Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rating the Toyota/Save Mart 350: 3 Stars ***

After three straight poles, Kurt Busch finished first on the other side of the race Sunday as he dominated another rough race at Sonoma. The first road course race of the season gets a 3 Star Rating.

Teams complained throughout the weekend about a softer tire compound that would make it more difficult to get around the winding racetrack. With that being the case, some teams were bound to hit the setup right while others would struggle throughout the day, and for the most part that is what happened.

However, the #22 team not only hit the setup correctly, but it also kept Busch out of harm’s way by staying out on the first caution after he charged from his 11th place starting spot. After the first caution, Busch was hardly ever outside the top five and led 76 of the 110 laps on his way to victory.

All of a sudden Busch is once again a legitimate contender for the championship. He started out the season well, finishing in the top 10 in the first four races of the season while leading the points, but then the wheels fell off and he had just one top-10 finish in the next seven races.

Now he’s finished in the top 10 in four of the last five races and it looks like the entire Penske organization might have finally found its groove to be competitive week in and week out. The other Penske car, Brad Keselowski’s #2, finished 10th.

After several weeks of ho-hum racing at tracks such as Kansas, Pocono and Michigan, we are back to the part of the season with more different types of tracks.

Sonoma and Daytona are two of the most unusual tracks coming up on the schedule, and while they might look completely different, the racing at the two tracks is relatively similar. Sure, Sonoma is a technical, road-course track where speeds get all the way down to about 30 mph and Daytona is a wide-open superspeedway where drivers hardly touch the brakes, but sometimes the way the races play out is similar.

Road courses often offer several different names in the top 10, cars can get torn up easily and several drivers walk away from the track upset. Well, next week at Daytona might not be too different.

Three of the first five finishers in the Daytona 500 haven’t been back in the top five since February, and David Gilliland is the only one of those who has recorded another top 10 since Daytona. Thirteen drivers officially did not finish the Daytona while only four recorded DNF’s this week, although plenty more had substantial damage.

Overall, the racing at Sonoma wasn’t any more intense this year than it was in 2010. Actually, it was probably a bit less because the tires made driving the car more difficult. Here was another instance where it would really behoove Goodyear to have a tire test before races like this one so we don’t continually have teams surprised by how the tire reacts once they show up to the track.

Anyway, what happened at Sonoma will likely stay at Sonoma. Yes, Kasey Kahne took a shot at Juan Pablo Montoya in his post-race interview, but certainly none of the pushing and shoving will carry over to the high banks next, and it’s unlikely Kahne would intentionally finish off Montoya at a later point. Right now Kahne wouldn’t have much to gain by wrecking Montoya. It would just extend a situation created by, as Kyle Petty put it, a “bonehead move” farther than it ever should.

Enjoy the holiday weekend with racing back at the greatest speedway in the world.


  1. ah hello! 5 ***** stars Mayer!!! =)

  2. ^^^^^^ looks like Kristen was still celebrating. LOL

    This was definitely an action packed race... something else that it may have in common with Daytona on Saturday night.

  3. Viva le road courses!

    That race was interesting start to finish and deserves a much better rating than a 3 Mr. jmayer...

    Are you a member of the good ole' boys who can't get out of their personal little box? This racing tests the drivers like no other and that's probably why so many of them bad mouth it.

    There was racing at Sonoma across the field at all times for track position. None of that single file crap...

    At least a 4!

  4. klvalus - What a weekend to be there! Congrats!

    Gene - I certainly hope so. It will be interesting to see if the July weather affects how they race this time around.

    Dwindy1 - This race certainly had its interesting scuffles, but for much of the race Kurt Busch had the field covered and he didn't have a real challenger all day.

    Road racing does test the drivers differently than normal, but this race simply could have been better. The tires just didn't hold up for drivers to really race. Sure, they wrecked plenty, but the overall racing wasn't consistently close, or as close as it has been in the past.