Saturday morning’s weather at Infineon Raceway was warmer (63F), less breezy, with hazy blue skies. The NASCAR Sprint Cup teams had two morning practice sessions. MARCOS AMBROSE/No.47 Toyota was the fastest in both sessions, turning his fastest lap in the first 45-minute practice. Now the Sprint Cup drivers are through for the day, giving them time to relax and get ready for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 race, which starts at noon PT/3 PM ET.
Second through fifth in the first session were JEFF BURTON/No.31 Chevrolet, A.J. ALLMENDINGER/No.43 Ford; JIMMIE JOHNSON/No.48 Chevrolet; and MARTIN TRUEX, Jr/No.56 Toyota. This session had cautions for Rookie KEVIN CONROY/No.34 Ford running out of gas on track, and SAM HORNISH, Jr/No.77 Dodge spinning into the wall between Turns Ten and Eleven. No caution for the spin by BOBBY LABONTE/No.71 Chevrolet in Turn 11.
Second through fifth in the final, so-called ‘Happy Hour’ session were JAMIE McMURRAY/No.1 Chevrolet; Burton; Johnson, and KEVIN HARVICK/No.29 Chevrolet. This session was interrupted for a long caution to clean up oil in Turn Two which caught out DALE EARNHARDT/No.88 Chevrolet and A.J. ALLMENDINGER/No.43 Ford.
BILL ELLIOTT was the stand-in driver Saturday for two Fords – No.98 for PAUL MENARD, and No.99 for CARL EWARDS. Elliott wore his Menards suit in both cars, as he’d not brought his Edwards suit. Awesome Bill fits well in both cars, with little adjustment. Edwards, Menard and BRAD KESELOWSKI were at Road America for the NASCAR Nationwide Series inaugural road race. Keselowski had Penske Racing teammate, KURT BUSCH, run his car at Infineon. Edwards took the NNS pole Saturday morning for the Road America 200 Saturday afternoon race. Menard will start eighth, and Keselowski, current NNS points leader, qualified thirteenth.
Of the ‘Road Race Ringers’ – JAN MAGNUSSEN/No.09 Chevrolet was sixteenth in P1 and tenth in P2; MATTIAS EKSTROM/No.83 Toyota was thirty-first in P1 and twentieth in P2; BORIS SAID/No.26 Ford was thirtieth in P1 and twenty-sixth in P2; and PJ JONES/No.07 Toyota was thirty-second in P1 and thirty-eighth in P2.
GREG BIFFLE/No.16 Ford said he agreed with previous statements by JEFF BURTON.No.31 Chevrolet, who said that Road Race Ringers drive differently. Biffle said “They don’t race the same as NASCAR drivers. It’s a different culture over there. This is especially true when you’re coming up on these guys. He doesn’t know or doesn’t care that you’re there.”
One of those Ringers, Ekstrom, had a different perspective when discussing contact in NASCAR versus the European DTM series in which he competes. “There’s a lot of contact in DTM. The driving style in Europe is way different to here. Here drivers have a lot more respect for each other. Leave each other — give each other room. At the end of races, everything gets tough. This is like this everywhere. But, here, you can do nearly a whole race racing hard and fair. And then in the end of the race, after the last pit stop, everything gets a bit harder. But, at our place, it’s hard from the beginning because the races are shorter.”
Going forward after this weekend, No.83 Red Bull Racing Toyota will be raced by REED SORENSON, who is filling in for BRIAN VICKERS, who has taken off the rest of the Cup season to deal with his blood clotting issues. CASEY MEARS substituted in the last two races, but was replaced after last week’s race at Michigan when he twice hit his teammate, SCOTT SPEED/No.84 Toyota in the race. Thursday at a media conference, Speed said he didn’t know what happened with the Mears incident, and he was asking himself if he’d done something wrong. Speed says he still doesn’t know. “Wrecking a teammate while racing hard is one thing, but that’s different than an intentional hit.”
Ekstrom also ran the Saturday afternoon K&N Pro Series West Thunder Valley Casino Resort 200 Race. He started eleventh, but went off course on Lap Three, and played catchup thereafter. That 64-lap race is still in progress. Stay tuned.
Losing Vickers as a teammate has been hard on Speed and the team. “It hurts the growth process.” Vickers has been at the races and helps as much as he can without being in the car.” Speed admitted he’s not involved in the race strategy – “I just drive fast.”