EDWARDS + EXCITMENT = SONOMA

Carl Edwards with Steve Page in Victory Circle

Carl Edwards & Sonoma Raceway President/CEO Steve Page in Victory Circle.
Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Carl Edwards No.99 Aflac Roush Racing Ford took the lead on Lap 85 and ran away with it, out racing Jeff Gordon No.24 Panasonic Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to the finish Sunday at the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Race at Sonoma Raceway. The two-pit stop strategy of his crew chief, Jimmy Fennig, paid off.

Edwards led just the once, for the last 26 laps. It was the first road course victory of his Sprint Cup Career. His Margin of Victory ahead of Gordon was 0.591 seconds. This victory, the first for Edwards at Sonoma Raceway, was the twenty-third in his Cup career, and the 135th for team owner, Jack Roush.

Edwards was the tenth consecutive different winner at the 1.199-mile road course in the heart of Northern California’s celebrated Wine Country.

Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Edwards said “That’s a moment I’ll never forget, to be standing in Victory Lane and to have held off Jeff Gordon with all of the successes he’s had here and in our sport. I grew up watching Jeff Gordon here at Sonoma, so it was an honor to beat him. It was really tricky the last few laps; but it definitely meant a lot to have Jeff Gordon in my mirror. That was the best I had, and it almost wasn’t good enough. I’m gonna go get a Subway sandwich.”

Edwards played coy when asked about his future plans and whether the uncertainty affected him during the weekend. All weekend rumors swirled regarding his re-signing with Roush, going to JGR, and/or getting the M&M’s sponsorship currently enjoyed by Kyle Busch. “I think you guys worry about that more than we do. We come out here and race every week and the mission is to win championships. So for me it’s really simple I just have to give the best I can every week and that’s it.”

Third through fifth were Dale Earnhardt No.88 Kelley Blue Book Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet; pole sitter Jamie McMurray No.1 Cessna Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Chevrolet; and Paul Menard No.27 Richmond/Menards Chevrolet.

Dale Earnhardt Jr

Jamie McMurray

Paul Menard

Left to Right: Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jamie McMurray, and Paul Menard. Photos by Mike & Jeff Burghardt.

The Top Rookie was Austin Dillon No.3 Dow Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, who started twenty-sixth and finished seventeenth on the lead lap.

Early favorites didn’t fare as well as expected. Second fastest qualifier, A.J.Allmendinger No.47 JTG Daughterey Chevrolet led twice for 35 laps – the most of any leader, but ended up thirty-seventh after being spun and hit by Earnhardt. “We led a lot of laps today and we were good enough to win the thing, no doubt. I’s just disappointing the way our day ended and to leave Sonoma with a car that’s tore up. It’s just tough.”

Third fastest qualifier and Top Rookie, Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing Chevrolet was shuffled back to sixth place early on, and then ran afoul of someone by Lap 28 and despite continuing on, he fell backwards and ended up on the lead lap in P28.

Marcos Ambrose No.9 DeWalt Petty Motorsports Ford always seems to be one to watch due to his road racing skill in stock cars and V8′s. He’s nearly won at least once at Sonoma. This weekend, however, the Aussie had a bad qualifying run and started twenty-third. He charged through the pack time and again; and Ambrose led once for five laps before falling back to eighth, despite several passing/racing attempts near the end.

Austin Dillon

Marcos Ambrose

Jeff Gordon

Left to Right: Austin Dillon, Marcos Ambrose, and Jeff Gordon. Photos by Mike & Jeff Burghardt.

Gordon said “I just wanted to make him overdrive the corner. I really tried to put the pressure on him. I was just trying to keep the wheel spin to a minimum. I overdrove Four. That made a difference. I was better in the faster sections. He was faster in the slower sections. I wish I had five laps to do over again. I think I coulda had a shot.” It was Gordon’s third runner-up position in the last five Sonoma races.

Earnhardt said “Carl had the best strategy. The Chevy was really good all week. I made a couple of mistakes during the race.” He owned up to one of his mistakes on his radio after he hit Matt Kenseth No.20 Dollar General Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, causing Kenseth to take a really hard crash into the Turn Seven tire wall. It was the first DNF for Kenseth in fifteen Sonoma races. Junior said “My bad. I don’t know what the (expletive) I was doing. I jumped that curb and ran into him. I am sick at my stomach getting into Matt there. I just hopped that curb, and it threw me right into him. I shouldn’t have been running him hard I guess, I just got up on that curb and it just launched me over into the side of his car. I really hope he isn’t hurt too bad. We had a fast car all weekend. The guys did a good job on the strategy, and gave me great tires at the end so I could be on the offense. Proud of Steve (Letarte); the whole job the team did. The car was fast all weekend. It was a lot of fun.”

Earnhardt also “tangled with Allmendinger and spun him out in Turn 11. I thought I left him enough room. I don’t know how bad it was for him.”

The hits just kept coming.

Licking their wounds included Clint Bowyer No.15 5-Hour Energy Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota; Kevin Harvick No.4 Outback/Budweiser Folds of Honor Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet; Jimmie Johnson No.48 Lowe’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet; Kyle Larson; Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Penske Racing Ford; Danica Patrick No.10 Go Daddy Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. EcoPower Roush Racing Ford; and Brian Vickers No.55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota;

Cautions breed cautions. There were six cautions for 19 laps in the 110-lap race. Three were for accidents involving seven cars, one stall, and two for track surface conditions.

