Sonoma Viewer's Guide

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

On this week's NASCAR on FOX conference call, Larry McReynolds recalled a recent conversation with Scott Wimmer, who drives for a team outside the top 35 in points. Wimmer actually went to his bosses at Morgan-McClure Motorsports and told them not to take him all the way across the country from Abingdon, Va. Wimmer recommended that they put somebody in the car who has a good chance of making the field. So they picked up P.J. Jones. With only 11 races to go until the Chase for the Nextel Cup starts, some teams are trying to crack the top 10 while others are trying to get back in the top 35 so they are guaranteed a starting position. Then you've got the road course ringers. Plus, you need to figure in being on the other side of the country. All of these factors make Sonoma, Calif. unlike any other place on the circuit. It's a beautiful place, and it just has a different feel to it then any other venue because of the location and all of the factors that go with road course racing.

Who to Watch

  • Tony Stewart: The defending champion of this race has two wins at Sonoma. Whether it's a short track, a superspeedway or a road course, Stewart loves to race. He's such a competitor, which gives his team a huge leg up on the rest of the field. Stewart is also incredibly smart and knows when and where to be aggressive and what parts of the track he wants to attack. Some guys go for it in a particular place on the track, and the next thing you know, they're out in the dirt. Stewart doesn't do that because he knows where to pick his spots.
  • Jeff Gordon: With four wins and five poles in 13 starts, this is definitely a critical race for Gordon, sitting 11 points outside the top 10.
  • Robby Gordon: Just terrific on the road courses, Gordon has three top 10's at Sonoma, and he won there in 2003.
  • Denny Hamlin: My darkhorse pick won at the Busch road course in Mexico City, and he's done some amazing things in his Nextel Cup rookie year, including winning at Pocono. Hamlin seems to adapt pretty quickly, and he's not short on confidence or ability.
  • Scott Pruett: Filling in for David Stremme, Pruett could be a factor in the No. 40 car. He has a top five and has led 11 laps at Sonoma.
  • Boris Said: If the equipment holds together, Said is going to be exciting. He's got two top 10's at Infineon Raceway.
  • What to Watch

  • A road ringer could win: It's certainly possible this weekend for Ron Fellows, Scott Pruett, Boris Said or any one of those road race aces to win. It's just a matter of not having equipment failures, disastrous pit stops or bad pit strategy, which cost Fellows last year. They may have an advantage on the race track in terms of ability or expertise, but Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have the total package. I'm not taking anything away from the road ringer teams, but it's just a fact that the Cup regulars have better resources. That's the advantage that Gordon, Stewart and the other Cup regulars have.
  • Pit window: Once a team figures out its fuel window, or the point at which it can make it until the end of the race, they want to pit as fast as they can. You want to be one of the first teams, if not the first, to hit pit road. That's one way to have track position. Once the stops cycle through, the teams that made the first pit stops will be at or near the front. It's a gamble. Don't cut it too close that you run out of fuel, but try to be among the first teams to pit inside that window. The estimated pit window is about 36 to 38 laps.
  • Stay on track: It sounds simple, but the most important advice that a crew chief can give a driver at a road course is to stay on the race track. When you get off course, you lose a lot of time. Even if you don't tear up your race car, you still lose lots of positions, time and all of your momentum. Whether you're a great road racer or a novice, your crew chief is going to say, "Stay on the race track." If you stay on the track, you may get passed by a ringer or Jeff Gordon, but you're not going to lose a ton of positions every lap.
  • Speed Mail Steve

    Pit Perspective

    It was great to see David Gilliland win the Kentucky Busch race. I've covered his dad, Butch Gilliland, for a long time when he was racing Winston West, and I've even gotten to know David a little bit over the years. Butch couldn't be a nicer guy, and his son is the same way. I'm glad he's now known as something other than somebody who played high school golf with Tiger Woods because he's a heck of a racer. It was a stunning win, and I'm thrilled. All we've been hearing about is how the Nextel Cup drivers are dominating the Busch Series this year, and here's a guy winning in only his seventh start. It should send a message to the rest of the Busch teams that if he can do it, they can do it.

    Finish Line

    Temperatures going to be in the mid to upper 90's this weekend, and it's already a pretty demanding race track on the drivers. We always think of it being mild and pretty in the wine country, but this is a rough stretch for the teams. They go from California on Sunday to Daytona next Saturday night so they have to be focused on what's in front of them. After scoring a top-five finish at Infineon two years ago, Jimmie Johnson told his team that it seemed like a win as he crossed the start/finish line. Last year, Elliott Sadler told me that a top-15 finish would have been a great day for him, and he wound up sixth. Drivers must have a goal. For Jeff Gordon, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart, the goal is to win, but they also have to be realistic. You can't win every race because road racing is tougher than racing at ovals so have a realistic goal and stick to your game plan.

    NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years, and he gives kids a close look at a real stock car and its driver with Ryan's Racecar, a 30-minute video/DVD. For more information, go to

    Tagged: Scott Wimmer, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart

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