It’s a beautiful morning at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma CA for the first road course race of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. Everything is a somewhat relaxed, but taking care of business mode for the noon Toyota/Save Mart 350 race. At 9:30 am PT it’s already close to 60 warm degrees F with just a gentle breeze. The skies are blue and the paddock and vendor areas are packed.

The 43 cars in the race have to be in line for Scrutineering two hours before the race, i.e. 10 am local time. Those cars which have no excuse for not being in line on time are penalized 15 minutes of practice time at the next Cup race.

Sunday Tech is a much abbreviated process, mostly checking the body shapes with templates. Rarely is something found at this point except for damage to the car from previous sessions which can be adjusted before the car goes on track. The ‘killer day’ is Friday. Problems found in that Tech session must be rectified, and are written up for after-the-fact penalty consideration.

NASCAR Garage. Photo by Lynne Huntting
So far all cars are in the garage, and the area occasionally is ear-splitting loud while teams run their engines. Team chefs are preparing meals for the day. Remember the old adage that armies (teams) run on their stomachs.
Red Bull Chef. Photo by Lynne Huntting

NASCAR requires every driver to have a spotter for this race, and designates the spot up on the hill above Turn Two. Several NASCAR officials work with the spotters, taking roll to ensure 100 per cent attendance. No spotter – no race. For this road course race, some teams also place spotters on top of what is known as the Drag Tower, which over looks the exit of Turn Ten, entrance to pits and/or Turn Eleven, and the front straight.

NASCAR brings approximately 80 officials to each race to work in the pits, garages, Tech, and with the spotters, plus the medical staff. Many of these are full-time employees who have to come in early to set up and then stay to tear down, turn around and do it again the next week. NASCAR has an ongoing recruitment process which includes other race tracks and other series.

NASCAR trains all the local emergency and safety crews. It is a rigorous process including videos and reenactments. The crews are graded, and there is a debrief after each race.

Update on the JEFF GORDON fuel situation. Nothing further was found regarding the contaminated fuel the team found Friday morning in the No.24 Chevrolet, the fuel system was flushed and the car never went on track with the strange fuel mixture. No penalties will be assessed. Much ado about nothing. Case closed.

Several Cup drivers did double duty this weekend, commuting to Road America for Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide race: CARL EDWARDS, BRAD KESELOWSKI and PAUL MENARD. A couple of owners also had cars running in two series, besides the NNS race. CHIP GANASSI had his Grand-Am Rolex Series team running at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – it won with drivers SCOTT PRUETT and MEMO ROJAS in No.01 BMW Riley.

KEVIN BUCKLER, whose TRG team runs BOBBY LABONTE/No.71 Chevrolet in Sprint Cup, also runs sports cars in the Grand-Am series. This weekend Buckler remained at Infineon, while his TRG Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge team won the race after twenty-seventh in a field of 58 cars. STEVEN BERTHEAU and SPENCER PUMPELLI ran No.41 Porsche 997 in the GS class, besting 28 other cars in class. As it was a busy weekend already, Buckler eschewed running any cars in the Rolex Series GT class.

Buckler said it’s not easy going between the two series – two cultures. NASCAR requires more attention. The biggest difficulty is finding the NASCAR sponsorship. It’s like a “crying, hungry baby.” At the upcoming Daytona race, Buckler’s TRG teams will run both NASCAR and Grand-Am.