The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be making their annual visit to Sonona-California's wine country this Sunday for the running of the Toyota/Sav Mart 350 at the Infineon Raceway. Race number 16 on the 2011 season schedule is the first of two road course events.
So, who's going to drink the fancy bottle of wine presented to race winners at Infineon? It's probably going to be a driver with experience in making sharp, high speed, left and right turns. It's probably going to be a driver who will not allow those non traditional lefts and rights interfere with his ability to maintain focus.
It will probably be a driver who has a crew chief comfortable with the process of counting race laps backwards. Because fuel mileage is so critical at this race track, the crew chief will employ the non traditional process of counting the laps beginning at 110 to insure accurate fuel mileage figures.
It will probably be the driver whose pit crew will not lose a half a second during the stop because they were distracted by the sight of their car arriving in the pit box facing the wrong way. That's yet another non traditional aspect to racing at this track. Because of the unique pit road entry, the crews will be changing the tires on the driver's side first. Just the slightest distraction, even a mere one half second, could be catastrophic to track position which will be very difficult to make up on a road course this size.
At the conclusion of the Toyota/Sav Mart 350, the driver will be treated to a glass of some of the best vino from California's wine country. That's yet another non traditional aspect to this race.
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS FROM WINE COUNTRY
To get an accurate view of who's favored to drink the win at Infineon, we again call on the experts from "The Las Vegas Insider", (LVI), who are well known for their ability to crunch numbers and produce very accurate predictions.
JEFF GORDON AT 7 TO 2 ODDS.
We begin with NASCAR's "Mr. Road Course. When it comes to turning left and right on a race track Jeff Gordon is one of the best in the business and he has the stats to back it up. Gordon leads the Sprint Cup Series' Infineon stats in wins-5 including three consecutive trips to victory lane from 1998 to 2000. He also leads the series in the categories of top five finishes-11, top tens-14 and most laps led by a race winner-94. Gordon is also very good at qualifying at Infineon. He has a series high five pole wins there and holds the track qualifying record, 94.325 MPH, set in June of 2005.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races on two road courses per year: Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen. Gordon's combined stats, for road courses, are also chart topping and includes nine wins, 17 top fives and 23 top tens along with an average finish ratio of 11.8. He's a top notch wager consideration worthy of being on top of the LVI's list this week.
JIMMIE JOHNSON AT 9 TO 2 ODDS.
In June of last year Jimmie Johnson became the latest Infineon wine taster after race leader Marcos Ambrose stalled his engine while trying to save fuel. Many called it a silver platter win, and still do. But, remember, to take advantage of a silver platter opportunity, one must be in position to do so. Johnson and company has a way of often being around at the end of a race and that makes them a worthy wager consideration despite the fact that his career Infineon stats only shows the lone win, three top fives and a finish ratio of 15.6 .
KYLE BUSCH AND TONY STEWART AT 6 TO 1 ODDS.
Kyle Busch is a former Infineon winner but has a somewhat roller coaster performance level there with just the lone win, one top five and a finish ratio of 20.2. Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team has been the topic of NASCAR headlines for all of the wrong reasons for several weeks now. Some NASCAR observers may want to believe that these headlines may become a distraction to this driver. Don't even go there. Whether he's setting new speed records on a North Carolina country road or taking on the challenge of a road course, anytime Busch puts on his helmet he's focused.
Tony Stewart has also earned the right to be called "NASCAR's Mr. Road Course and, at 6 to 1, he's an excellent wager consideration. "Smoke" is a two time winner at Infineon with a very healthy average finish ratio of 9.2. His overall road course stats are also very impressive and includes seven wins and a finish ratio of 7.3. Seriously consider this driver as a potential winner this Sunday.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA AT 7 TO 1 ODDS.
With his success in the Indy Racing League and Formula 1 racing it's only natural that Montoya would be a road racing ringer. His two Sprint Cup wins came on the road courses. There should be no distractions regarding his current contract status with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. It's anticipated that an announcement regarding a contract extension will be made within the next couple of weeks. This is another strong wager consideration.
MARCOS AMBROSE AT 8 TO 1 ODDS.