There were nine leaders and eleven lead changes keeping the racing exciting. Allmendinger led twice for the most laps – 25. Other leaders were Harvick-twice for 23 laps; pole sitter McMurray twice for nine laps; and one time for Bowyer-five laps; Ambrose-five laps; Logano-three laps; Jeff Gordon-three laps; and Johnson-one lap.

Gordon continues to lead the Driver Standings, with 580 points. Second through twelfth are: Johnson-560; Earnhardt Jr.-555; Kenseth-515; Keselowski-512; Edwards-509; Logano-483; Ryan Newman-473; Harvick-472; Larson-470 and Top Rookie; Kyle Busch-465; and Menard-459. Fifty-three drivers have earned points, with another ten who have run but are ineligible to get points in the Cup Series.

Matt Kenseth

Joey Logano

Kyle Larson

Left to Right: Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, and Kyle Larson. Photos by Mike & Jeff Burghardt.

Everyone cleared Tech with no problems. The top two cars, No.99 Ford and No.24 Chevrolet will be taken back to the NASCAR R&D Center in North Carolina, with additional routine track inspection completed on No.23-Rookie Alex Bowman Toyota, No.38-David Gilliland Ford, No.7 Michael Annett Chevrolet, and No.32-Boris Said Ford.

The next Sprint Cup race is 28 June 2014 at Kentucky Speedway.

P.S.
For those sharp-eyed road racers who saw and wondered about seeing a corner worker waving both the yellow caution and blue flag simultaneously, here’s the NASCAR explanation, as explained to the drivers in their Sunday morning meeting: NASCAR uses the standard corner worker flags in a different way. The all-blue waved flag means the track trouble is right ahead. For NASCAR the passing flag is the blue flag which has a yellow stripe. There evidently is no surface flag (yellow and red stripes used for oil, debris, etc.)

Sonoma Raceway is one track which gets it. John Cardinale, the late VP of Communications started a post-race tradition which continues on – a veritable spread of snacks and edibles for the hard-working media.

John Cardinale Antipasti Bar

Cardinale Antipasti spread

A IS FOR AGGRESSION

Close Encounters of the NASCAR Kind.

Aggressive racing seemed to be the theme this weekend. Almost every driver interviewed by the media was specifically asked about the aggressive driving – of late, and especially at road races

AGGRESSION:
1.the action of a state in violating by force the rights of another state, particularly its territorial rights; an unprovoked offensive, attack, invasion, or the like: The army is prepared to stop any foreign aggression.
2. any offensive action, attack, or procedure; an inroad or encroachment: an aggression upon one’s rights.
3.the practice of making assaults or attacks; offensive action in general.

Some but not all of Random Sound Bites by Sprint Cup Drivers

AJ.J.Allmendinger's No.47 Chevrolet

A.J.ALLMENDINGER No.47 Chevrolet: “I think just the competition level has stepped up. It’s not like if you are fast, you kind of blister through the pack and you have a few guys you are racing. You look at how deep the field is now at the road course races, that’s why it is aggressive, because it is hard to pass. Everybody is so close. If you get kind of stuck in the back of the pack, it is hard to go anywhere. You look at Marcos (Ambrose) last year at Watkins Glen – he was leading the race, and pit strategy worked out where he restarted 20th, and it was hard for him to go anywhere, and he dominated that race. It just shows how deep the field is especially around this place. It is so tight. The double-file restarts are some of that. Before when it was single, everybody was kind of in line and then if you made a pass, you made a pass. You go through these first how-many corners side-by-side and that is when you can really make your most time. So it’s definitely gotten more aggressive and I think the competition level has just gotten higher, and that is what it relates to everybody being so aggressive. Also around this place, your fenders don’t matter as much as Watkins Glen, so people seem to use them up a little bit more.”

Clint Bowyer's No.15 Toyota

CLINT BOWYER No.15 Toyota: “All road racing contact is accidental until the end and an accident usually reoccurs and it’s something that’s drug on through the season and you get here and the guy gets loose underneath him. Early in the race, if people get into each other because they were pushing hard, dive-bombed them, got a wheel hop and wrecked a bunch of people, that’s an accident. The consequence for that accident at the end of the race is usually not an accident — it’s very much so on purpose. You usually see the smoke rolling out of the race car before the actual impact at the end of the race, which is kind of fun to watch as long as you’re not one of them — either or.”

Jeff Gordon's No.24 Chevrolet

JEFF GORDON No.24 Chevrolet: “Definitely road course races we’ve always seen aggressiveness, and sometimes mistakes by people trying to be overly aggressive and making mistakes. That has always been the nature of this track and road course racing because there are two opportunities to really pass, and you try and take advantage of those opportunities. Then when they did the double-file restarts – that is what really changes things. It changed things on the ovals too, but it really changed things on the road courses because it gives you that extra opportunity to be aggressive, to get the position and take some extra chances to try to get that position. Or maintain a position and causes a lot of incidents. We see a lot of people running into one another. But it has also made the road course some of the most exciting races that we have now on the circuit.”

Kyle Larson's No.42 Chevrolet

KYLE LARSON No.42 Chevrolet: “There is a lot of chaos that goes on at road course races. So just have to stay out of trouble and get a good finish.”

Hopefully that will go better than the recent Michigan race when Larson and Tony Stewart disagreed to disagree. “On the restart he lined up behind me and I was mirror driving and saw him go to the right so I went to right, felt him hit me and thought, ‘Tony’s going to be pissed,’ so I pulled up top, let him by and drove around him a couple corners later. When the (next) caution came out, I knew what was going to happen and I knew he was going to pull next to me and show me he wasn’t happy

“In sprint car racing, blocking is a little more normal so I don’t know if he gets as angry in that as he does with blocking in stock cars. Anyway, a guy like Tony Stewart probably respects you more if you don’t back down. Coming to a place like Sonoma, I’m sure we’ll be around each other and we’ll see what happens. But I don’t feel like I’ve done anything dirty so I’m not going to do anything to make the situation worse and I hope he doesn’t.” Stewart showed his displeasure in one of his customary fashions – middle finger.

