Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rating the Toyota/Save Mart 350: 2 Stars **

The first road course race of the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season followed the theme for most of the year so far that the majority of the race should be void of any action. The race at Sonoma had very long stretches of time where everyone just logged laps and talked about strategy. All in all, Sunday’s race gets a generous 2 Star Rating.
Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch did have a good battle toward the end of the race. Busch looked like he might be able to pull off a pass at the end but instead broke a piece in the rear of his car. Instead, he had to work harder at holding off Tony Stewart than catching Bowyer.
However, having Busch in contention for the win certainly added some intrigue to the finish of the race, even if for nothing more than to find out what he said afterward. Still, it is cool to see an unsponsored car challenge for a win or even run near the front of the field, regardless of who is in the car.
The rest of the race left much to be desired. Sometimes long green-flag runs are fun if drivers are sliding around and racing each other, but long green-flag runs at a road course are brutal. There wasn’t one exciting moment for the first 85 laps of Sunday’s race.
Pit stops were about the only things that happened after Jeff Gordon passed Marcos Ambrose on lap 12. Martin Truex Jr. took the lead after green-flag stops cycled around because he came in before everybody else, and then Bowyer would take the lead when Truex Jr. pitted.
The rest of the race wasn’t even just full of cars going around in circles, it was full of cars winding their way through a road with a few hills. Unfortunatly, the latter is worse for NASCAR fans.
Anyway, congratulations to Bowyer, the #15 team and Mikdkchael Waltrip Racing. That organization has improved the most of any group in the sport during the past year. Most people didn’t expect any MWR cars to make the Chase, and now Truex Jr. and Bowyer both sit comfortably in the top 10 in the points standings.
Regardless of driver preferences, it is nice to see another organization step into serious Chase contention. Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing has a car challenge for a spot every other year or so, but otherwise the Hendrick, Gibbs, Roush-Fenway and Childress organizations dominated the scene. New contenders are always good for the sport.
Although there haven’t been any first-time winners this season, there have been 12 different winners in the 16 races this year. That is an even better rate than last year, when we talked about how many different drivers reached Victory Lane at this point in the season. Only 11 different drivers won the first 16 races in 2011.
So, although the racing hasn’t been particularly exciting in many races this season, at least there has been a bunch of different winners. This would not be a good year to have one driver dominate the entire season, unless it was Dale Earnhardt Jr., of course. We saw how much his wins drum up interest after he won at Michigan last week.
Now the Cup series heads to Kentucky for the second Cup race at Kentucky Speedway. Kyle Busch dominated the inaugural event last year that received more attention for the traffic problems than the actual race. If the race at Sonoma lacked action, it is hard to imagine the race at Kentucky will have much more, but we’ll always hope.
Either way, Daytona is only two weeks away.

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