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NASCAR’s Sonoma 2013 road course ringers, analyzed

Jun 20, 2013, 12:30 PM EST

Napa Auto Parts 200 Getty Images

There’s two road races for NASCAR this weekend, as different as wine and cheese. Literally.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its annual jaunt out west to Napa Valley and wine country, at Sonoma Raceway. The track’s also been known as Sears Point and Infineon Raceway, and when Infineon’s naming rights expired the track settled on Sonoma Raceway … which isn’t bad, but is to those who sought a return to its Sears Point roots.

Meanwhile, the NASCAR Nationwide Series heads up north to Elkhart Lake, Wis.’s Road America, which basically doubles as America’s “National Park of Speed.” It’s a 4-plus mile road course that is as well known for its track food – because who doesn’t love a Johnsonville brat and cheese? – as its racing.

We’ll look through the “ringers” in Sprint Cup’s Toyota/Save Mart 350K first, then hit the Nationwide folks in another post.

  • Justin Marks, No. 7 GoPro Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. It’s his series debut and the team’s road course setup has never been particularly strong in the past. That said, a top-20 finish would be an excellent result for team and driver.
  • Alex Kennedy, No. 19 MediaMaster/Dream Factory Toyota, Humphrey Smith Racing. Like Marks, will be Kennedy’s first start in Sprint Cup. The team – as the rest of the NASCAR community – has a heavy heart this week after Jason Leffler’s passing, as this was the team he drove for a couple weeks ago. For Kennedy, a clean race is the goal and perhaps a top-25 finish if the cards fall right.
  • Boris Said, No. 32 HendrickCars.com Ford, FAS Lane Racing. Said’s one of NASCAR’s oldest and most notable “ringers,” and is best known in recent years for these comments he made about Greg Biffle at Watkins Glen.  On-track, Said has 45 prior Sprint Cup starts and drove to an eighth-place finish with Frank Stoddard, now his team boss, as his crew chief at Sonoma in 2010. Miracles can happen but the best I’d expect for “Said Head nation” – if there is one – is a top-15.
  • Ron Fellows, No. 33 Canadian Tire Chevrolet, Circle Sport Racing. The popular Canadian missed the road course races a year ago and his last top-10 was a fourth-place at Watkins Glen in 2007. A top-10 for Fellows this week though, is not impossible.
  • Victor Gonzalez Jr., No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. The Puerto Rican will make his Sprint Cup debut in TBR’s second car. Has a handful of road course starts in the Nationwide ranks; like Marks, anything close to the top-20 would be respectable.
  • Jacques Villeneuve, No. 51 TAG Heuer Eyewear Chevrolet, Phoenix Racing. Get your popcorn ready. Villeneuve’s been entirely too aggressive in his Nationwide starts for Penske Racing, and he hasn’t driven a Sprint Cup race since 2010. Finch had “a rebel” in Kurt Busch in this car last year and Busch wheeled it to third – if Villeneuve (pictured above) keeps his head and doesn’t ram too many cars off the track, he could match that. Key word there is “if.”
  • Paulie Harraka, No. 52 HASA Pool Products Ford, Keselowski Racing. Frankly, Harraka has done nothing in NASCAR Camping World Trucks to warrant a step up to this level. He’ll make his debut but anything further than a start-and-park would surprise.
  • Tomy Drissi, No. 87 The Wolverine Movie – Corn, Nemechek Racing. A sports car veteran, Drissi’s driven Porsches, Corvettes and prototypes this year. He won’t set the world on fire but if he keeps it clean, he could make it to the top-25.
  1. bmcgrath2 - Jun 20, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    First off, Frank Stoddard doesn’t field a Toyota, so I would expect to see Boris Said in a Ford Fusion this week in wine country. A Top-15…no way

    This post has WAY too high of expectations for these ringers. I realize he said its not impossible, but to put Fellows in Top-10 talk is just ludicrous. A potential top-25 for Kennedy in a Humphrey Smith ride? Yeah, those cards would definitely have to fall right. Don’t be surprised to see this car parked after 10 laps. A top-3 for Villeneuve???? If he doesn’t lose his cool and burn the car up/piss drivers off, I would max his finish out at 10th.

    While I do see the road course experience advantage these drivers may have, but you also have to remember the Cup regulars who have far superior equipment and also have extensive road course abilities. I can tell you that the likes of Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, etc. probably don’t like the thought of a one-off ringer pushing them around in inferior equipment.

    In summary, while I would be ecstatic to see one of these guys duke it out for a Top-5, I would be surprised to see any of these drivers mentioned finish inside the Top-15.

    • Tony DiZinno - Jun 20, 2013 at 2:25 PM

      Author oversight on the FAS Lane bit – you’re correct and thanks for the catch. Has been fixed.

      As for the others, I pegged their results as a “If all the cards fall right and the full-season field has issues” best-case scenario. Maybe one or two of them could actually materialize.

      In years past some of the usual S&P teams have opted to go the distance at the road course events. Patrick Long would have at Watkins Glen last year for Inception Motorsports, had it not been for an accident not of his own doing during practice. Had he ran his primary car, he could have very easily interjected himself among the top-25. That said, it was an S&P and came to naught.

      The way this year’s gone though, anything’s possible!

      • bmcgrath2 - Jun 20, 2013 at 2:42 PM

        Right on, sir! The element of surprise is always lurking, which is why I love NASCAR!

        What are the odds Jacques dive bombs turn 11 and wipes out 5 cars within the first 15-20 laps?

  2. cdawgredface - Jun 20, 2013 at 4:04 PM

    I’d say the chances are low, he’ll wait until the last 15-20… lol. He sure made an ass of himself in the nationwide races over the last couple years. This being the prime example —> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltiPyvfYvkY

    • cdawgredface - Jun 20, 2013 at 4:09 PM

      Even better someone made a compilation video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=-njvNZN1E6k&NR=1 I would expect more of the same Sunday. At least the Cup guys are smart enough to move him out of the way first…I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take an early exit.

  3. randominternetpunter - Jun 20, 2013 at 4:37 PM

    JV in the race is the #1 reason for me to watch NASCAR…
    Like the article says..Popcorn at the ready !!!

    I hope he pisses EVERYONE off…

    • bmcgrath2 - Jun 20, 2013 at 9:31 PM

      I hope Kurt Busch enters the field at the GoPro GP @ Sonoma and pisses EVERYONE off. And I hope Tony Stewart qualifies for the F1 United States GP and pisses EVERYONE off.

      I don’t think you will have to hold your breath, as Jacques Villeneuve should have everyone ready to punt him by lap 5.

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