Keeping Pace

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News And Notes - Timing Is Perfect For Juan Pablo Montoya To Return To The Roads

Juan Pablo Montoya (Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR) (Sam Greenwood / The Spokesman-Review)
Juan Pablo Montoya (Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR) (Sam Greenwood / The Spokesman-Review)

Juan Pablo Montoya was one of the world’s premier road racers prior to joining the stock car ranks. He won seven Formula One races, the 1999 Champ Car title and 11 open-wheel races, including the 2000 Indianapolis 500, prior to making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut for Chip Ganassi in the 2006 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

The timing may be right for the perfect storm for Juan Pablo Montoya. On the outside looking in at NASCAR’s top 12 contenders throughout the 2009 season, Montoya has gained to the point where he is only 43 points away from a berth in NASCAR’s elite top 12.

Now, with only 10 races remaining before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Montoya will be in his element when he gets behind the wheel of the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates No. 42 Target Chevrolet in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.

Montoya was one of the world’s premier road racers prior to joining the stock car ranks. He won seven Formula One races, the 1999 Champ Car title and 11 open-wheel races, including the 2000 Indianapolis 500, prior to making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut for Chip Ganassi in the 2006 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He won the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award in 2007, along with winning at Infineon Raceway.

After final finishes of 20th and 25th in his first two NASCAR seasons, Montoya is getting the hang of driving the 3,400-pound machines. He’s coming off back-to-back top-10 finishes, placing eighth at Pocono and sixth in the LifeLock 400 at Michigan, moving to 14th in the series point standings.

Now, he’s looking at a solid run at Infineon to make his move with only 11 races remaining before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. That stretch also includes the road course at Watkins Glen, along with races at the four tracks where he’s had top-10 finishes this season.

Shakeup In The Top 12 Sees Martin Rise, Reutimann Stumble

Mark Martin’s (No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg’s Chevrolet) last-lap victory at Michigan vaulted him up the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. After starting last Sunday in 13th place – one point from the top 12 – Martin leapfrogged all the way up to eighth with 10 races remaining before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota) was the loser in the mix, falling from 11th to 13th in the standings after finishing 19th. Now, he trails Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) by three points in the battle for a share in racing’s elite dozen. Juan Pablo Montoya is now 14th, 43 points out of 12th, while Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) is also in striking distance, 91 points back.

Once again, four past champions continue to pace the standings.

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet), Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet) and Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) continue to hold the top-four positions, respectively, separated by 128 points. Stewart is a two-time (2002 and ‘05) champ, Gordon is a four-time titlist (1995, ‘97-98, 2001), Johnson is a three-timer (2006-08) and Busch has one title (2004).

NASCAR Sprint Cup Regulars Holding Their Own Against Road Course ‘Specialists’

With the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visiting California wine country for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350, one can expect to see several specialists competing at Infineon Raceway for the first of two road-course events this season.

Sunday’s race will be no exception. Veteran road racers Boris Said, Ron Fellows, Max Papis, Patrick Carpentier and Brian Simo are expected to be among the competitors suiting up to tackle the 12-turn, 1.99-mile circuit.

However, one can also expect to see the top stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series holding their own.

The days when a road-racing specialist could come in and dominate a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event has passed.

Jeff Gordon leads the list of NASCAR’s all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup winners on road courses with nine victories – four at Watkins Glen International and five at Infineon Raceway.

Tony Stewart is tied with four other drivers – all oval track aces – at second with six triumphs. Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace also have five road- course triumphs.

While popular American Formula One driver Dan Gurney scored five victories at Riverside back in the 1960s, the last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series non-regular to win in the series was Mark Donohue, at Riverside in 1973.

In recent years, many drivers with road-racing roots have turned their attention to NASCAR – with outstanding results.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Speed (No. 82 Red Bull Toyota) raced in Formula One. Robby Gordon (No. 7 Robby Gordon Motorsports Toyota) and AJ Allmendinger (No. 44 Best Buy Dodge) were winners in Champ Car, while current Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Max Papis (No. 13 GEICO Toyota) was a Grand-Am Rolex Series champion.

Fellows, Carpentier, Said Are Looking For Chance To Shine On Infineon Road Circuit

Ron Fellows came closest of the road course “specialists” to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in recent years, taking back-to-back second-place finishes at Watkins Glen International in 1999 and 2004. He also qualified on the outside of the front row for the 1998 race at The Glen, in addition to winning four races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (three at Watkins Glen and one at Montreal) and two in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at the New York circuit.

This weekend, Fellows will drive Phoenix Racing’s No. 09 Miccosukee Indian Gaming and Resorts Chevrolet for the first of two races this season.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Fellows said. “We’ve got a Hendrick (Motorsports) Motor, and we’ll find out about the chassis. I like Infineon, I had one of my best chances for my first Cup win there back when I drove for DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.).”