It's very likely that this very popular Australian is one of the most prolific road racers among the Sprint Cup drivers. We all remember what happened at Infineon last year. Ambrose, during the final laps of the race, was conserving fuel during a final caution flag by turning his engine off and on. Unfortunately he turned his engine off, while coasting up hill, and the the car stalled. That's why Jimmie Johnson is the defending race winner. That mistake was quickly dubbed "the blunder from down under" and you can bet Ambrose won't let that happen again. He'll be arriving at Infineon believing Infineon Raceway owes him one and he'll be looking to collect on Sunday.
KEVIN HARVICK AT 10 TO 1 ODDS.
Harvick is still looking for his first Sprint Cup win at Infineon but he does have a road course win at Watkins Glen. Harvick has a way of showing up at the end of a race and becoming a major player in the outcome. That's exactly how he has won three races this year and why everyone now calls him "The Closer." At 10 to 1 he's a very worthy long shot consideration.
Taking a look at the middle tier, of the "Las Vegas Insider's" ranking this week, you will find the Dodge power of Kurt Busch ranked at 14 to 1.
The "LVI's" 16 to 1 ranking is rather interesting because of a pair of possible long shot considerations here. It's begins with previous race winner Robby Gordon. His road racing prowess is well known and respected but, let the buyer beware. This owner/driver has endured terrible racing luck that has been going on for quite a long time now.
Also listed at 16 to 1 is Carl Edwards. His driver stats indicates that road racing is not one of this driver's major strengths. But, let's face it, it's Carl Edwards. He's the series points leader, his momentum is red hot, and he has the power of the FR9 engine under the hood of his Roush Fenway Racing Ford.
The 18 to 1 category is also interesting featuring road racing ringer Boris Said, driving for owner James Finch, and previous race winner Kasey Kahne who's determined to give Red Bull Racing another Sprint Cup win during what will possibly be the organization's final NASCAR season.
Denny Hamlin, at 20 to 1, will be bringing a lot of momentum to Infineon Raceway coming off of last Sunday's win at Michigan but the stats indicate road racing isn't exactly a source of strength. Ranked behind Hamlin is Jamie McMurray, 30 to 1, and Ryan Newman at 35 to 1.
The "LVI's" 40 to 1 group includes a group of hard chargers featuring Greg Biffle, Paul Menard, Dale Earnhardt Jr and and Clint Bowyer. At 50 to 1 you will find drivers A J Allmendinger and Andy Lally. Both are successful road racing veterans from other racing series but I don;t know if I would put any money on them in a NASCAR race.
In the 60 to 1 ranking you will find previous race winner Mark Martin along with Matt Kenseth. Also at the bottom of this week's list are Brad Keselowski and Jeff Burton, at 75 to 1 and David Ragan at 80 to 1, Martin Truex Jr and Joey Logano are ranked at 100 to 1 while Brian Vickers closes the list at 125 to 1.
Time for this week's disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind you that these numbers are for informational and entertainment purposes. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their events. They would much prefer that you spend your money online at the NASCAR store where you can find those special items such as the Dale Earnhardt Jr bar b que grill covers.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The Toyota/Sav Mart 350 is 110 laps/218.9 miles around the Infineon Raceway's mammoth 1.99 mile, ten turn, road course.
The race has 44 entries vying for the 43 starting berths and the winner's share of the $5.5 million plus purse. Nine of those entries are on the go or go home list. These teams are not guaranteed a starting berth in the race because they are currently outside of the top 35 in owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race.
The Infineon Raceway opened in 1968. The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held in 1989 and won by Ricky Rudd. Since that time there has been 22 Sprint Cup races there that has sent 14 different winners to victory lane. Chevrolet leads the manufacturers list with ten wins.
Track position is extremely important at Infineon Raceway and so is qualifying. Five of the 22 races there has been won from the pole position, 14 have been won from the top five and 17 races has been won within the top ten starting berths.
The Infineon Raceway currently has seating for 47,000 fans but there's also plenty of room on the grassy hills that surrounds the track for spectators to see a good race. Those grassy areas are carefully maintained by the annual presence of 3,000 sheep.
Some patchy fog, prior to 11 am, could make Friday's practice session a little interesting but, other than that, it should be ideal weather conditions for racing. Look for sunny skies and daytime highs of 77 to 80 degrees throughout the weekend.
The Toyota/Sav Mart 350 will be broadcast live by the TNT Network with the pre race showing beginning at 2 pm eastern time. The race re air will be on Wednesday, June 29th, at 12 pm eastern on SPEED.