Joey Logano's No.22 Ford

JOEY LOGANO No.22 Ford: “The first contact one is always an accident and then after that I don’t know how much is an accident. I think it depends on what’s going on. Usually, we all try to start the race calm, cool and collected. Everyone is kind of just running their deal and then one person gets hit and gets knocked out of the way and then he’s mad, and then he hits someone else and now the next guy is mad, so that just triggers it off and there you go. I think everyone starts with the right attitude and then at the end all manners are out the window and it’s all about just getting those positions. Like I said, there are four or five people that are pretty calm that might not have a mark on their race car because everyone else is gonna get beat around and when you get beat around you get ticked off. It happens. Usually there are about four or five guys that are smiling after the race and everyone else is really mad at each other. I can’t wait.”

Regarding aggression from drivers yet to win at Sonoma: “Look at the guys that are good at these road course and you look at the guys that haven’t won yet this season. They’re starting to get desperate, I’m sure. They’re starting to get to that panic mode at this point in the season and if this is one of those race tracks where you feel you can capitalize on, and you’re close to it, they’re gonna be desperate and they’re gonna do some crazy things out there. So that’s why it’s so important to be on the aggressive side. Like I was saying earlier, I want to be the guy pushing. I don’t want to be the guy getting pushed around. You’ve got to make sure you’ve got a car you can do that with because it’s easier said than done. If you’re the guy running up front, and you look at the top three, four, five cars, they will be ones that won’t have many marks on it, so you’ve got to be consistently up there. You’ve got to be patient. You can’t get too fired up, but you’ve got to be the aggressive one and I think those guys that haven’t had the win are gonna get desperate and it’s gonna be either checkers or wreckers for them. Hopefully, I’m far enough ahead that it’s not a problem.”

Tony Stewart's No.14 Chevrolet

TONY STEWART No.14 Chevrolet: “This is one of those places where most of the time you shake your head when you’re leaving here going thank goodness it’s over. The first half of the race is a blast because everybody is being patient and they’re driving like they have sense. The closer to the end of the race, the more that goes away and the more guys just try to take advantage of every situation and every hole that’s available.”

Brian Vickers' No.55 Toyota

BRIAN VICKERS No.55 Toyota:”Sonoma Raceway is the short track of road racing.”

IT’S GO TIME

Sunday morning at Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota/SaveMart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup race, and the hills are alive with the sound of 820 hp stock car engines. The garage is filled with cars revving engines, lucky fans with Hot Garage Passes, and bustling crew members everywhere. Those who want to see and be seen are filling in and the place is getting crowded. There is a crowd around the Pole sitting No.1 Cessna Chevrolet driven by Jamie McMurray, who races for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. He also had the pole for last year’s race, which was won by Martin Truex Jr of Michael Waltrip Racing.

All 43 of the Cup cars have to go through Tech again before the race, but as of 8:30am PT, still no takers in the various Scrutineering check points.

Empty NASCAR Templet Check Points

Pole Sitter Jamie McMurray's Garage

Empty NASCAR Tech Check Points

Sunday’s schedule has just the one 110-lap race, running 218.9 mile race, starting at noon PT/3pm ET. It will air live on TNT TV, as well as PRN and SiriusXM Satellite Radio.

Part of the festivities include a six Patriot Jet aerial formation flyover, Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, Wine Country Silent Auction, and the usual hoopla for the Driver Introductions and driver parade around the track.

One happy camper Sunday morning was The King aka Richard Petty.

Richard Petty

Richard Petty

Former Major League Baseball player, Vida Blue, is the Grand Marshal. He played baseball for both the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants. He won the American League Cy Young Award, Most Valuable Player Award in 1971, is a six-time All-Star, and is the first of only four pitchers in major league history to start the All-Star Game for both the American League (1971) and the National League (1978).

KRISTEN POINDEXTER of Indianapolis is the 2014 Shell Science Teacher of the Year. Part of her award include a trip to the Sonoma race and her name on the Shell Pennzoil Ford racecar driven by Joey Logano. In the past 23 years, Shell has honored one outstanding classroom science teacher (K-12) who has had a positive impact on his or her students, school, and community through exemplary classroom science teaching.

Shell Teacher of Year Logo

LARSON LEARNED TO SHIFT

Kyle Larson in Victory Circle

Kyle Larson in Victory Circle. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Pole Sitter Kyle Larson No.42 Clorox Chevrolet won the Carneros 200 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma Raceway Saturday afternoon. He led almost every foot of the race, only temporarily losing the lead for one corner on Lap 51 of the 66-lap race after one of the several restarts. His margin of victory over runner-up Greg Pursley GPM/Star Nursery/Real Water Ford was 3.191 seconds. Larson turned the fastest race lap of 90.136 mph/.1:19.470.

So much for a driver who supposedly had trouble learning to shift in stock cars.

This was Larson’s first weekend ever driving the 1.199-mile elevated road course.

Larson stayed out in front and out of trouble, while there were mighty battles behind him, leaving some hapless victims beside the road. The tow truck driver did a yeoman’s job of pushing, pulling and lifting cars out of harms way.

