Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Toyota-Save Mart 350

Thursday, June 20, 2013

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 Raceway. 

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners: Clint Bowyer 6/24/12, Kurt Busch 6/26/11, Jimmie Johnson 6/20/10, Kasey Kahne 6/21/09 and Kyle Busch 6/22/08.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): P.J. Jones 05/16/93, Tom Hubert 5/4/97, Brian Simo 6/25/00, Brandon Ash 6/27/04, Chris Cook 6/26/05, David Gilliland 6/25/06, Marcos Ambrose 6/22/08, Max Papis 6/22/08, Mattias Ekstrom 6/20/10, Jan Magnussen 06/20/10, Andy Pilgrim 6/26/11, Tomy Drissi 6/24/12 and David Mayhew 6/24/12.
First Cup pole: Boris Said 6/22/03.
First Cup win: Juan Pablo Montoya 6/24/07,

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 26, 2011: Kurt Busch won the Toyota-Save Mart 350 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).

June 24, 2012: Clint Bowyer won the Toyota-Save Mart 350, his sixth victory in 233 NSCS races. This was the No. 15 Toyota driver's first victory and ninth top-10 finish in 2012. It was his first victory and fifth top-10 finish in seven races at Sonoma. He is the sixth consecutive first time Sprint Cup road race winner at Sonoma and eighth consecutive different winner of the Toyota-Save Mart 350. Drivers leading five or more laps: Pole-sitter No. 9 Marcos Ambrose 11 laps, finished eighth; No. 24 Jeff Gordon 13 laps, finished sixth; No. 56 Martin Truex Jr. 15 laps finished 22nd and Race-winner Bowyer led the most laps (71 of the 112 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 20 finish as track favorites Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. There were 43 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Marcos Ambrose and Jeff Gordon are both outside the top-15 in points but are also track favorites so they should be considered no-brainer picks this week. This being a road course, we’ll pick three Cup regulars and one road course ‘ringer’ for Sunday’s Toyota-Save Mart 350 in Sonoma, California.

Mid-Pack picks
David Gilliland has Sonoma Raceway "circled on his calendar". The California native has always performed well on the winding, hilly course, including a second-place finish in 2008 that is tied with last month's Talladega runner-up finish for his best Cup career result. He also has two wins in the NASCAR K&N West Series at the venue. He likes the physical type of racing at this track. Gilliland said this week: "It's one of those racetracks where you can get to the guy's bumper ahead of you at any time.  A lot of these tracks we go to are very aero-sensitive and you can't get to a guy's bumper to move him and it's just hard to pass. At Sonoma, it can still be hard to pass, but you can overdrive a corner to get to a guy's bumper and move him." Save some of your top picks for another week. Find a spot at the tail-end of your roster for the No. 38 Ford Fusion driver.

In 24 Sprint Cup starts at road courses, Kurt Busch has an 18.9 average finish including only one victory. That win was recorded at Sonoma in 2011 where he also has a pole, led 139 laps and finished in the top 10 five times in his 12 races. In Nationwide Series road races, Busch made three starts at The Glen; all three from the pole, won two of them and came in third in the other. He finished eighth in last year's NNS road race in Elkhart Lake, WI driving brother Kyle's car. Guess you can say he knows how to turn left and right. Besides the 2011 Cup victory, he was contending for the win last year before a suspension problem dropped him to a third place finish. Count on the No. 78 Chevrolet SS driver to be in contention again this weekend.

After Brian Vickers finishes driving his Nationwide Series car at the Road America road course in Wisconsin on Saturday, he'll fly to Sonoma Raceway to pilot Michael Waltrip Racing's No. 55 Toyota Camry on Sunday. In seven starts at Sonoma, he has one pole and one top-five. He finished fourth last year. Even though his previous six starts averaged about a 23rd place finish we like how he's been handling the part-time Sprint Cup schedule. In eight 2012 Cup starts Vickers scored five top-10 finishes, led 158 laps and had an average finish of 13.2. So far this season, he finished eighth and 11th in his two turns in the No. 55. He said: “Going from one track to the other is going to be a challenge for sure, and not being able to practice at all in Sonoma. We’ve got a good base setup from last year though. We’ve done some testing and I think we will be good. Road racing the day prior will help." Give consideration to Vickers this week.

For our Sonoma road course "ringer" we're going with Ron Fellows. He will drive the Circle Sport Racing No. 33 Chevrolet SS (with alliance from Richard Childress Racing). The Canadian driver, part owner of the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Ontario, Canada, has a goal to win a race in each of NASCAR's three major touring series. Fellows has already won three Nationwide Series races at Watkins Glen International and one at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. He won two Camping World Truck Series races (both from the pole) at Watkins Glen. He also has three top five finishes in his three NNS starts at the Road America facility. While he hasn't faired that well at Sonoma Raceway (only three top-15s in eight Cup starts) we feel confident you will see the No. 33 driver coming through with a top 20 or better this weekend.  

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
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