap, never led a lap and finished in fourth.

June 26, 2011: Kurt Busch won the Toyota/Save Mart 350(k) from an eleventh place start. It was the No. 22 Dodge driver's first victory and ninth top-ten finish in 2011. This was his fourth top-ten finish in eleven races at Sonoma and his first road race victory. Drivers leading five or more laps: No. 78 Regan Smith (five laps, finished 16th), No. 29 Kevin Harvick (five laps, finished ninth), pole-sitter Joey Logano (five laps, finished sixth), No. 11 Denny Hamlin (12 laps, finished 37th) and race-winner Busch led the most laps (76 of the 110 lap event).

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 Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson 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 ‘ringer’ for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350(k) in Sonoma, California.

Mid-Pack picks

This Sunday marks the fifth anniversary of Juan Pablo Montoya’s first Cup victory, the 2007 Toyota/Save Mart 350(k) in Sonoma. Earlier in 2007, he won the Nationwide Series road race in Mexico City. In 2010, he trounced the field at Watkins Glen by leading 74 of the 90 laps and taking the checkered flag. In his five Cup starts here, NASCAR Statistics show he has the highest percentage of laps run in the top-15 (448 laps, 80.7%). He ranks second in their Quality Passes category for passing 150 times under green. No driver has scored more Championship points than Montoya at Sonoma over the last five years.  His average finish is a ninth place.

AJ Allmendinger’s first trip to Sonoma was forgettable (37th). His last three races ended in a 7th, 13th and 13th. He’ll start Sunday’s race with a different team and that’s a good thing. This is the 2011 Sonoma race-winning team and crew chief Todd Gordon said: “We’ll certainly have a great book of notes to go off of from last year’s race.” Allmendinger also has four Watkins Glen starts picking up one top-five, two top-tens and an average ninth place finish. Overall, he has an average finish of 13.3 for his eight road course starts. Guess he carried this knack for road racing over from his CART (open-wheel) days. He won five of his 35 road/street course races in that series. Find a spot on your fantasy roster for Allmendinger.

Robby Gordon is a Cup ‘regular’, but this season he cut back to a limited schedule so we’re going with him as our road course ‘ringer’ at Sonoma. It is one of the California native’s favorite tracks and, when it comes to this style of racing, there is no one more fearless on the entry list. Two of his three Cup wins were scored at Sonoma and Watkins Glen; ten of his 16 top-fives were picked up at road courses.  Over the last two races at Sonoma, Gordon scored the fourth-most championship points and has finishes of second and 18th. He’s a bit of a gamble since he has to race his way into the event (50th in points, only two 2012 starts). There are only 44 entries so he most likely will be one of the 43 starters. If he does make the field, his aggressive moves will be fun to watch on Sunday.

For our deepest pick we’re going with another chancy pick.  Enough has been written about Kurt Busch’s ‘behavior’ and the lower level equipment he’s running this year but we think he’s a possible contender this weekend. Okay, he only won one Sprint Cup race in 22 starts at the road courses, but the defending winner of this race knows how to turn left and right. He also made three Nationwide Series starts at The Glen; all three starts from the pole, won two of them and came in third in the other. Even though his results may not show it (an average finish of 15.7 in the last seven Sonoma starts), Busch had the best average running position of 9.9, led the most laps (106) and was second-best in laps run in the top-15 (77%) in those seven races. Look for aggressive racing similar to R.G. from Busch at the California track.



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



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