No room to relax at Sonoma
It used to be that for the two road-course races each season, some of the teams would hire road-course specialists, aka ringers, for their Cup cars. Those days are all but gone. Our NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers are the best of the best. They realize that the points payout for Sonoma and Watkins Glen is the same as any other race.
Now, sure, some of the lower-tiered teams will definitely hire road-course specialists. They are a nice addition to the race.
I think it makes it fun when you see these road-course ringers being outrun by stock-car drivers. I think it's a testament to our drivers for realizing that road courses aren't throwaway races that they can overlook anymore. They prepare just as hard for the road-course events as they do the superspeedway races or the short tracks.
Road-course racing is tough. There's the eye/hand coordination. There's the braking/shifting. There's the feel you get from the seat of your pants. You look like a mad scientist doing all this at one time. You're in that car flailing away at it but at the same time not upsetting the car while you're doing it. That's what makes it fun.
What I love when it comes to road-course racing is the drivers you don't automatically think of who have the talent for this. Casey Mears, Michael McDowell and Regan Smith are three guys who understand how to road race. So they have the opportunity to get up there and mix it up with the high-powered teams.
On Sunday, we'll see people such as Robby Gordon, who has absolutely nothing to lose, coming back. That is a race variable folks better not lose sight of. You will have a handful of guys who have only one goal, and that's to win the race. These are guys who not only can impact the outcome of the race, but they are also potentially taking valuable points off the board that the full-time Cup drivers need.
I can almost guarantee you that all our teams have tested or will be testing at some road course before they get to Sonoma. That’s how important it is to these teams in today's NASCAR. The new system has put a premium on points. That means these teams can't overlook Sonoma or Watkins Glen, as they might have in the past.
These teams put a lot of time and effort into giving their drivers the most specifically built road-course cars possible. If you give your driver the best equipment possible, it makes it that much easier for him to deliver a great race for you, the team and your sponsors.
So, this weekend, we are going to see who is prepared the best. Even before Dover, these teams began testing for Sonoma. They won't leave anything on the table. It has been a tough few weeks for these teams, having new pavements on back-to-back races which forced them to go in days early to test there.
That's a lot of running back and forth across the country these teams have had to endure. You throw in rain delays and then the tire issue at Michigan, which also forced last-minute changes, and these teams have had everything including the kitchen sink thrown at them. So once Sonoma is over, things will get back to a more regular routine.
The key is who was prepared the most and can perform this weekend at Sonoma.