Kyle Larson

Greg Pursley

Kyle Larson

Left to right: Kyle Larson, Greg Pursley, and Larsen leading Ricky Stenhouse Jr & Pursley. Photos by Mike & Jeff Burghardt.

Third through fifth were Dylan Lupton No.9 Sunrise Ford/Lucas Oil/Eibach Ford; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. No.99 Roush Performance Parts Ford; and Brandon McReynolds No.16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota.

Larson said “A little bit of confidence (from today’s race) helps going into tomorrow’s race. Pursley is really good here so it’s good to beat a driver like that. I gained experience in saving the equipment, and I gained some experience in parts of the track. Tomorrow will be more difficult. On those restarts, it seemed like it was hard until I could get up to Turn Seven when I could pull away.

“It was really good day today, being on pole and winning K&N, and awesome to qualify third in Cup. I didn’t think I was that good in Cup, and now I’m still not sure; but the cars are really good. You can make mistakes and still do well.”

Up until the break, the top three cars didn’t change position from where they started – Larson, Stenhouse and Pursley. Then, the action began and the yellows flew. Stenhouse was caught out, spun, shuffled backwards to tenth, and recovered. He charged back to finish fourth.

Justin Allgaier

Justin Allgaier. Photo by Mike & Jeff Burghardt

Cup driver, Justin Algaier No.83 Grigg Brothers/Brandt Chevrolet started thirteenth, and ran as high as sixth before mixing it up with others while racing hard in a pack. He fell back and ended up fourteenth.

Cup driver David Mayhew No.17 Steak and Grape/MMI Services Chevrolet didn’t have his best day. He started ninth but finished twenty-first. This won’t help his K&N points – he was second in the standings going into the race. Mayhew qualified Cup driver J.J.Yeley’s No.44 Phoenix Warehouse Chevrolet in thirty-ninth position for Sunday’s race, but Yeley will start at the back due to driver change. Yeley finished fifth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America, after starting twenty-second. Even as we speak he’s winging his way back to the wine country of Northern California.

Cup Rookie Austin Dillon No.21 Golden Gate Meat/RCR Chevrolet started eighth, but ran afoul of electrical gremlins during the race and retired on Lap 49 for a P22 finish.

Jack Sellars

Jack Sellars. Photo by Mike & Jeff Burghardt

Larson wasn’t the only K&N driver running his first-ever race at Sonoma. Neither had Rookie James Bickford, the sixteen-year old cousin of Cup driver, Jeff Gordon No.24 Panasonic Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Bickford started tenth but ended up twenty-fourth. One thing different in the West version of the K&N Pro Series, versus the East coast version, is there are more smaller and independent teams out West, with a higher ratio of older, more veteran racers. Jack Sellars No.15 MediActive Oral Care Chevrolet has the most K&N starts – 279. Back East, the series has more better funded younger drivers and bigger teams. The West Series has been around 61 years and has long been a support race with the Cup Series.

Michael Annett No.31 TMC/Pilot Chevrolet ran the hardest. He started twenty-ninth and finished sixth.

Sellars took a big hit into the tire and concrete wall exiting Turn Seven, but was able to limp into the pits. This was the second incident which required wall care during the race.

Twenty of the twenty-nine starters finished the race, with sixteen on the lead lap. Three retired from crashes, and six for mechanical problems.

The race ran for 2 hrs 12 mins 28 secs. The average race speed was 59.490 mph.

There were five cautions for sixteen laps, all in the second half of the race. Cautions breed cautions. The K&N Series cars are Gen 4 Cup cars, same chassis but with different Goodyear tires. It is a developmental series with the aim of maximizing participation while keeping down the costs.

The series has a customary break half-way through its races. This allows the teams to do some work on their cars, but avoids having pit stops, which is a cost-cutting measure. The idea is to save the teams the expense of an over-the-wall crew and all its requisite equipment. During the break the teams cannot open the hood or rear deck and can’t change tires, unless a damaged or flat tire is verified by a NASCAR official. Otherwise, normal adjustments are allowed, such as spring settings and fueling.

After the brief break, the cars run two laps single file behind the pace car leading up to a double file restart.

Clorox Corporation, from nearby Oakland CA, cleaned up Saturday at Sonoma. It sponsor’s Larson’s K&N car and the Sprint Cup No.47 JTG Daughtery Racing Chevrolet of driver A.J. Allmendinger, who almost had the Cup pole until the last thirty seconds when he was bumped by Larson’s veteran teammate, Jamie McMurray No.1 Cessna Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Racing Chevrolet.

The next stop for the K&N Pro Series West is 12 July 2014 at State Line Speedway in Idaho.

McMURRAY & LARSON ON NASCAR POLES

Jamie McMurray

Jamie McMurray. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Jamie McMurray No.1 Cessna Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Racing Chevrolet has the pole for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Race at Sonoma Raceway with a blistering lap of 96.350 mph/74.354 seconds. He and 21 other drivers broke the existing qualifying track record of 95.262 mph/1:15.203 seconds set June 2012 by Marcos Ambrose. This is McMurray’s third pole at Sonoma Raceway and tenth overall in his twelve year Cup career with 418 Cup races.

Starting on the front row besides Jamie Mac will be local driver, A.J.Allmendinger No.47 Kingsford/Clorox JTG Daughterey Racing Chevrolet. AJ was leading both qualifying sessions for most of their duration until being pipped at the last minute. Allmendinger is the only driver in the top eleven who doesn’t drive for a big/multi-car team.

The other local driver, Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet, will start third and is the top Cup Rookie.

AJ Almendinger

Carl Edwards

Kurt Busch

Left to right: A.J.Allmendinger, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch. Photos by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images.

