Will new-for-2014 qualifying format be a knockout at Sonoma?
JUN 20, 2014 9:08a ET
Well, we take to road-course racing for the very first time this season and actually, we are stepping off into virgin territory on a couple different fronts where this car and road-coarse racing meet.
This will be the first-ever knockout qualifying on a road course. Trust me, that is going to be very interesting. It will be treated like a short track and only have two rounds of qualifying. To have that third round of only five minutes on a road course simply isn't going to work. So NASCAR made a great call there. I'm also expecting some possible issues among the drivers during qualifying. So be sure to tune in for that.
This will be the first actual road-course race where we have the new no ride-height rule in effect. Now the good news in talking to almost all the teams is they have been testing their butts off getting ready for Sonoma. They all do it every year, but this year with all the changes they will experience, testing for the two road-course races takes on an even more heightened importance.
I do find it interesting that, despite its dominance this last month-and-a-half in our sport, Hendrick Motorsports hasn't seemed to put any effort into road-course testing. Why not, you ask? Why is my answer. The only driver over there who has really anything to gain would be Kasey Kahne. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all have a number of wins on the board. Kasey is the only one winless so far in the Hendrick camp. With that said, Kasey is a really good road racer, anyway, plus he's won there before. Going back to the other three drivers, also don't forget that the two road-course races have absolutely no bearing on the 10 Chase races come this fall.
I think we will probably see the same things we normally see at Sonoma. One of the storylines I plan on following very closely, especially at the start of the race, is who is going to be playing the fuel-mileage strategy. The question will be which teams will try to run the entire race in only two pit stops and which ones will do it in three stops. It seems as of late, with the importance of fresher tires, the winner has been doing it in three stops.
I might be proven wrong, but my gut is telling me right now that we might better expect an off-the-wall winner Sunday. Will it be Marcos Ambrose? Will this be where Martin Truex Jr. steps up and makes something happen? Could it be Brian Vickers day since he always seems to run well there? Is this where Clint Bowyer might finally get a win this season because he did win there two years ago?
Actually, the one I am going to be keeping my eye on -- and I know for a fact he has tested at two different road courses -- is Kurt Busch. He's run really well there the past two years. This might be the Sunday where he rears his head and becomes the next two-time winner in 2014.