Canadian veteran Patrick Carpentier will return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, replacing Michael Waltrip this weekend in the No. 55 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota.

Sports car veteran Boris Said hopes to make his first start of the season in the No. 08 Carter/Simo Racing Ford. Said attempted to make the 2009 Daytona 500. The Carlsbad, Calif. driver has 33 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, with his best finish fifth at Watkins Glen in 2005.

Following Sunday’s checkered flag, race fans are invited to participate in the fourth annual Track Walk at Infineon Raceway. An added bonus is a massive scavenger hunt for blue-and-gold specially-marked lug nuts that will be hidden on the road course. The people who find those lug nuts will be treated to great prizes, including a big-screen TV, Save Mart Supermarkets gift certificate and 2010 Toyota/Save Mart 350 race tickets.

Fans are also encouraged to make a voluntary contribution to Speedway Children's Charities, the charitable arm of Infineon Raceway. The charity benefits youth groups in Sonoma County and has distributed more than $3 million since 2002.

Ken Stabler, legendary quarterback of the Oakland Raiders, will be the Grand Marshal for the Toyota/Save Mart 350. Stabler guided the Raiders to their first Super Bowl victory in 1977.

Infineon Raceway will honor four officers from the Oakland Police Department who were killed in the line of duty prior to Sunday’s race. Four motorcycles from the department will lead the 43-car field around the circuit prior to the start of the race. Davina Kelly from the department will sing the national anthem.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

David Gilliland (No. 71 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet) will be a home-state driver racing for a California-based team in the Toyota/Save Mart 350.

Last year, the Bakersville native finished a career-best second, driving for then-owner Doug Yates. He is a veteran of NASCAR’s West Series, where he won at Infineon two years ago.

Entering the 2009 season without a ride, Gilliland joined forces with rookie NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car owner Kevin Bucker two races into the campaign, and has made every race since.

While new to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Buckler is an accomplished road-course veteran. He was the overall winner in the 2003 Rolex 24 At Daytona – beating all of the Daytona Prototypes in a GT class Porsche – and won his class later that year in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

His Adobe Road Winery is headquartered in nearby Petaluma, with TRG based at Infineon Raceway.

"I can't wait for this weekend," Gilliland said. "Last year during qualifying on Friday, we fought being loose with the car. On Saturday in the final practice we got the car really good and were third in practice. That gave us a lot of confidence going into the race.

“We took our time and got to the front. We played the fuel mileage game right, halfway through the race we got into the top five and stayed there and made a run at the end. 

“I have won there in two other series and ran second last year in the Cup race. I'm going to Infineon with a lot of confidence. It is a lot of fun for me to go there, I really enjoy it."

The team tested last week at Virginia International Raceway with veteran Andy Lally, who drives for TRG in the Grand-Am Rolex Series.

AJ Allmendinger, from Los Gatos, brings plenty of road-course experience to Richard Petty Motorsports. He won five races in 2005 Champ Car competition prior to making his move to NASCAR, and finished second in the 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Another California driver to watch is Scott Speed, a native of Manteca. He is looking for a strong showing Sunday in the No. 82 Red Bull Toyota to make his move in the standings. The team is currently 36th in the car owner standings, only 53 points out of 35th and a guaranteed starting position.

Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s-Transformers  Toyota) and Scott Speed will be looking to do some more road racing after Sunday’s round at Infineon. The two are set to make their Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series debut at Daytona International Speedway in the July 4 Brumos Porsche 250. They will co-drive the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates No. 01 Waste Management Lexus Riley – the same car that won the 2006 Rolex 24 with Casey Mears (No. 07 Jack Daniel’s Chevrolet) at the wheel.

“I am really looking forward to seeing Kyle and Scott in one of our Grand-Am cars,” Ganassi said. “Kyle is one of the best race car drivers in the world and Scott is a young talent with a lot of road course experience.”

Ganassi also fields the No. 01 TELMEX Lexus Riley for Daytona Prototype point leaders Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas.

The Brumos Porsche 250 is a one-day show, with practice and qualifying preceding the green flag at 2 p.m. Completing the holiday extravaganza will be the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Coke Zero 400, which takes the green flag at 8 p.m.

Three drivers will be doing double-duty this weekend. Gilliland will drive the No. 45 Dreyer’s Ice Cream/Speed Wong Racing Toyota in Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World West Series race; Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Joey Logano will also drive the No. 11 Home Depot Toyota; and Boris Said is set to pilot the No. 57 DenBeste Motorsports Ford.

Saturday’s entry also includes legendary veteran Hershel McGriff, in the No. 04 Park Corporation Chevrolet, and Porsche factory driver Patrick Long, a two-time class winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Brandon Ash will be attempting to make the race with a new primary sponsor, Efusjon Energy Club – an Oregon-based company that produces 100% all-natural energy drinks.