Fourth and fifth were Carl Edwards No.99 Aflac Roush Racing Ford and Kurt Busch No.41 Haas Automation Chevrolet.

Sixth through twelfth were Kevin Harvick No.4 Outback/Budweiser Folds of Honor Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet; Ryan Newman No.31 Caterpillar Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet; Brian Vickers No.55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, Paul Menard No.27 Richmond Menards Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet; Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Penske Racing Ford; Danica Patrick No.10 GoDaddy Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet; and Casey Mears No.13 GEICO Germain Racing Chevrolet.

Kevin Harvick

Ryan Newman

Brian Vickers

Left to right: Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers. Photos by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images.

McMurray said “Jamie McMurray This knockout qualifying is just an emotional roller coaster, from not making it in the top twelve and having to go back out and bump your way in to then being on the pole – there’s a lotta highs and lows that go with it and it’s really cool for us to go from kinda being bumped out and coming back and sitting on the pole. So it’s is pretty cool. It will be an interesting race, as I think drivers will be really aggressive on the last two or three restarts. It will be interesting if we have a green-white-checkered flag finish.”

Allmendinger said “I wish we would have stuck to the old way (of qualifying.) Everybody made one run, and we were pretty good after that. I’m proud of everybody on this No. 47 race team. Going into qualifying I honestly thought we didn’t have a great car for qualifying. I was really happy with it in race trim. I was cautiously optimistic about it. But, I felt like I put in two good laps out there. Kingsford Chevy is good. To have Clorax its home race, and start up front. It will be a long battle tomorrow, but we have a good starting spot. So we will have a clean view, and go have some fun tomorrow.”

Larson, who may be the only Cup driver who has never before raced at Sonoma Raceway and has been said to have trouble learning to shift, said – despite having spotters who are really high so they can see the track better – that he relies a lot on his teammate, pole sitter McMurray. The veteran has spent a lot of time going over the track dynamics with Larson, corner by corner, strategy by strategy. “I definitely think having a teammate like that really helps. He’s obviously really fast and willing to work with me and teach me a lot, which is great.” Larson also admitted he and others were running the NASCAR K&N Pro Series Race to gain more experience. Something clicked, as Larson has the K&N Pole for Saturday afternoon’s race.

The temperature was in the mid-seventies, with strong breezes, rather than Friday’s wind gusts.

In the first Cup qualifying session, Allmendinger led for 24 of the 30-minute session, before being knocked down by Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Penske Racing Ford.

There were surprises in the new Cup qualifying format. The top five Chase contenders didn’t make the cut to the Top Twelve, nor were there any Hendrick Racing cars making it to Q2. Another big surprise was how poorly Marcos Ambrose No.9 DeWalt Petty Motorsports Ford qualified. He who had held the qualifying track record for two years ended up twenty-third for Sunday’s race.

Kyle Larson's Helmet

Kyle Larson’s Helmet. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

In K&N Pro Series West Series qualifying, Cup Rookie Kyle Larson No.42 Clorox Chevrolet has the pole position with a lap of 92.794 mph. Although Sonoma Raceway is the closest NASCAR and/or road course closest to his hometown of Elk Grove in Northern California, this weekend is the first time Larson has driven the 10-turn, 1.99-mile road course. As a child, he visited the track twice with his parents. Not that he’s that old now. He’s 22 years old now and will be a father in December, although he doesn’t look old enough to vote.

Cup driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr No.99 Roush Performance Racing Ford was second fastest, followed by K&N veteran and current points leader, Greg Pursley No.26 GPM / Star Nursery / Real Water Ford. Another K&N veteran, Cole Custer No.00 NAPA Filters Toyota was fourth and going for his second win this season. Dylan Lupton Sunrise Ford/Lucas Oil/Eibach Ford, last year’s K&N Rookie of the Year, was fifth.

Cup Rookie Austin Dillon No.21 Golden Gate Meat/RCR Chevrolet went two seconds faster in qualifying than he did Friday, and will grid eighth. Starting ninth will be David Mayhew No.17 Steak & Grape/MMI Services; he also will be qualifying Saturday for the absent J.J.Yeley, who is gridded twenty-second in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America. Yeley will start at the back of the Toyota/SaveMart 350 Sprint Cup Race Sunday noon. Justin Algaier No.83 Griggs Brothers/Brandt Chevrolet qualified thirteenth of 28 drivers who ran the session.

The first K&N session was stopped for the spectacular blown engine of Zack Huffman No.38 RMC General Contractors Toyota. He laid down a crop duster layer of smoke through Turn Ten and then neatly executed a 180 spin at Pit Lane entrance, completely enveloped in his smoke. As that was his flyer lap, he showed at the bottom of the list with zero time. Michael Annett No.31 TMC/Pilot Chevrolet was not on track. Those two will be on the last row.

Pre-Q Cup Pit Lane

SATURDAY COMES EARLY

Sonoma Raceway Pit Lane & Front Straight

It’s Saturday morning at Sonoma Raceway for the NASCAR Toyota/SaveMart 350 weekend, and the activities are off to an early start.

In the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage, tech and scrutineering are in full swing, so much so that the cars are coming out of one of the checkpoints faster than the follow-up scrutineers can check additional items. This resulted in a minor clog on the driveway out to the track, right in front of the Media Center.

Cars of JJ Yeley & Boris Said finalizing Scrutineering

It's Go Time

Out in Pit Lane, all 32 of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Series cars lined up for their qualifying session. Those mini Cup cars go out in four groups of eight for eight minutes, and the grid is set on their aggregate times. The clock stops if the session is stopped for any reason.

