NASCAR held a 90-minute practice session Friday at Sonoma, in changeable weather. The Northern California elevated track is one of two road courses on the Sprint Cup Series, the other being Watkins Glen. Forty-four drivers are entered including the usual suspects as ‘Road Racing Ringers.’ One of them, TOMY DRISSI/No.10 Chevrolet is making his Cup debut. Other RRR regulars include BORIS SAID/No.32 Ford, and BRIAN SIMO/No.30 Toyota, who will have to qualify on time.
Two other ‘irregulars’ this Sprint Cup season, with road racing backgrounds are ex-Formula One driver, SCOTT SPEED/No.95 Ford and ROBBY GORDON/No.7 Dodge. They each will have to qualify on time.
In the noontime session, ‘local’ driver, JEFF GORDON/No.23 Chevrolet was fastest at 94.696 mph. He is from nearby Vallejo, CA. The next four fast drivers were MARTIN TRUEX Jr/No.56 Toyota, CLINT BOWYER/No.15 Toyota, JOEY LOGANO/No.20 Toyota and KYLE BUSCH/No.18 Toyota.
Points leader, MATT KENSETH/No.17 Ford was twentieth fast, and last weekend’s breakout Cup race winner, DALE EARNHARDT, Jr/No.88 Chevrolet, was sixteenth. Currently Junior is four points behind Kenseth in The Chase. The fastest driver who doesn’t run regularly was DAVID GILLILAND/No.38 Ford, in P8. He is one of two drivers this weekend to run both NASCAR races in Sonoma, the other being the Pick-n-Pull/Racing To Stop Hunger 200 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race. The other is DAVID MAYHEW/No.98 Ford in Cup and No.17 Chevrolet in the West Series.
Last year’s Sonoma Sprint Cup winner, KURT BUSCH/No.51 Chevrolet, was ninth fastest. He will fly Saturday morning to Road America in Wisconsin to run the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday, and then fly back to Sonoma after the NNS race, which he is running with his brother’s team. In the meantime, COLIN BRAUN will practice and qualify Busch’s NNS car. A Tweeter said it should be called ‘The Wine and Cheese Tour.’
All 44 drivers were on track, but none turned ten consecutive laps.
One driver change on the Cup entry list is CHRIS COOK of Phoenix AZ. He will race No.19 Toyota instead of MIKE BLISS, who is in Wisconsin racing the NNS. Cook ran the Sonoma Cup race last year, and has lots of experience at the course. He gave Media Rides earlier in the week.
GREG PURSLEY/No.26 Ford broke the West Series qualifying track record, running 91.617 mph – his first pole at the track he’s been running since 1994. many runs at the track.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing drivers JAMIE McMURRAY/No.1 Chevrolet and JUAN PABLO MONTOYA/No.42 Chevrolet announced Friday they would be road racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August – the Sprint Cup Brickyard 400 weekend. When the two heard earlier this year that the NASCAR Grand-Am Rolex Series would run its inaugural race at IMS this summer, they thought “it would be cool to run there.” They put the deal together, with Chevron sponsorship in No.2 BMW Riley Daytona Prototype. They plan on running the Rolex test on 9 July 2012. The duo have raced with Ganassi in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona race.
One of the challenges will be running the famed race track in two different directions – counter course on the Cup oval circuit and clockwise for the Rolex road course.
When asked if they thought they could win the Rolex race, Montoya responded “If we didn’t think we could, I don’t think we would be in it. If you look at every time we run the 24 Hours, we’re always competitive. We’ll have to wait and see.”
After the IMS weekend, Montoya may be the only driver to race The Brickyard in three different series. He also ran it with Formula One back in the day. And he’s a MotoGP fan so he knows or knows of all aspects of the circuit.
Montoya and McMurray also weighed in on the aggressive driving aspects of Sonoma. McMurray said “Part of what we have here is you can catch the guy if he does get in to you. You have a chance to get him back pretty quick. It seems like Martinsville and some of those other places, if you get into somebody and they get pushed up out of the groove, normally there are two or three other guys that will follow through. So, the guy can’t get back to you in a quick enough time to retaliate. But, most of the wrecks that happen here just happen from people being idiots. You can’t be the guy that runs seventeenth all day, and on the last restart expect that you are going to pass six rows of cars in Turn Seven. That’s what happens here every single year.”Montoya chimed in “Every single restart with less than twenty laps to go …” McMurray continued – Somebody just does something silly. Most of the wrecks here just happen from people losing their mind and it’s easy to do.”
Sprint Cup qualifies Friday afternoon.