Sonoma Raceway Welcome Sign

It was beautiful day Friday morning as NASCAR began the first of three days of road racing at Sonoma Raceway in the Northern California wine country. The sun was out, the skies were blue and the breeze was refreshing. The NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers were amiable before taking to the track at noon for their first of only two practice sessions this weekend.

Ron Fellows' car
Ron Fellows’ car

There are 43 drivers/cars entered for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup race, so no one will go home. For this race, there are the usual suspects as ‘road racing ringers’ – RON FELLOWS/No.33 Canadian Tire Chevrolet, the car raced last week by AUSTIN DILLON-who is at Road America in No.3 RCR Chevrolet; and BORIS SAID/No.32 Ford, which was raced last week by KEN SCHRADER.

There are some other changes. JUSTIN MARKS is driving the No.7 Go Pro Chevrolet usually driven by DAVE BLANEY. ALEX KENNEDY is replacing MIKE BLISS in No.19 Toyota. VICTOR GONZALES JR is driving No.36 Chevrolet, raced last week by J.J. YELEY, who is running this week in No.37 Chevrolet.

Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip

BOBBY LABONTE is back in No.47 Toyota, while A.J. ALLMENDINGER is off at Road America racing the #22 Penske Racing Ford in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. And this week it’s BRIAN VICKERS turn in the No.55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, driven last week by MARK MARTIN.

Making his Sprint Cup debut is PAULIE HARRAKA, running No.52 Ford for BOB KESELOWSKI, father of you-know-who – BRAD KESELOWSKI/No.2 Miller Lite Ford. BOBBY LABONTE is No.47 Toyota. Dad Keselowski ran stock cars and NASCAR Trucks for years. Harraka is a NASCAR K & N Pro Series West driver, and he will be racing in the West Carneros 200 race Saturday. He is the only driver doing ‘Double Duty.’

Trans-Am driver, TOMY DRISI, is running the No.87 Toyota usually run by JOE NEMECHEK. Canadian F1 World Champion, JACQUES VILLENEUVE is driving No.51 James Finch Chevrolet, which has been driven this year by Allmendinger and Labonte.

Some drivers who usually run Cup are off at Road America in Wisconsin. TREVOR BAYNE is in No.6 Roush Ford. Bliss is racing Mark Smith’s #19 Toyota, and MICHAEL McDOWELL in #18 Gibbs Racing Toyota. Another ‘ringer’ for that race is veteran Corvette/Cadillac sports car sedan driver, JOHNNY O’CONNELL in Hendrick’s No.5 Chevrolet.

Not racing in either series this week are JOE NEMECHEK or SCOTT RIGGS.

Friday the Cup drivers have two afternoon practice sessions. Saturday late morning they have a new style of Qualifying, initiated this year for the road courses. In NASCAR parlance it’s called ‘European Style’, although it’s the norm in many, if not all Amerian road racing series.

The usual NASCAR Qualifying is one car at a time. At Sonoma, the cars staged on the Drag Strip, by Turn Eight, and had a partial lap to warm up the tires and then run the flyer. This weekend some of the drivers feel that the new procedure will give the a second chance, as it were, if the first lap isn’t as good as wanted.

Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch

KURT BUSCH/No.78 Furniture Row Chevrolet said he looks forward to the new Qualifying, because of the tire temperature issue.

Marcos Ambrose
Marcos Ambrose

MARCOS AMBROSE/No.9 Stanley Ford said tire temperature won’t be a problem for him – by the time he reaches Turn Eleven, his tires are good to go. He thinks the issue will be traffic during a flying lap.

The first Sprint Cup practice is at noon, following the morning practice session for the 35 K & N West Series drivers.