Sprint Cup has road course format qualifying at 10:40am PT.

With five Sprint Cup drivers running in both events, the Rookie Meetings – which are separate from the regular Drivers Meetings – were carefully scheduled to accommodate their schedules. In the case of the K&N Drivers Meeting, those five Cup drivers running Cup Qualifying were given a special Drivers Meeting ahead of time.

Max Papis

Max Papis

Richard Childress

Richard Childress. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

One of the Cup Rookies, Austin Dillon No.3 Dow Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, has a driver coach mentoring him. Veteran racer from all venues, Max Papis, works with RCR as a consultant which includes working with the grandson of team owner, Richard Childress.

The weather forecast is for 82 degrees F as a high, with 70 degrees slated for Cup Qualifying. The wind is only slight … so far.

FASTER FRIDAY

Clint Bowyer

Clint Bowyer

Clint Bowyer

The tempo picked up for the second practice of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Friday afternoon at Sonoma Raceway. Although the top driver order didn’t change much during the ninety-minute session, Clint Bowyer No.15 was faster at 95.988 mph/74.634 seconds than he was in the earlier session, when he was second fastest. For this later session, seven drivers were unofficially faster than the track record of 95.262 mph set by Marcos Ambrose in 2012.

The speeds were hot, as were the temperatures. The stiff breeze barely tempered the ninety degrees reached by the second practice session.

Second was Paul Menard No.27 Richmond Menards Chevrolet SS, followed by Carl Edwards No.99 Aflac Roush Racing Ford, Jamie McMurray No.1 Cessna Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet SS, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. No.88 Kelley Blue Book Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS.

Paul Menard

Carl Edwards

Dale Earnhardt Jr

Left to right: Paul Menard, Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Again the top Rookie was Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet SS, who finished sixth overall. Seventh was the 2013 Sonoma winner, Martin Truex Jr No.78 Furniture Row Chevrolet SS – all so fast that they should confirm the prediction made Thursday by Brad Keselowski No.2 Alliance Truck Parts Penske Racing Ford Fusion – that a new qualifying track record would be set this weekend.

Jeff Gordon

Current Sprint Cup Points Leader, Jeff Gordon No.24 Panasonic Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was ninth overall. He’s had five pole positions and five victories at Sonoma, more than any other driver. Gordon suffered back spasms at the Charlotte race last month and has been treating it with cortisone shots and ice, as well as electrical stimulation. This is in addition to his regular stretches and exercises. He’s had to forgo his bicycle riding in the interim. Gordon said the plane flight out to Sonoma was the worst part of this weekend so far.

Speaking of ice, during the second Cup practice, bags of ice were seen cooling four upright tires in the garage of Greg Biffle No.16 3M Roush Racing Ford. Yes, it was that hot.

Tomy Drissi No.66 MightyHercules.com Toyota Camry missed the first session, but was able to make it out for nine laps in the second, coming in last.

Reed Sorenson No.36 Theme Park Connection Chevrolet SS missed the afternoon session. Turning the fewest laps was Rookie Michael Annett No.7 Pilot/Flying J Chevrolet SS.

Ambrose, in No.9 DeWalt Petty Motorsports Ford, was nowhere near his earlier top speed, finishing twenty-third in the session.

In the second K&N Pro Series West practice, it was again Cup drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr No.99 Roush Performance Parts Ford on top, followed by Kyle Larson No.42 Clorox Chevrolet. Third this time was another Cup driver, Justin Algaier No.83Griggs Brothers/Brandt Chevrolet. Fourth and fifth were Brandon McReynolds No.16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota and David Mayhew No.17 Steak & Grape/MMI Services. Cup Rookie Austin Dillon No.21 Golden Gate Meat/RCR Chevrolet was fifteenth overall.Twenty eight of the 32 drivers were on track.

Larson put on a nice show for the fans in that session, doing a complete 360 spin and continuing on his merry way in a cloud of dust.

Saturday’s schedule calls for qualifying for both the K&N Series, prior to its Saturday afternoon Carneros 200 race, and the Cup Series.

This year there will be a new qualifying format for the Cup Series. NASCAR revised qualifying overall for all three top tier series, to “enhance the fan experience.” For the Sonoma road course, this means two qualifying sessions. Q1 will have all 43 cars for half an hour. After a ten-minute break, the top 12 will go to Q2, with their times reset. This ten-minute session will set the top 12 positions on the grid, with the remainder of the field lining up in order of their Q1 times. This format is followed for both road course Cup races as well as for those tracks less than 1.25 miles long.

All photos courtesy of Bob Tarvin of Tarvin Images.

Covered Cup Cars   Zzzzz

FAST AND FURIOUS FRIDAY

Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Fast Friday was just that for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Sonoma Raceway for the first practice of the day. After half of the session with no changes at all in the top ten positions, then one by one drivers jumped to the top of the charts, with Kurt Busch No.41 Haas Automation Cheverolet SS King of the Hill. His top time was 95.470 mph/75.039 seconds.

Only three drivers made the 95+ mph class, – Busch, and two drivers from the Toyota Camry stable of Michael Waltrip Racing: 2012 Sonoma winner, Clint Bowyer No.15 5-Hour Energy in P2 and Brian Vickers No.55 Aaron’s Dream Machine.

Marcos Ambrose

Marcos Ambrose. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Busch and Bowyer unofficially went faster than the existing qualifying track record of 95.262 mph set by Marcos Ambrose in 2012. Official records can only be set in a qualifying or race session.