Road Course Wins: All-Time

Driver            Wins 
Jeff Gordon        9  
Rusty Wallace   6
Bobby Allison    6
Richard Petty    6
Ricky Rudd       6
Tony Stewart     6 
Darrell Waltrip    5 
Tim Richmond    5
Dan Gurney       5
David Pearson    4
Mark Martin        4
Ernie Irvan          3
Geoff Bodine      3
Tim Flock          3
Cale Yarborough 3

Martin, Busch Look to Break Bonus Point Tie

The Infineon Raceway event is the last race before the “Race to the Chase” – the final 10 races before the post-season Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins.

That means the opportunities for potential Chase bonus points are dwindling. Each race winner in the first 26 races earns 10 bonus points toward his Chase seeding.

Mark Martin tied Kyle Busch for the bonus points lead with his victory at Michigan last weekend, his third on the season.

Both have 30 bonus points for their three wins – and both have a solid shot at making it 40 this weekend at Infineon Raceway.

Busch, who won last season’s event at Infineon, has become a road-course expert of sorts, winning both road-course races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the Mexico City road course race in the NASCAR Nationwide Series last season.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup road-course competition last season, Busch predictably racked up impressive statistics.

He led 130 laps (64.4% of the laps), had a Driver Rating of 146.4, an Average Running Position of 4.4 and 46 Fastest Laps Run.

In his four Infineon Raceway races, Busch has a Driver Rating of 104.8 (third-best), an Average Running Position of 16.3 (13th), 37 Fastest Laps Run (third) and an average Green Flag Speed of 89.964 mph (fourth).

Martin’s possible success at Infineon Raceway seems much more unpredictable. Though strong on road courses, he has not competed on one since 2006. Time will tell if any rust has built up during the two-year layoff when Martin went to a part-time schedule.

If there is none, Martin should contend for the win. In his two Infineon Raceway events since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, he has a Driver Rating of 90.2 (10th-best) and an Average Running Position of 12.6 (sixth).

Then there are Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford), both with two wins this season, who are looking to join Busch and Martin with 30 bonus points.

Uncharacteristically, both have struggled at Infineon Raceway. Johnson has a Driver Rating of 75.2 (19th-best) and Kenseth has a 73.0 (20th).

Up Next: Going The Extra Mile At New Hampshire Motor Speedway

The pressure continues to build in the next stop on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. When competitors take the green flag for the June 28 LENOX Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, only 10 races remain before the beginning of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

The race was extended by one lap this year to recognize members of the state police, local fire and police departments, and the National Guard, who go the “extra mile” in their community.

The 301-mile race will be a preview of Round 1 of the Chase, which opens Sept. 20 with the Sylvania 300 on the one-mile oval.

Kurt Busch is the defending winner of the LENOX Industrial Tools 301, while Greg Biffle opened the 2008 Chase with a victory in the Sylvania 300.

Legendary Grammy-nominated band Three Dog Night; the car-eating, fire-breathing mechanical dinosaur "Transaurus" and a fly-over featuring F-16 fighter jets highlight pre-race entertainment for the LENOX Industrial Tools 301.

Three Dog Night will take the stage at the start/finish line at 12:30 p.m. Entering their fourth decade, the music icons hold some impressive industry statistics. From 1969 through 1974, the band had 21 consecutive top-40 hits and 12 straight RIAA Certified Gold LPs. 

"It's more than just a race," said Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. 

"Our pre-race entertainment provides added value to our fans. It isn't often that you can watch an iconic band such as Three Dog Night and see a car chewed by a giant dinosaur at the same venue. That's a great lead-in to the largest sporting event in New England."

Fast Facts

The Race: Toyota/Save Mart 350

The Date: Sunday, June 21

The Track: Infineon Raceway (1.99-mile, road course)

The Time: 5 p.m. ET

The Distance: 218.9 miles (350 kilometers)/112 laps

TV: TNT, 3:30 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN and Sirius XM Satellite

2008 Polesitter: Kasey Kahne

2008 Winner: Kyle Busch

Schedule: Friday—Practice, Noon-1:30 p.m. Qualifying, 3:35 p.m. Saturday—Practice, 9:30-10:15 a.m. and 10:50-11:50 a.m. (All times PT/local.)

2009 Top 12
    Driver               Points
 1 Tony Stewart      2,189
 2 Jeff Gordon         2,142
 3 Jimmie Johnson  2,047
 4 Kurt Busch         1,961
 5 Ryan Newman    1,934
 6 Carl Edwards      1,927
 7 Greg Biffle          1,913
 8 Mark Martin        1,868
 9 Kyle Busch        1,860
10 Denny Hamlin    1,849
11 Matt Kenseth     1,848
12 Jeff Burton         1,810




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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.






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