For the first hour Aussie Ambrose, in No.9 DeWalt Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion, led the pack, followed by Kurt Busch and local driver, A.J.Allmendinger No.47 Kingsford/Clorox JT Daughtery Racing Chevrolet SS.

Then after an hour of cruising, Dale Earnhardt Jr No.88 Kelley Blue Book Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS jumped up, followed by a succession of faster drivers, including: last year’s Sonoma winner, Martin Truex Jr No.78 Furniture Row Chevrolet SS; Tony Stewart No.14 Mobil 1 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet SS, who came from way back in the pack; and Kurt Busch.

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson

The top Rookie was another local driver, Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet SS, who finished fifth, behind Martin Truex Jr. This is the first time ever for young Larson at the Sonoma road course. Although he hails from nearby Elk Grove, his Northern California background was sprint cars, midgets and Silver Crown cars on short track oval,s and he won everything in sight. He moved up to stock cars including K&N Pro Series East, not West, so he never made it to the Sonoma track. After moving up to the NASCAR Nationwide Series, he was 2013 Rookie of the Year. Wednesday Larson was feted in his home town including being given the Key to the City – first time it’s ever happened in the town.

In the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West first practice, Larson finished second, behind another Sprint Cup Driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Third was Greg Pursley No.26 GPM Ford, followed by Austin Cameron No.10 Big Red Chevrolet. Cameron has since withdrawn after a disastrous car fire. He is OK – his car is not. Fifth overall was Brandon McReynolds No.16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota.

The other Sprint Cup drivers running the K&N Series were Justin Algaier in eighth, and Rookie Austin Dillon in thirteenth place. David Mayhew was ninth. He is a regular in the K&N series and is also filling in Friday and Saturday as driver for J.J.Yeley in the No.44 Phoenix Warehouse Chevrolet SS, while Yeley runs the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday at Road America. Yeley will be back Sunday for the Sprint Cup race.

Another interesting name shows up in the K&N Series – James Bickford in No.6 Sunrise Ford. The Rookie is the cousin of five-time Cup winner at Sonoma, Jeff Gordon No.24 Panasonic Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS. Gordon spent a lot of time talking with young Bickford when Gordon was out at Sonoma for the Goodyear tire test, but hasn’t had time to chat with him so far this weekend. One or the other is always on the track. Bickford was sixteenth fastest of the 32 K&N drivers in the first practice.

The Cup session was safe.

Tomy Drissi's No.66 Toyota

Tomy Drissi’s No.66 Toyota. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Forty-two of the 43 drivers were on course. Missing was Tomy Drissi No.66 MightyHercules.com Jay Robinson Racing Toyota Camry. There also was a driver substitution – David Mayhew for J.J.Yeley in No.44 Phoenix Warehouse Chevrolet SS. Yeley is back at Road America for the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, so Mayhew will practice and qualify the car. Yeley will fly back to run the race, starting from the back of the pack due to the driver substitution.

SUNNY SIDE UP

NASCAR Garage

The weather for Fast Friday is warm and beautiful at Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota-SaveMart 350 NASCAR weekend. This is the first of two road course races this season for the Sprint Cup Series. Also on the weekend’s schedule is the Carneros 200 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Series race, as well as the US Legends cars. All three Series practice Friday.

The Cup road courses bring out what are euphemistically called ‘road racing ringers’ and this weekend one such driver is Tomy Drissi No.66 MightyHercules.com Toyota. Another non-regular in the field is Boris Said No. 32 Seven-11/Amerigas Ford, who has run many NASCAR races in all three top tier series as well as the touring car series. Said has not a full season in a while. This makes for a 44-car field, with one car going home after Saturday qualifying.

The Cup Series has its first practice at noon. The Cup garage was its usual busy self Friday morning with the teams readying their cars for scrutineering. There are a variety of checkpoints through which the cars must pass, literally and figuratively. The car’s gears and transmissions are checked in the garage and sealed once approved. There is a queue in one of the NASCAR Tech areas for the teams bringing their backup transmissions to be checked and sealed.

Timmy Hill #33 in Tech

Spare Transmission Tech queue

Boris Said's No.32 Ford

The K&N Series has 32 entries, with four of them coming from the Cup ranks – Rookies: Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson, as well as Justin Algier and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. It’s first casualty came in the form of the flame-out of Austin Cameron No. 10 Big Red Chevrolet. Cameron is OK and he was able to quickly scramble out of the car, which he parked off course at the exit of Turn Ten, which the car continued to burn. The cause has not yet been determined. Cameron withdrew, as he had no back-up car. This was his first K&N race this season. Cameron is a veteran in the series, having run it since 1999. While he was never champion, he has 15 victories, finished second in the standings twice, and in the top ten in points three times.

A crash by Travis Milburn No.36 Cooks Collision Toyota ended the K&N practice session. He also was alright.

The Cup Series has two practices Friday afternoon, at noon PT for one hour 50 minutes, and then again at 3:30pm for another 90 minutes.

Sonoma Raceway mascot cow

RHR WINS NAIL BITING INDY 500

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

RYAN HUNTER-REAY/No.28 Andretti Autosport Honda ultimately won a nail-biting finish to the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 Race Sunday, after playing leap-frog with HELIO CASTRONEVES/No.3 Team Penske Chevrolet and and his Andretti teammate/owner’s son, MARCO ANDRETTI. In the end, RHR prevailed, with Castroneves second and Andretti third. The Margin of victory was 0.0600 seconds, the second-closest finish in Indy 500 finish. Hunter-Reay, who charged up from his nineteenth grid position, was the first American to win since 2006. The crowd went wild. And Castroneves was deep with despair.

Hunter-Reay said “I can’t believe it. I’m a proud American boy, for sure. I’ve got the best team behind me. We did everything right today. I’ve watched the race since I was a little kid. It’s an American tradition.” It was his thirteenth IndyCar victory, continuing his title of being the winningest active American driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves

Castroneves was most gracious in conceding the victory to Hunter-Reay. The three-time Indy 500 winner spent a long time head bowed in the cockpit of the car after the race, which he described later as “collecting my thoughts.” He led five times for 38 laps

“It was a great fight, and I was having a great time. Unfortunately second isn’t winning. (Second sucks) It was great to see an American winning and I really mean that” I was trying everything I had. Both of us used every inch of the track. Normally we don’t do such things at 220 mph. It was a very good race.”

The lead changes kept coming one after another in the final 15 laps, in what was one of the wildest finishes, keeping up the tradition of exciting Indy 500 finishes. This was the first green flag finish in the last five races. RHR led nine times for a race high of 56 laps, out of 179 green flag laps. There were 35 lead changes among 11 drivers.

Five cautions took 21 laps out of the race, with four of the five cautions being for contact.

Behind Castroneves, the finishers were RHR’s Andretti Autosport teammates: CARLOS MUNOZ in P4 and Rookie KURT BUSCH, who finished sixth in his first ever open wheel race. Busch was Doing the Double, and equalled the previous best finish by a Double driver – sixth, by his team owner, TONY STEWART.

Finishing fifth was JUAN PABLO MONTOYA/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Seventh through tenth were SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS/No.11 KVSH Chevrolet, WILL POWER/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Rookie SAGE KARAM/No.22 Dreyer & Reinbold -Kingdom Racing w/CGR Honda, and J.R.Hildebrand/No.21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.

Michael Andretti

This was the third Indy 500 win for Team Owner, MICHAEL ANDRETTI said “It was a weird feeling having one driver win and my son not win. I woulda have loved to see him up there.”

Busch had the best Rookie finish. He had to leave for Charlotte Motor Speedway soon after the Indy 500 race to race another 600 miles in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Race. Busch was followed by the few chosen journalists in the private jet provided by Stewart. After the Indy 500, the Andretti team has to tear down Busch’s Indy 500 car and convert it back to a road course car for Marco Andretti in Detroit next weekend.

Included in the last pulse-raising period were two crashes causing one caution and a Red Flag for all the debris on track caused by TOWNSEND BELL/No.6 KV Racing Technology hitting the Turn Two wall. Ironically that crash caution cum Red Flag came on the heels of IndyCar calling for a Turn Two debris caution. During the Red Flag the SAFER Barrier had to be repaired. Two laps under the Pace Car and then the field was let loose with a Green on Lap 195.

IndyCar Race Director BEAUX BARFIELD seemed to be universally praised for calling for the Red Flag so the race could end under green. The fans wildly applauded when the flag was seen.

The race was noted for the longest caution-free stint – the first 149 laps. Then CHARLIE KIMBALL/No.83 Chip Ganassi Racing spun and hit the Turn Two wall. Records don’t go back past 1976, but the previous longest stint was last year, 113 laps between Lap 61 and Lap 193.

The next crash involved SCOTT DIXON/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and JOSEF NEWGARDEN/No.67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda in Turn Four. Then on Lap 176 came JAMES HINCHCLIFFE/No.27 Andretti Autosport Honda and ED CARPENTER/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, who were both going for second place. They were three wide into Turn One, with TOWNSEND BELL/No.6 KVRT Chevrolet, who gained second position after that hit, but not for long. Bell, who had started twenty-fifth, hit the wall on Lap 192 bringing out the Red Flag.

Some said they’ve never seen such a calm Carpenter be so mad. “Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) tried to make three wide in turn one with 25 laps to go. Not a smart move. It wrecked both of our races. I told him if he didn’t have a concussion last week that I would have punched in the face. It wasn’t a green-white-checkered situation. Of all of the guys out there, I wouldn’t have thought it would be Hinch. I am pretty good friends with him and those guys at Andretti. I think he just didn’t use his head right then.”

At the half-way mark, a new Indy 500 record was set for average race speed of 211.871 mph, breaking A.J.ALLMENDINGER’s record of 177.687 mph set last year.

Bell, Carpenter, Dixon, Hinchcliffe, Kimball and Newgarden were all checked at infield Medical Center and cleared to drive.

Sage Karam

Sage Karam. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Karam started thirty-first and didn’t look back. He ran as high as P8 before finishing ninth. The teen missed his Senior Prom, but he has much more to brag about when he returns next week for his high school graduation. “150 laps straight of green-flag racing takes a toll on you. My foot even hurts from the vibrations of keeping it flat for so long. Now I know why they say this is the hardest race to win in the world.”

Twenty drivers finished on the lead lap, with five others two to twenty-seven laps down at the checkered flag.

Six drivers crashed out and two drivers retired with mechanical issues: Last placed starter, veteran BUDDY LAZIER/No.98 Lazier Partners Racing Chevrolet was the first DNF, with mechanical problems after 35 laps; and a really disappointed GRAHAM RAHAL/No.15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda retired with electrical problems after 44 laps.

The unofficial standings after five races are: Hunter-Reay-274 points; Power-224; Castroneves-220; SIMON PAGENAUD-211; Andretti-192; Rookie Munoz-160; Montoya-151; Bourdais-143; Dixon-132; and JUSTIN WILSON-125.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

The next IndyCar race is the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit 31 May and 1 June 2014.